Flexible City


Considering that actual modifications in social and economic contexts take place in hurry motion, to forecast urban phenomena becomes more and more arduous. The city itself, each urban settlement and the actors who animate them (in their different roles), need a remarkable capacity to continuously familiarize to temporary circumstances. This is an adaptive process that involves the “city” such as urbanism, and it is possible to condense it by the term “flexibility”. The term is assumed as a development of the organic-adaptive-evolutionist approach to urban studies (references come from many authors in at least one century, i.e. Geddes, Piccinato, Choay).

In the paper authors discuss that, about urban and territorial practices and theories, flexibility undertook such a great value to assume a paradigmatic role. Flexibility is expressed in different dimensions, such as the flexibility of: relational systems (the so called “variable geometry”); government systems; environmental system and ecological planning (with a very close link to resilience); predictive capacity of urban simulation; physical systems (i.e. functionalization and de-functionalization, network structures).

Paradigmatic role of flexibility regards the city as a physical element and also the approach to understand, elaborate and design the city as a flexible element (always variable). In this sense the 3R approach (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) is a fundamental prerequisite.
The flexible city and its study present some basic characteristics such as: temporal dimension, variable geography, reversibility, functional un-differentiation, layer structure.
If flexibility is accepted as a paradigm, some cultural implications, opportunities and limits might be considered.

Opportunities are quite evident: flexible city is more efficient and smart, it optimizes resources and increases resilience. But many limits exist.
Which are the terms of this adaptation phenomenon? Citizens adapt themselves to a context that they occur to build: so it is a sort of retroactive adaptive process. Socioeconomic context could be considered as external driving forces.

During the centuries in historical cities, citizens developed a high capacity to adapt themselves and their activities to the exiting containers. Today the needs and the activities change faster and it is interesting to query whether it is the container that must be replaced or the user that must (or can) adapt himself to it.

Moreover, in every settlement there is a strong need by citizens to recognize themselves as a community into specific urban shapes. Accepting Choay approach, the construction of the city is an anthropogenetic fact, and it is one of the most critical aspects of a city that changes continuously.
Even in flexibility context, the permanence of collective meaning of spaces and its anthropological value is what makes a city.