Master Planning for Change

Designing Resilient City

The recently launched book titled“Master Planning for Change” by Ombretta Romice, Sergio Porta and Alessandra Feliciotti (Urban Design Studies Unit, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK) brings a fresh and much needed discourse on resilience in the contemporary times. Amongst the several publications dealing with resilience strategies and adaptability for urban systems (which are made up of several parts), this publication sets the urban discourse with “Cities as Living System” depicting a multitude of behavior in transition or situational change.

The authors have set a few criteria while putting forth the discussion on cities and resilience. They consider cities as living systems and they treat them as such, not as a simple process with a singular aim. They elucidate the importance of ‘planning better by planning less’ and set simple frameworks for diversity rather than complex frameworks for monolithic end. In order to take on the conversation forward, the authors begin to engage with the master plan in the making, transforming and adapting processes. As one reads through the chapters, the entire process of unraveling master planning and its transformative process from the perspective of resilience proves to be thought provoking.

The first part of the book discusses the ‘ecology of urban form’, where the authors argue that “The thinking behind systems theory acknowledges that crucial real-world problems cannot be tackled by dissecting and analyzing their individual components as such, but only by holistically focusing on their mutual relationships in space”, and put forth the ‘theory of adaptive cycle’ and ‘panarchy’ (system that encompasses all) as a complex characteristics of ecology through four stages of transformation: exploitation, conservation, release and reorganization of system. The second part discusses the ‘ecological process’ with ‘morphological process’ of transformation and adaptiveness. It brings about an important conversation on how urban form changes in similar patterns of ecology, economy and the adaptive process of change at various scales

The second part takes on analysis and design recommendations with a methodical approach at various scales. The recommended components include transformation and adaptiveness of the morphological structure, street types, building types by use and density, networks, community spaces, public places, along with micro-climate control devices.

The work brings out some fine intellectual thought on the way contemporary master planning could be imagined. The text is lucid, conceptualized methodically and is well-structured. The argument of morphological transformation is well woven in terms of ecological understanding (exploitation, conservation, release, re-organization) and in the argument that the current cities are examples of adaptive systems. As I read further into the last chapters constituting WP’s, I could sense a flair reminiscent of Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, which I assume, the authors are consciously attempting to re-contextualize in the contemporary times. 

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