The Spontaneous City: Manifesto

Recently published, the book “The Spontaneous City” (Urhahn Urban Design, BIS Publishers) is a strong statement about the future of Urbanism. Though I am still going trough its pages, I think the interesting manifesto that opens the publication deserves a post, since in it I have found many ideas related to an open source urban design.

In the manifesto, the authors propose a change in the traditional urban planning, a new starting point by taking the city as a “marketplace” in which supply and demand from users sculpts urban form.

I agree on many points with their proposal for a bottom-up urban planning, placing the user as developer of the city, because I think, as stated in the manifesto, that the city should be shaped by their occupants, in a process of endless transformation.

They bet on an urbanism design by the user and developed by Urban Designers (in collaboration with the user who initiated the project). This assumes that their starting point is valid: the spontaneous city users are innovative and enterprising, which may not be true… And here is where I would add functions to the task of the Urban Designer, as well as carrying out projects of co-design and co-production (both terms used in the text) we should be able to provoke them, to involve the user using our professional position.

Throughout its four principles they mention that small processes are those that have to trigger major changes, the need for shared values and be user-oriented (something that I completely agree with).

The manifesto concludes launching a challenge: being able to find a balance between creating important common issues and create freedom wherever possible.

Analyzing the text, personally I miss references to a larger scale when creating the city as well as more specific terms about the role of the Urban Planner in this process. Although is possible to sense it in the text, I would emphasize the work of the Urban Planner in relation to the urban code.

An open-source urbanism requires a lot of flexibility in their regulations, especially when you bet on an active relationship between user and city. And this is a task that relates planning and politics, and is a field where planners have much to say, to enable the changes this manifesto proposes.

As they say, experiments of Utopian post-war Urbanism have relegated the discipline to the drawing board, losing touch with reality (A way of thinking that looks quite extended). That is why I consider essential the creation of such manifestos emerging from the analysis of our current reality.

As the book’s description says “The era of large-scale urban planning is over”, is time for citizens to participate actively in the development of their city, and for Urban Planners to acquire a large-scale commitment to make this possible.


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