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Gernot Grabher

Gernot Grabher

Professor Gernot Grabher is Dean of the Master of School Urban Planning and directs the research unit Urban and Regional Economic Studies at the HafenCity University Hamburg (HCU). Previously he held positions, amongst others, at the University of Bonn, King’s College London and the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB). He was also visiting professor at Columbia University, Cornell University and the Santa Fe Institute. Gernot Grabher’s research interests include the economic geography and economic sociology of networks, new modes of collaborative innovation, as well as organizational and regional adaptability.

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gernot.grabher@hcu-hamburg.de

Abstract

Heterarchy:
Urban Adaptability to Self-Induced Shocks?

Gernot Grabher | Joachim Thiel | Tim Heinemann

Whatever the causes, dynamics and consequences of threats resilience is expected to absorb: they are perceived as ‘external’ shocks. And yet, the resilience of cities is not only put to a test by external shocks but also by self-induced jolts. Seen from a resilience perspective, both the risk of a hurricane and the staging of a mega-event pose similarly daunting challenges for urban adaptability. This paper explores the adaptive dynamics to the massive self-induced shock of staging the Olympic Games 2012 in London. The record of mega-events has largely been written as a chronicle of planning failures, financial disasters, and infrastructural ruins. The weather-chart of approaching hurricane Sandy was for New York what the abandoned pools of the Athens Olympics were for London: an epitome of a disaster most likely to happen. In enhancing adaptability to these likely calamities, the management of the London Olympics, we maintain, was performed by a heterarchic organizational ecology. The paper elucidates three features of this heterarchy. Goal ambiguity. From the bid to the staging of the Games the two conflicting imperatives of orchestrating a spectacular event and of catalyzing the urban revitalization were simultaneously attended to. Generative redundancy. The assessment of risks of missing milestones followed the competing epistemological strategies of deductive algorithm-based and inductive heuristic approaches of on-site risk negotiation. Recombinant coupling. Dedicated Olympia organizations, public administrations and private contractors were coupled in ways that allowed buffering, reshuffling of resources and recombination of collaborative ties. We will conclude with preliminary propositions about how the heterarchic organizational ecology of the Games might benefit the adaptability of the city for similar catastrophic or self-induced emergencies.

 

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