What emerged for me from all the NUDF05 presentations was an acknowledgement that different approaches to urban design are required for different socio-political circumstances. The trick is to read the context in which you find yourself and to then determine which of all of these equally legitimate models is best. For me urban design must still have at its core the capacity for creative thinking and action. Life in the real world however takes unexpected twists and turns and therefore the ability to be act strategically (ie opportunistically) is the other critical ingredient.
The preconditions for the CO modus operandi are:
- the existence of a clear strategic framework,
- money (often someone else’s!)
- a community-endorsed political mandate and will and, flowing from these,
- strong advocacy and access to an influential network of converts/believers.
These preconditions usually give rise to an organizational environment within which really creative interventions can flourish. Opportunistic urban design has the capacity to both invent and appropriate projects and clients. To do it, you need to be both intellectually receptive and agile by applying soft skills such as strategic thinking and persuasion that can build a cogent argument for something.
A bottom drawer full of ready-to-implement designs or programs also helps because when the opportunity inevitably presents itself, compelling evidence for action presented in a form that is easily understood is often what succeeds in my view. For CO to be even more effective, urban design needs to divorce the “parents” of architecture and planning so that its real (and increasingly more urgent) contribution shifts from a confusing and ultimately limiting focus on what it is to what it does (what can we more effectively do in the future). The other significant challenge is not to attempt to turn the recipients of urban design into urban designers but rather to liberate them as clients so that they start to think opportunistically about the possibilities. This in turn demands that there be no distinction between urban design as form-making and urban design as process. I believe there is greater recognition and need in urban communities for us to unashamedly exploit the relationship between urban design, power and the political economy.