Can we afford to have so many urban spaces not being used? Isn’t it a waste of potential energy for social creativity? What can we do with such an amount of sites, buildings and public facilities while they are being completed or there is enough public budget to run them to their potential capacity? There is a need to make use of them in the meantime and here is where transitional and temporary creative projects appear as a reponse.
This is the context that is precipitating the relevance of transitional use projects. As crisis has prevented the development of large-scale hierarchical interventions, transitional projects are more visible as the best catalog to continue reviving city life. Such projects are capable of generating major impacts on key social dynamic at a very low cost and highly significant. This approach is not new and the interest in making the best of the public realm with reactivation project is a well known strategy. The good news now is that there is a stronger experience on temporary uses, new emerging topics such as tactical urbanism and a growing literature in the last few years.
Adaptive urbanism is a way to deal with the limits of formal planning. Planning intends to regulate uses and permits with the promise of offering a permanent solution. When a project is planned, there is an expectation that everything will work fine (schedules and finances, but also final uses and operations). But every urban plan is out of date since it is approved, because circumstances change –and how have they changed in the last five years!- and users and citizens give new uses and behave and interact with the city in different ways than the expected one. Formal urbanism thinks in terms of projects, material projects, as an output. But now that lots of envisaged projects won’t become real for years it is time to think in a more adaptive ways and give priority to social creativity processes and local networks as the main outcome we have to promote. This is the software of the city.
Temporary urbanism is a threat to formal and planned regulations of space in cities, as illegal, output expected, everything was legitimate. However, in current economic constraints, even when social needs are higher, cities must keep offering solutions using flexible formulas and transitional planning, and give importance to social, collaborative and grassroots processes now that big investment cannot be part of the agenda. It will be time for the imagination. It will be time for limited resources but more creative action, time for case-by-case solutions instead of pretentious long-term planning. Over the years there is an accumulated wealth of experience and knowledge on how to address tactical interventions in cities with a more adaptive, suitable, creative and participatory approach. It is a matter of raising the shutters and tearing down the fences, exploring and testing to see if there is something that can be done on those sites and buildings apart from waiting for better times to come.
This implies a mix of uncertainty, austerity, insecurity and temporality as the landscape for re-imagining the city. These conditions are present, to greater or lesser extent, in Western cities as newcomers after the financial crisis and its subsequent impact on urban development. As institutions try to understand how to face these new conditions, a wide experience of practices and appropriation projects, developed sometimes as outsiders in the previous economic stage, appear as an adequate response to give social value to neglected plots and facilities. 107 spontaneous or accidental uses, activities and forms emerge in a hierarchical logic of planning. The history of cities is somehow determined by informality and temporality and only in the process of more detailed ordinances and regulatory activity things have become as formal as urbanism is nowadays. Having said this, authors acknowledge that this view of temporality as an exemption can be applied to countries where urbanism has gained a level of formality, while in most parts of the world the condition of temporal informality has particular patterns the book does not addresses.
Legal, financial or planning frameworks are not a burden but conservatism and lack of vision and capacity are a bigger problem. The practices and theories of a DIY approach to urbanism and informal temporary actions in urban spaces are in their infancy. However, the context favors a new understanding of cities. Contradictions with formal regulations are inherent to this change process and political and social tensions will keep rising. It is part of the idea of enjoying more complex cities where groups and individuals can gain power to intervene and influence the planning process that seems to be no longer so capable to give responses. Zoning, regulations and masterplans will need to share their roles with short term projects and more flexible activities because these projects better match not only the economic context but also the changes in the way we want to enjoy cities.
Rigid planning and formal regulations give narrow chances to face this unexpected situation. They were not designed to cope with the circumstances we are witnessing. They were thought out in a business as usual scenario in which usual meant the big party of iconic buildings, large developments, and massive public resources without economic and social bottom lines. But the party is over and thinking cities as hardware –just build it and things will happen- has come to an end.
From an adaptive approach, cities should avoid keeping these assets out of work and expelling any alternative use to the one they were planned for. But this requires changing the mindset, regulations adapted to the new conditions and a new possibilities for creative projects that could make suitable use of these sites and buildings in the meantime: infrastructures, public facilities, public spaces, empty shops, new urban developments, unused roofs in residential and public buildings, etc.
In all these situations, hierarchical and formalistic understanding of planning and urban policies offers definitive and permanent solutions: keep out, close, stop, interdict, etc. Planning for permanent circumstances and definite solutions is what makes us feel secure even though we know cities are more and more complex and always changing systems. This way of thinking in which outputs from public policies -not process- were the core of urban action and is the kind of framework that supported the massive obsession with buildings and infrastructures. If there was a material/physical output expected, everything was legitimate.
This implies a mix of uncertainty, austerity, insecurity and temporality as the landscape for re-imagining the city. These conditions are present, to greater or lesser extent, in Western cities as newcomers after the financial crisis and its subsequent impact on urban development. As institutions try to understand how to face these new conditions, a wide experience of practices and appropriation projects, developed sometimes as outsiders in the previous economic stage, appear as an adequate response to give social value to neglected plots and facilities.
This text is my contribution to EDGECondition Vol. 5 on Placemaking.
From the editors:
This issue of EDGEcondition aims to be part of that critical placemaking discourse. Reflecting the global nature of the placemaking sector, this issue is international, with articles from Japan, USA, China, UK, Israel, Canada, Australia and Germany. The issue starts with conversations on the definition, ethos and practices of placemaking and then moves on to show various forms of placemaking, from the ‘top-down’ to the ‘bottom-up’, to explore just how many different placemaking practices there are and the diverse actors involved in them and resulting outcomes.
This issue is by no means a definitive answer to ‘the placemaking question’, but it is a part of a conversation the placemaking sector, its ‘professional’ and ‘non-professional’ constituents need to be having, to understand placemaking better and to communicate it more effectively outside of our sector. http://www.ciudadesaescalahumana.org/2012/03/the-time-of-temporary-city.html