Lean Urbanism Is About Making Small Possible

  • Hank Dittmar
  • Douglas S. Kelbaugh


This chapter argues against approaching urbanism as a production and storage problem, and for focusing on the potentials of informal urbanization. The informal economy is not just a coping strategy in the Global South, but it is permeating the creative and culinary sectors in Western cities. This chapter demonstrates how Lean Urbanism can disrupt the sclerosis of conventional planning, help people with fewer means contribute to their communities, and make nicer places. Lean Urbanism relaxes codes and challenges conventional development processes in Pink Zones, designated urban districts that relax the ‘red tape’ of zoning and building codes. The chapter concludes with an example of an open-source toolkit that underlies Lean Urbanism and focuses on energy-efficient buildings.


  1. Board, N. Y. C. L. (1982). Multiple Dwelling Law article 7-C Loft Law. New York.Google Scholar
  2. Brown, L. J., Dixon, D., & Gillham, O. (2009). Urban design for an urban century: Placemaking for people. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  3. Commons, H. o. (2011). The Localism Act. London: Stationary Office.Google Scholar
  4. Dittmar, H. (2014). Localism in England—Lessons for lean urbanism. Lean urbanism case studies. Retrieved from
  5. Dittmar, H. (2015). The lean scan—Activating community assets. Lean urbanism case studies. Retrieved from
  6. Doshi, S. (2013). The politics of the evicted: Redevelopment, subjectivity, and difference in Mumbai’s slum frontier. Antipode, 45(4), 844–865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Elefante, C. (2012). The greenest building is… one that is already built. Forum Journal, 27(1), 62–72.Google Scholar
  8. Enkvist, P., Nauclér, T., & Rosander, J. (2007). A cost curve for greenhouse gas reduction. McKinsey Quarterly, 1, 34.Google Scholar
  9. Finn, D. (2014). DIY urbanism: Implications for cities. Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 7(4), 381–398. Scholar
  10. Glaeser, E. L. (2011). Triumph of the city: How our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier. New York: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  11. Government, D. f. C. a. L. (2011). Plain English guide to the Localism Act. London.Google Scholar
  12. Government, D. f. C. a. L. (2016). Notes on neighbourhood planning. London.Google Scholar
  13. Habitat, U. (2015a). Habitat III issue paper 14 informal sector. New York, NY: United Nations.Google Scholar
  14. Habitat, U. (2015b). Habitat III issue paper 22 informal settlements. New York, NY: United Nations.Google Scholar
  15. Heynen, N. (2014). Urban political ecology I: The urban century. Progress in Human Geography, 38(4), 598–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Katz, B., & Wagner, J. (2014). The rise of innovation districts: A new geography of innovation in America. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  17. Lovins, A. B., & Browning, W. D. (1992). Negawatts for buildings. Urban Land, 51(7), 26–29.Google Scholar
  18. Luis, A. (2016). In the aftermath of Oakland’s tragedy, how museums can better serve local arts and DIY venues. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from
  19. Lydon, M., Garcia, A., & Duany, A. (2015). Tactical urbanism: Short-term action for long-term change. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  20. Nations, U. (2014). World urbanization prospects: The 2014 revision, highlights. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division, United Nations.Google Scholar
  21. Perur, S. (2014, June 12). Jockin Arputham: From slum dweller to Nobel Peace Prize nominee. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  22. Wales, H. T. P. o. (2009). A speech by HRH: The Prince of Wales at the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment conference 2009 titled globalization from the bottom up. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hank Dittmar
    • 1
  • Douglas S. Kelbaugh
    • 2
  1. 1.formerly of The Prince’s FoundationLondonUK
  2. 2.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations