The bearable lightness of urban change trajectories

Cities are dynamic entities that can be guided by means of  planning measures to more or less desirable trajectories. This article by Tarmo Pikner gives an overview of some examples of various interventions that can contribute to urban resilience. 

Opening of a waterfront or a wasteland can take place by introducing integrated movement paths and meeting spaces. Here the challenge is to maintain existing layers in becoming atmospheres. Thus the essential components of urban space are stories, diverse durations and trajectories (Massey, 2005). Durations bring out values and layers of spaces, which appear to be important towards (contested) continuities and change. Trajectories refer to paths of movement and also can indicate wider tendencies of change. Thus both trajectories and durations can indicate important characteristics about the spatiality of urban resilience including different scales. They are like connected sides of the “resilience coin”, which tries to maintain essential elements and knowledge for liveliness, and simultaneously prepare for unknown futures.    

Site visits and discussions related to Augmented Urbans indicated that the project test-cases aim to mobilise urban resilience along spatiality that connects wider trajectories of movement and lively places. Places appear as nodes along paths where events and sociality can realise. And these trajectories and places have more-than-human touch revealing aspects of co-existences, which help to accommodate unwanted disturbances. Let’s have a look at a few examples. In the Gävle case, green pockets of insects are planned side by side with the redesign of apartment balconies and playgrounds, contributing to atmospheres of the apartment neighbourhood. In the Tallinn case, the corridor of insects creates visible biological diversity and potential for human-nature engagement in the form of gardening, education and leisure. In the Cesis case, the mobilised spatiality connects the town centre with the fluid riverscape of Gauja, creating placesfor walking and nodes of possible activities. Thus the project initiatives translate some forgotten and abandoned terrains into dynamic urban landscape, which become part of the scene and experience of urban change. 

Landscape is something more than separated entities of land, nature and space (Ingold, 2001). Some aspects of resilience seem to connect these three entities into lively landscapes, bringing aspects of rurality into cities. Growing of edible plants appears in particular  to bring together land, co-produced nature and space along various concerns and modalities of commoning (Pikner et al., 2020). Often there are diverse thresholds in social organising in gardening sites in densely populated areas. The gardening site on a green fringe between blockhouses and garage boxes can be seen as acupuncture in a wider healing process of urban integrity. However, often this healing process depends not only on the tiny gardening plot but also on power relations in city planning. These relations can be bypassed by just throwing a seed-bomb, and a different tactic could be institutionalisation of former temporary gardening sites through planning maps. Usually, an urban garden as a process is something in between these two extreme tactics. The differences appear here in the duration and up-scaling of temporary interventions.     

One aspect of the resilience approach aims to prepare collectives for climate change disturbances and crises. Here the project test-sites indicate a strong belief in urban greenery in these future-oriented adaptations. The test-sites decentralise some planning hierarchies and try to showcase their potential that can contribute to wider changes in the urban fabric. Depoliticisation dynamics and environmentalism influence two main directions of resilient city initiatives: a) going along rather that trying defeat ecological processes (e.g. making room for water), b) arriving at a participatory, consensual agreement on what should be done (Fainstein, 2015). These two aspects become clearly visible also in the context of Augmented Urbans initiatives, where socio-ecological means are mobilised together with spaces of visualising the potentials and possible trajectories of change. For example, 3D glasses enabling to see fragmentary views along the connecting green paths, to learn about ecological diversity, and sensing the city square during different seasons. These spaces of visualisation simplify the reading of complex planning schemes, and the planners can elaborate some ideas in a more flexible and depoliticised context. Depoliticisation can become part of informality dynamics which empowers some actors and redraws boundaries of institutional city planning (Pikner et al., 2020). Instead of complex models of resiliency, we encountered rather playful interventions, bringing city planners together with diverse interest groups. On the other hand,  an ambition was also expressed for providing a systematic matrix of resilience components.  

Resilience-oriented interventions tell about ways how planners and collectives visualise processes of urban change and related possible risks and crises. The latest coronavirus disturbance indicated that accessibility to greenery is particularly important for people’s well-being in cities during quarantine situations and social isolation (Samuelsson et al., 2020). It would require further effort to see how resilience-oriented interventions contribute simultaneously to the preventions and adaptations related to similar pandemic crises. Risk models and sustainability strategies could well co-exist with tactical interventions to connect the city and its dwellers with greenery and rural ways of living. This balanced view in resilience approach would help to keep change trajectories utopian enough and bearable. Here utopia is seen as an essential part of reality as shifting the limits of what is possible, and therefore the claims of utopia are relevant and necessary (Pinder, 2015). The Augmented Urbans project interventions and stories seem to affect some further coordinates of urban change.


  • Ingold, T. (2001). The Perception of the Environment. Essays of Livelihood, Dwelling and Skills. Routledge.
  • Fainstein, S. (2015). Resilience and justice. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39 (1), 157-167.
  • Massey, D. (2005). For Space. Sage. 
  • Pinder, D. (2015). Reconstructing the possible: Lefebvre, utopia and urban question. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39 (1), 28-45.
  • Pikner, T., Willman, K., Jokinen, A. (2020). Urban commoning as a vehicle between government institutions and informality: collective gardening practices in Tampere and Narva. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 1−19. doi: 10.1111/1468-2427.12877.
  • Samuelsson, K., Barthel, S., Colding, J., Macassa, G., and Giusti, M. (2020). Urban nature as a source of resilience during social distancing amidst the coronavirus pandemic. OSF Preprints, 17 Apr. 2020. doi: 10.31219/