From masterplanning to adaptive planning : understanding the contemporary tools and processes for civic urban order

Bullivant, Lucy (2014) From masterplanning to adaptive planning : understanding the contemporary tools and processes for civic urban order. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


My research is an examination of the scope of contemporary urban design and planning tools and processes which can act as alternative qualitative methodologies for the renewal of urban conditions at multiple scales through adaptive methods embracing change, stresses and shocks affecting societies and the city as a growing epicentre of human inhabitation and complex systems. With growing urbanisation, the question of what constitutes liveable urbanism across urban territories is a critical one.

Addressing the lack of unified and culturally aware analysis of the evolution in urban design and planning practice being applied in various contexts across the developed and developing world, I have, through my own international research programme over more than 15 years, traced their potentials for incubating renewal through a collection of published outputs, each with their own approach: a book, essays for the media and for exhibition catalogues and a webzine.

Through examination I have learned about the capacities of tools and processes to break with silo thinking and damaging legacies of the past, and to adapt, or to forge new instrumentalities in ways that are context-responsive and situational. My focus has been on studying largely ongoing, phased projects, so this is a work in progress. This self-appointed intellectual mandate for comparative urbanism has required a form of evaluation that includes consideration of the use and mis-use of history and old rules, operational narratives and contestory factors, enquiry into assumptions made, responsibilities claimed, and objectives combining issues of determination (of plans, by their clients) and self-determination (of communities).

I have striven to show how the recognition of planning baggage and the emptying out of its tactics, is, in diverse ways, creating space for alternative behaviors in the form of new, potentially more socially equitable and responsive patterns of operation, engaging and reusing resources. I have learned that new hybrid processes of top down and bottom up planning, and interest in engaging with multi-modal approaches with their relative novelty and unprecedented forms of complexity, represent major challenges to long-held beliefs about planning’s role in society and the typical relationships between planner and those planned for. They foster a sense of the symbiotic relationships, interdependencies, alliances and self-determination cities need to generate their futures in socially equitable and resilient ways.

My body of research will help inform and contribute methodologies and concepts to future outputs on related themes concerning urban design and planning’s role and identity, including issues of, my webzine. The wider implications of my research are also that institutions involved in land use of all kinds accordingly need to carry a responsibility to adopt a higher commitment to the value of and need for adaptive instruments of civic urban order.

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