The development of cities includes a wide variety of uncertainties which challenge spatial planners and decision makers. In response, planning approaches which move away from the ambition to achieve predefined outcomes are being explored in the literature. One of them is an adaptive approach to planning. In this paper, we argue that adaptive planning comes with a shift in focus. Instead of content and process, it is first of all about creating conditions for development which support a city’s capacity to respond to changing circumstances. We explore what these conditions may comprise and how they can be related to planning. First theoretically, by portraying cities as complex adaptive systems. Then empirically, through an evaluation of the practice of organic development strategies in which development trajectories are only minimally structured. Based on a review of 12 Dutch urban development projects, two of which are analysed in detail in this paper, we identify a series of conditions on spatio-functional configurations and the capacity building of local actors which enhance urban adaptability.