The Lean City: Citizen as Producer, Consumer, Product

  • David WeekEmail author


The world is urbanizing rapidly. In 1950 the urban population stood at 751 million. In 2018, it was 4.2 billion—55% of the world’s population. The Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs predicts that by 2050, 2.5 billion people will have been added to the urban population, for a total of 6.7 billion, representing 68% of the world population. Sustainable development depends increasingly on the successful management of this urban growth (World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision [Key Facts], 2018). A complicating factor is that urban structure is inelastic. Transport corridors, property lines, and buildings are all long-lived objects. Urban development decisions made today will be felt for decades. Lean thinking and lean production constitute a direction in thinking about production. Lean is a focus on value as defined by the customer, not the producer. Lean focuses on reducing waste, rather than maximizing utilization of labor capital. Lean organization is oriented towards shop-floor continuous improvement, rather than radical and risky global redesigns. Both objectives of better value for the new city-dwellers, and reduced waste, seem well suited to the application of lean to the city. The city is an urban form which produces value for the citizens who live there. Central planning in which citizens are managed by experts are sometimes unpopular, and plans are regularly overridden by politics. Funds are never available to meet demand, and therefore wasted funds are a lost opportunity. Cities are being continuously rebuilt and remodeled. But lean is as yet under applied to the production of cities. Applying lean production and management can help move cities past apparently intractable problems due to 19th century central planning and mass production. Lean offers the potential to enable citizens and city managers to direct their energies in more valuable and low-waste directions. This paper explores how lean provides new perspectives by applying each of its five principles to management of city growth and operations.



I wish to thank Margaret Hazeltine, former CEO of Mars Australia, for introducing me to lean thinking fifteen years ago; David Ashmore for introducing me to concepts of urban transportation; Tanzil Shafique for being my co-investigator into the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari; both David Ashmore and Tanzil Shafique for critical readings of this paper; Farida Fleming for editorial oversight and mentoring; Kim Dovey for DMA, city assemblages, and guitar sessions. This paper could not have been written without their influence. Its shortcomings and errors are all my own.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Architecture, Building and PlanningUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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