Reprogramming the City by Scott Burnham

“A hopeful anthology of solutions for our hot, crowded planet.”

– Renée Loth, AchitectureBoston magazine

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“This book teaches us the possibilities of re-connecting cities and citizens through innovative solutions instigated by the people who best know the needs.”​  – Dr. Atsushi Deguchi​, University of Tokyo​

The need for adaptive reuse has never been more critical. Cities have long believed in abundance: more materials to use, more resources to consume, more land to develop—more of everything, available as needed. Abundance is an outdated belief, no longer sustainable nor realistic. 

The new urban reality is one of limited resources. Whether spatial, financial, or material, the assets available to cities are finite. A sustainable future requires a new spirit of resourcefulness to shift attitudes from using more to doing more with the resources at hand. For while the content of cities may be finite, the context of how we use that content will transform cities from limited palettes of resources into platforms of possibility. Reprogramming the City reveals new contexts of use for existing urban content. 

Here is what people have said about Reprogramming the City and its mission of adaptive reuse through repurposing and reimagining the function of urban assets:

“Anyone reading Scott Burnham’s essential book will emerge reassured by the transformative power of creativity in the world’s urban centers that is still within our grasp.” – Renée Loth, AchitectureBoston

About Reprogramming the City and Adaptive Reuse

Reprogramming the City reveals how cities around the world are employing adaptive reuse by reimagining and repurposing existing urban assets to benefit residents by doing more with what they already have.

Adaptive Reuse: the UTEC Water Billboard Scott Burnham Reprogramming the City Repurposed Billboard Urban Infrastructure
UTEC Water Billboard, Lima, Peru

From billboards in Lima, Peru repurposed to generate clean drinking water, to bus shelters in Umeå, Sweden that swapped their advertising lights for anti-SADD light therapy tubes. The new lights give commuters a mood boost during dark winter months, Reprogramming the City uncovers a new spirit of urban repurposing and reuse that is transforming cities around the world.

Adaptive Reuse: Bus Stop in Umeå, Sweden, transformed into a “light therapy” booth to boost public mental health during dark winter months.
Bus Stop in Umeå, Sweden, transformed into a “light therapy” booth to boost public mental health during dark winter months.

Reprogramming the City features over 40 richly-illustrated projects from numerous cities across 17 countries. The book offers an unparalleled collection of real-world examples of how existing urban elements are being reimagined to perform alternate functions, or assume entirely new roles in the city.

The book is organized into the thematic chapters of Food and Water, Housing and Shelter, Health and Wellbeing, Energy and Ecology and Renewal and Recovery, showing how the full range of human needs can be realized from the assets cities already have in place through adaptive reuse.

A San Francisco city bus transformed into a mobile hygiene unit for the homeless.

Reprogramming the City features:

  • 44 projects from 17 countries
  • 214 pages with over 300 color photographs and illustrations
  • A new paradigm of resourceful urbanism that designs with the city, not for it.

Projects featured in Reprogramming the City include:


Water Billboard | Lima, Peru Repurposing a billboard to produce fresh drinking water for local residents

Air Orchard | Lima, Peru Growing pollution free produce with a water billboard-fed irrigation system

Borneo Project | Montreal, Canada Adaptive Reuse of fire hydrants into public drinking fountains

LA20 | Los Angeles, USA Repurposing concrete river viaducts into farming and desalinating water systems

BuzzBuilding | Stockholm, Sweden Reimagining traffic roundabouts as food production and growing areas

Growing Underground | London, UK Producing local food in abandoned subway tunnels beneath stores and restaurants

Fenway Farms | Boston, USA Converting disused areas of the iconic baseball park into an urban farm

T5 Farm | New York, USA Growing air-to-table food at JFK’s Depature Terminal

Kääntöpöytä | Helsinki, Finland Rejuvenating an abandoned train turntable into organic food hub

GroCycle Urban Mushroom Farm | Exeter, UK Converting abandoned office space and spent coffee grounds into a mushroom farming business


Culture Urbaine | Geneva, Switzerland Repurposing a motorway bridge into a CO2-eating, fuel-producing unit

SolaRoad | Krommenie, NL Transforming roads and bike paths into energy-producing surfaces

Pavegen | London, UK Reducing the city’s energy footprint by generating power from pedestrian footsteps

LucidPipe | Portland, USA Generating hydro power from water flowing through under city streets

Open Air | Los Angeles, USA Cleaning and cooling urban air by replacing billboard advertising units with bamboo forests

Energy Column | Minneapolis, USA Using building height and waste energy to produce power onsite

Climate Tiles | Copenhagen, Denmark Increasing the functionality of sidewalk tiles to utilize water and prevent flooding

Kungsbrohuset | Stockholm, Sweden Harnessing the energy generated by commuters to heat buildings


Grünerløkka Studenthus | Oslo, Norway Adaptive Reuse of industrial grain silos into student housing

HAWSE | London, UK Converting abandoned parking units into housing for recently homeless individuals

paraSITE | Cambridge, USA Using building HVAC vents inflate and warm pop-up homeless shelters

LIFT | Honolulu, USA Converting disused pubic transportation buses into homeless shelters and service units

LOL | London, UK Reimagining Victorian train viaducts as affordable housing units

Arcade Providence | Providence, USA Converting America’s first enclosed mall into a model for micro housing

SCADPad | Atlanta, USA Using underused parking garages as adaptive housing units

The Billboard House | Mexico City, Mexico Creating an agile housing unit from a billboard structure


Ljusterapi | Umeå, Sweden Improving commuter mental health by replacing bus stop lights with light therapy tubes

Lampbrella | Saint Petersburg, Russia Tactical urbanism, transforming street lights into rain-activated pop-up umbrellas

The Cascade | Hong Kong Increasing the functionality of an urban stairway with a micro park for relaxation and social gatherings

Lido Line | London, UK Proposing a commuter swimming line as future use for abandoned industrial canals

Soft Walks | New York, USA Bolt-on seating and dining areas to repurpose New York’s scaffolding sidewalk sheds

La Grande Cantine | Paris, France Tactical Urbanism that tranforms cement waterfront stairs into picnic areas and social spaces

Marsupial Bridge | Milwaukee, USA Reusing legacy infrastructure to support green transportation and community life

Lava Mae | San Francisco, USA Providing mobile sanitation services with repurposed city busses


A1 Charging Booths | Vienna, Austria Adaptive Reuse of underused public payphone booths as electronic car charging stations

EV Charging Call Box | Baltimore, USA Converting old urban call boxes into Electric Vehicle charging stations

Under the Bridge | Stockholm, Sweden Finding opportunity for new pedestrian use and cultural spaces in an underused bridge

Goedzak | Amsterdam, NL Augmenting the city’s trash collection systems with a free cycling system for unwanted goods

City Tickets | Boston, USA Adaptive Reuse of multi-space parking pay machines into fault-reporting and public suggestion units

(IN)spires | London, UK Converting disused church spires into studios and creative industry incubators

Urban Mining | Norrköping, Sweden Recovering and recycling metals from outdated infrastructure beneath the city

The Park-Ing | Tokyo, Japan Designing studios, galleries and retail spaces into an underused parking garage

First Class Meal | Los Angeles, USA Adaptive Reuse of abandoned and underused postal facilities for community food services