Journal Article

Experimentation or projectification of urban change? A critical appraisal and three steps forward

Are you experimenting with sustainable alternatives to the status quo? Ever considered what constraints your impact? Here is a new perspective on the projectification of urban change processes from DRIFT researcher Timo von Wirth and Jonas Torrens from TU Eindhoven that reflects on existing tensions and ways forward.
Urban experimentation has proliferated in recent years as a response to sustainability challenges and renewed pressures on urban governance. In many European cities, diverse and rapidly changing experimental forms (e.g. urban living laboratories, pilots, trials, experimental districts) are becoming commonplace, addressing ambitious goals for smartness, circularity, and liveability. Academically, there is a growing concern for moving beyond the focus on individual experiments and the insistence on upscaling their primary transformation mechanism.
However, the phenomena of ‘projectification’ – whereby project-based forms of organising have become ubiquitous, shaping expectations about experimentation – is increasingly perceived as a barrier. Nevertheless, how specifically experimentation and projectification intersect remains unclear. Our theoretical perspective examines how the widespread tendency towards projectification shapes urban experimentation and the potential implications for urban transformations. It problematises the current wave of experimentation and how it contributes to the projectification of urban change processes. We present three steps to redress this issue and indicate directions for future research.

Policy and practice recommendations

  • Urban experimentation is happening in contexts where the project-logic is taken for granted, with added pressure from funding requirements for project-organisation
  • ‘Projectification of urban change processes’ is a self-reinforcing mechanism that induces short-termism and unambitious incrementalism
  • Practitioners and scholars need to discern experiments and projects, invest in learning from existing projects, and develop hybrid infrastructures for learning

Torrens, J., von Wirth, T. (2021) Experimentation or projectification of urban change? A critical appraisal and three steps forward. Urban Transform 3, 8.

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October 5, 2021