Book Review

Making Massive Small Change

A Compendium of Ideas, Tools + Tactics to build viable Urban Neighbourhoods
Kelvin Campbell

This dynamically illustrated book is a call for action: to make many small-scale changes and bring about massive positive ones in how we plan, build and look after cities, towns and neighbourhoods. Starting from the premise that our current planning, design and building systems are doomed to fail - due to their reliance on top-down controls, large-scale inputs and an inability to deliver the kind of places that people need - Campbell sets out a manifesto which encourages and celebrates radical incrementalism.

From active citizens, urban professionals testing out new ideas, community groups coming together or local politicians ‘stepping outside the mainstream’, the actors in this new approach are everyone, and the actions whatever it takes to make a difference. The book reads as a motivational self-help guide to those seeking to build viable urban neighbourhoods. Set out in three main sections, The System reviews how we got ourselves into a state where a call for action is needed (e.g. the subsection on Why Big Plans Fail, which encapsulates so many political and development industry fallacies.). The Way shows how a new attitude can be cultivated to value simpler protocols, ‘starter’ conditions and enabling behaviours, rather than their megalomaniac counterparts (complex policies, fixed outcomes and control mechanisms). This particular section is structured in small subchapters which examine Streets, Blocks, Platforms, Defaults and Activators, and the role that each can play in making massive small change. These subchapters include imaginary stories or hypothetical scenarios to make the various points: the value of the grid, making spaces at intersections, drawing up easily subdivided blocks, how dwellers can adapt their own places using codes and building systems, systems that nudge people into making positive choices and hence small changes, and how to trigger greater waves of change through assets and visions.

It is these last two subchapters, Defaults and Activators, that will be most exciting for urban designers to consider, as the earlier subchapters are a compendium of ideas that will already be familiar to those who have followed best practice projects in the UK for several decades, read Jane Jacobs, and understood the key messages of New Urbanism.

The final section, Change, shows how to start this whole process, including the basics (principles and purpose), levers (ideas, tools and tactics) and agency (transforming and enabling). Campbell, draws on Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline to stress that ‘cities are living organisms, not machines’ hence cultivating change is essential, and he provides both a manifesto and a declaration for Massive Small Change to promote the ideas further.

Throughout the book, the graphic style is persuasive and makes its messages easy to read; it therefore is likely to be readily adopted by many different readers.

URBAN DESIGN 149 Winter 2019 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 149 Winter 2019

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Making Massive Small Change Publication Urban Design Group
Chelsea Green Publishing
Reviewed By
Louise Thomas, independent urban designer