In an article for the online magazine CITIES The Magazine issue #o2: “EMERGING CENTERS”, David Dooghe describes the Belgian bottom-up self-organising approach and the Dutch top-down planning approach from a historical overview and wonders if self-organisation is really the new urban design mantra?


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Out of this historical overview, it becomes clear that both approaches have their pros and cons. The Belgian bottom-up self-organising approach can lead to several personal initiatives, though they tend to lack a clear common goal. The Dutch top-down planning approach on the other hand, has have a clear common goal, but lacks the cooperation and initiatives of the private sector. This illustrates a double tension between top-down planning and bottom-up self-organising: there is the tension between the freedom of the private partners and the interference of the public partners on the one hand and the tension between the uncertain outcome of the clear goal on the other.

Since the crisis hit the urban development and planning economy, self-organisation seems to be the new mantra in the Netherlands. In response to this, Stephen Marshall, author of ‘Cities Design and Evolution ’ (2oo8), stated in the International Perspective lecture of November 24 2o11 that: “self organisation is more than simply saying ‘let the city self organise’. There still needs to be some degree of planning involved.”

Self-organisation and planning could cooperate more closely by developing clear aims without planning an exact end design outcome. By doing so, self-organisation becomes more targeted. With a clear aim, the process of development can be more open and equal for everybody who wants to participate. The use of urban codes, at different scales, gives a certain degree of order, functionality and will ensure that the overall outcome will be agreeable for all public and/or private participants. In this sense, there is an aim, but the process generates the patterns by itself.  Stephen Marshall admitted that, he didn’t have all the answers on this new approach towards urban planning but argued that we can only learn by doing: evolution, after all, only happens when tradition meets innovation.


CITIES The Magazine issue #o2: “EMERGING CENTERS” examines how recently urban research and explorations have shifted attention to ‘bottom-up’ initiatives mitigating the impacts of ‘top-down’ approaches to urban development.