The idea of cities as complex systems in constant adaptive change is finally engaging urban thinking. However, we are still far from having this idea guide practice. UN-Habitat recognised this challenge in the “New Urban Agenda”, establishing the link between configuration of places and their performance in terms of prosperity, inclusiveness and equality, and environmental sustainability. However, we lag behind in understanding how urban places work from a resilience perspective, and urban planning and design are not ready to give directions for successful place-making, and design beautiful places that work for people, the environment and the economy.
The need for ideas to repair the hiatus generated in the past generation of planning ideology is growing: something practical and yet advanced enough to embrace this unique challenge. In this work we propose that designing urban places that work for all should be pursued under the new framework of spatial resilience, interpreted as a preliminary condition to sustainability, where urban form is understood as a complex adaptive system per se.
On these basis, we re-frame place-making under the new light of resilience and introduce an innovative approach to place-making here defined as “masterplanning for change” which, learning from the very same rules that drove the development of adaptive and successful places in history to date, calls for an urban design practice that designs places much less and much better, with implications for policy-making. Far from an ideological manifesto, our approach is: 1) evidenced based: having learned to identify the recurrent successes of resilience from the observation of cities in history up to our days, it uses them to design the city of the future. 2) practical: it advocates a reformed process of place-making, and provides the tools to deliver it, making it an essential reference for designers and policy-makers.