#19 Temporary uses – EURA

#19 Temporary uses

#18 Distancing
International webinar – Cities and Communities beyond Covid-19?

Are temporary uses back in town?

EURA Conversations Post #19 – 22 February 2021
by Robin Chang, Department of European Planning Cultures, TU Dortmund University, Germany

Temporary uses were alternatives to conventional and rational planning, but are now recognizable ways to collectively produce and maintain space while claiming rights. As zones of social transitions, they enable individuals with shared values and interests to catalyse change through simple rearrangements and designs. These are often based on the common needs and goals at hand. More remarkable and particularly following crises and natural disasters, temporary initiatives are means to fast and flexible solutions. These are crucial as we explore or adapt to new socio-spatial circumstances.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 forced us into “lock-down”, a lingering state of triage has cleared streets and buildings to afford momentary imprints and activity. In Conversation 3, Filipe Teles highlights how restrictions rooted in health policies or exceptions made to commercial and spatial regulations, stimulated experimentation in the public realm. In addition to popularizing temporary uses, this has enabled us to witness the resourceful stretching in communities’ capacity to improvise.

Mobility solutions – see Conversation 4 by Karsten Zimmermann – also garner much limelight. But, colleagues at the Sustainable Cities Institute recently demonstrate this as only one of many possible temporary uses. Their latest evidence-based guide to help redesign streets during the pandemic lays out clearly how communities can temporarily re-appropriate the streetscape to cycle, walk, dine, and play with greater senses of security and equity.

Another contribution brings forth issues of inequity concerning design and perception of public space. This is not new as we have seen with other temporary use trends in fast-changing environments. Yet, we still are unsure of how to address these challenges. Perhaps we are still caught up in the surging appreciation for people-oriented spaces and grassroots initiatives that manifest as freshly painted boundaries, improvisational separators, pylons, and make-shift constructions. To some extent, COVID-19 is reintroducing and reframing – in a world that selectively respects permanence – interim interventions as undoubtedly relevant, since what was normal, no longer is.

Before the pandemic, temporary uses in most Western cities had become harbingers of neoliberal redevelopments trailed by tensions arising from gentrification. These have – and continue to undergo – a separate and symbolic process of evolution. However, the re-emergence of inclusive and citizen-led interventions during the last year reveals the wider range of circumstances in which these practices advance non-traditional forms of appropriating urban space.

Put differently, the prevalence of temporary uses during the current global health crisis is not just a substitute discourse about problems faced by some communities, but a critical contribution to essential public arenas. We should do more than note the social value from resourceful and temporary uses in cities and recognise that they have long been underestimated in public policies and discourses. Why not commit an explicit readiness and acceptance to deploying different types of uses at different scales of time? Temporary uses have enhanced our abilities to maintain livelihoods and deliver frontline services and will most likely endure even after the pandemic.

We should make the most of the opportunity now to better consolidate temporary uses. What is holding us back from fully respecting these alternative, communal forms of spatial production?

In the next EURA Conversation Sara Caramaschi, explores in a little more detail the issues raised by the rise of temporary uses in cities.

The editors thank Robin and Sara for co-creating EURA Conversations 19 and 20.

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