(January 2010) Urban Design as tool for transformation of the de-industrialized city

Urban Design as tool for transformation of the de-industrialized city image
De-industrialization is a challenge faced by many cities and that poses problems of social and economic reconversion. Transformations in the urban design characteristics of de-industrialized cities have been hailed as having the potential to renovate and reinvigorate the social and economic fabric of the city even if, paradoxically, social scientists are often little involved in the project (Carmona and Tiesdell, 2007). There is a neglect of the benefits that urban design-based interventions can bring to a city and that are directly influenced by urban design itself. These include the exploitation of already urbanized land that is underused, the reconversion of underutilized spaces, the increase of land value in the focus neighbourhood and in the adjacent ones, and the preservation of land in the city edge. (Hubbard, 1995; Gospodini, 2006)

The main question in focus is: How is urban design used for the transformation of de-industrialized cities? Cities with a strong industrial tradition are privileged places to study this transformation. Through urban design, changes in the built industrial heritage are often promoted, in order to mark the path towards a de-industrialized reality. The goal of this paper is to look into what two European cities have been pursuing in this context.

The paper will follow a method that Klarqvist and Min (1994) used in a study of neighbourhood morphology, in which the analysis is guided towards discovering the links between (social) intentions behind a project and the resulting plan pattern. The social intentions set the context in which the urban design project is included. Urban design is a tool. The paper thus follows a qualitative methodology, in which a literature review guided by the proposed interaction between de-industrialization and urban transformation goals and urban design interventions will set the background. The study cases will be constructed through the analysis of the official documents on the transformation strategies, though interviews to the city planners, and on site visits. The expectation is to find how these cities, affected with the economic and social decline caused by the closure of big industries and the rise in unemployment, used urban design interventions to build a way out of this socio-economic crisis.

The paper will be structured in five parts: an introduction to the concept of urban design and some of the ambiguities of the term that help to understand the high expectations regarding the reach of urban design interventions; a brief discussion on the connection between de-industrialization, urban design and urban transformation; a reflection on why urban design has become an important part of the post-industrial city, an overview of the urban design strategies used in the two study-cases, and conclude with the main attributes of a de-industrialized city's transformation through urban design interventions.

Further research will be needed to extend the study into a third aspect of the relationship between de-industrialization and urban transformation through urban design - has the plan pattern delivered the expected social and economic transformations? This is a question that I intend to address further on in my research.


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Urban Design as tool for transformation of the de-industrialized city by Ana Mafalda Madureira is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.5 Sweden License.