Flexible Urbanism: Retroactive Assemblage for the Contemporary City

by Daniel Ibanez (MDes ’12)

Historically, urbanization has depended upon landscapes and broader ecologies to be sustained. Its growth, as a result of processes of capital accumulation, has produced estrangement from the things that naturally belong together. The notion that cities are centers of consumption, and landscapes are centers of extraction has created an ecologically disruptive, unidirectional flow of energy and resources in the metabolism of the biosphere. This ‘metabolic rift’ has been historically solved by geographic displacement. This thesis argues that while cities have globally severed their connection with their immediate ecologies, it is urgent that we re-establish an association between cities and the regional contexts as a consequence of global resource scarcity.

To re-calibrate a self-metabolism of cities and their regions in a dialectical unity between accumulation of capital (as inevitable driver for urbanization), production of nature (resources and energy), and landscape (to derive forms of settlement and infrastructure) new socio-ecological associations must emerge. The thesis proposes a dynamic understanding of urbanization, where adaptation plays a central role. Therefore, Flexible Urbanism is defined as the dynamic expression of order in time and unfolds the potentials for urbanism to become indeterminate, open-ended, and adaptive to contemporary forces and long-term ecological vectors. Unfurling specific attributes of Flexible Urbanism through the retroactive revision of key projects provides specific design features to deal with the instability of the urban.

Lastly, this thesis argues that despite the emergence of a new socio economical regime in the 70s characterized by flexible accumulation, labor processes and markets, urbanization continues to absorb capital and remains structurally rigid and fixed, and indeed, reveals the internal contradiction of capitalism, as we can start to see current crisis. Therefore, it is necessary to propose a new model of urbanization that is more adaptive to processes of time and capital, attending to metabolic transactions with the environment.