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People change. Our needs, wants, functions and expectations evolve. But buildings don’t change as fast as we do. Today, cities are catching up and adapting their buildings and environments to meet the evolving needs of residents.

The idea of adaptive reuse—when an old building is repurposed for something other than what it was designed for—has been around for centuries. Yet with increasing pressures such as globalization, urbanization and climate change, cities have to learn to adapt as quickly as we do. What exactly makes a city adaptive? Read on to find out. You might even think of new ways to adapt Chicago for the future.

1. Adaptive Cities Reuse Historic Buildings 

In the past, buildings were often reused for economic reasons, but today more citizens and developers are interested in historic preservation. The preservation of historically significant buildings in an adaptive city adds social value. It allows people to come together and share a common bond over the love of a place, and it spurs rediscovery of the city and its culture.

Watch this video to find how the fight to save the Marquette Building in the 1970s led to the preservation of many of Chicago’s historically significant buildings. 

2. Adaptive Cities Repurpose Infrastructure 

The word "infrastructure" tends to conjure up images of dull concrete highways or ugly, dark alleyways. But imagine if, instead of avoiding these places, we intentionally travelled to them to hang out with friends, to participate in an event or to observe something beautiful. Reimagining everyday urban infrastructure sheds light on underused or overlooked places in the city. With some new ideas, everyday spaces can make our cities look and feel safer.

Read about a plan to activate the cold steel structure under the Chicago “L” tracks with colorful, pulsating lights.

3. Adaptive Cities Use Technology to Connect People and Services

Retrofitted with technology, cities can shift resources and behaviors according to demand. Technology can also make city life easier for residents. For example: getting train arrival times on your smartphone or requesting city services with just the click of a button—no matter where you are.

Visit this City of Chicago web page to view, report and track Chicago’s 311 service requests for potholes.

4. Adaptive Cities Surprise and Delight

Cities are increasingly being shaped by citizen-led projects that help us imagine what could be. Spontaneous projects like miniature parks and temporary art displays interrupt our everyday routines and engage us in thought and play. They reaffirm our reasons for living in a densely populated city and help us make meaningful connections with other people. 

Read about the "People Plazas” that are popping up across Chicago and activating small patches of the city.

5. Adaptive Cities Empower Citizens to Solve Problems 

By removing barriers that prevent experimentation, adaptive cities enable people to become creative seeds in their communities. With more flexible ordinances and codes, new businesses and entrepreneurs can create amenities and spaces that promote the exchange of ideas and resources. With this type of flexibility, cities become labs that help people solve urban design challenges.

Ever heard of the Plant? It’s a Chicago urban farm that’s tackling food production challenges.