Evolving Cities

Exploring the relations between urban form ‘resilience’ and the governance of urban form

This project involves an exploration of the interplay between the designed and built qualities of urban form and urban governance over time in creating ‘resilience’. Its focus is on neighbourhood-scaled pieces of major cities and urbanised regions which exemplify long-term processes of land management through ownership, planning, investment and development. It examines the role of these processes in informing the patterns and timeframes of infrastructure provision, build-out, adaptation, renewal and redevelopment that characterise how such areas evolve from their inception. The project’s aims in doing so are two-fold. First, it aims to evaluate the ‘resilience’ of different sorts of urban form to the varied contexts of change and uncertainty which shape the evolution of the built city. Second, it aims to explore the roles of ‘city builders’ over the long-term in influencing the resilience which different sorts of urban form and infrastructure are able to acquire over time.

Our interest in ‘resilience’ emerges from the desire to understand the conditions of both urban form and its management over time that enable localities to persist in attracting and generating use and value and/or to adapt in order to remain viable and productive. In these terms, we move away from the common emphasis of resilience studies on analysing responses to the impacts of specific crisis events. We develop the idea of ‘resilience building’ as an on-going process developed in places in response to diverse experiences of change – from the minor, every day and incremental to the more major and sudden. We do so by analysing and comparing the development histories of eight case study neighbourhoods, each of which reflects both inherited and ongoing forms of urban planning, design, building and investment (including heritage strategies). The case studies encompass a rich array of urban forms – from the terraced urban form of Mayfair to the courtyard blocks of Berlin, and from the tall towers of Hong King to low-rise ‘planned communities’ of Orange County. They, similarly, reflect a number of international models of long term urban planning, investment, development and management – from the ‘stewardship’ of the Grosvenor Estate in London to the Irvine Company in California to the Urban Renewal Authority of Singapore. In different ways, these models are examples of long term ‘vision-setting’ and provide scope for learning about the relationship between institutional and physical adaptability in urban settings.

The project involves two principal lines of investigation. First, it develops ways of conceptualising and evaluating the resilience of urban form. An innovative set of ‘measures of resilience’ has been crafted in order to provide a frame for comparing the uses and values associated with highly contrasting case studies. Second, it examines how the varying degrees of resilience found to typify these examples can be seen to have been shaped by actions, decisions and strategic approaches embedded in urban development and management processes over time.

The working report which has emerged from the first phase of this research based on eight case studies concludes by outlining several key approaches seen at this stage to be requisite for building urban resilience for the future. These are also summarised in the report’s Executive Summary.


The project has been undertaken with the generous support of:

Grosvenor: http://www.grosvenor.com/
Neil Smith, founding (now retired) partner of Rockwood Capital: http://www.rockwoodcap.com/

Research Director: Dr. Juliet Davis
For further information, please contact Juliet, who is now a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/archi/DavisJ.php