Experimentation or projectification of urban change? A critical appraisal and three steps forward

Urban Transform. 2021;3(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s42854-021-00025-1. Epub 2021 Sep 29.


Urban experimentation has proliferated in recent years as a response to sustainability challenges and renewed pressures on urban governance. In many European cities, diverse and rapidly changing experimental forms (e.g. urban living laboratories, pilots, trials, experimental districts) are becoming commonplace, addressing ambitious goals for smartness, circularity, and liveability. Academically, there is a growing concern for moving beyond the focus on individual experiments and the insistence on upscaling their primary transformation mechanism. However, the phenomena of 'projectification' - whereby project-based forms of organising have become ubiquitous, shaping expectations about experimentation - is increasingly perceived as a barrier. Nevertheless, how specifically experimentation and projectification intersect remains unclear. Our theoretical perspective examines how the widespread tendency towards projectification shapes urban experimentation and the potential implications for urban transformations. It problematises the current wave of experimentation and how it contributes to the projectification of urban change processes. We present three steps to redress this issue and indicate directions for future research.

Keywords: Experimental governance; Projectification; Sustainability transitions; Urban experimentation; Urban transformation.