#20 Temporary uses 2

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Please, stop turning the temporary into tokenism

EURA Conversations Post #20 – 8 March 2021
by Sara Caramaschi, Gran Sasso Science Institute, Italy

As discussed by some, the reconceptualization of temporariness will be among the many post-pandemic challenges to consider. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, a common response has been to mobilize a variety of temporary arrangements as ad hoc physical solutions. From temporary intensive care hospitals built-up in Wuhan and Milan – the latter highly criticized and currently unused – to painted or pop-up markers for distancing, temporary solutions have and continue to appear as visible spatial practices and responses.

Temporary installations offer immediate, pragmatic answers to unexpected conditions as Robin Chang outlines in Conversation 19. However, being activated at times of crises or emergency, the temporary can develop along trajectories that we should approach more critically. Certain solutions could become costly to manage at later stages (e.g., decommissioned pop-up installations and temporary dwellings). Some may have inequitable or precarious socio-spatial impacts for certain populations for the time being (e.g., exclusivity by design or privatization of public spaces for commercial services). Others may deeply change the use and acceptance of everyday activities and places (e.g., projects that utilize street lanes to carve out space for curbside dining and office space).

The processes triggered by temporary uses are not new, as similar phenomena have  evolved in contexts following crises or natural disasters. At the core, the issue is not temporariness per se, but rather the thoughtless urgency or incremental and fashionable instrumentalization with which some actors deploy temporary solutions. This could be further exacerbated by current lack of foresight or planning as we transition from “the crises” (e.g., natural, health, or financial) back to conventional situations. In Italy, for example, the mass immunization campaign aims to put in place thousands of newly-built temporary pavilions in the main squares. Fortunately, several cities have rejected this National proposition and will make provisional use of the existing building stock. This case, also comparable to the outdoor hip solutions adopted by restaurants in global cities (welcomed by the public administrations), exemplifies how institutions develop a tendency towards unreasonable ‘pop-up’ cultures. Would it not be more thoughtful to think of the temporary as a vehicle towards sustainable solutions?

Undoubtedly, it makes sense to program and accommodate temporary remedies for those activities and functions  that are either disappearing or expanding during the pandemic (think about small businesses or community health centers). Such a response contributes to the provision of short-term alternatives and reinforces community cohesion, placemaking and enterprise at times of emergency. However, this is a different and more resourceful action compared to the design processes underpinning the conception, construction and commissioning of new, captivating (but excessive) structures.

Examples of injudicious delivery of temporary solutions in the built environment only highlight again the lack of attention to the moral potentialities and the dramatic contradictions of improvisation, adaptation and the temporary in the face of an emergency. We cannot leave this unchecked, especially after two decades of discussions surrounding temporary solutions and their potential evolution towards exclusion, unsustainability and inequalities.

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

The next two contributions to EURA Conversations – on the importance of urban green space for health and wellbeing, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic – are by Isabelle Bray and Dannielle Sinnett who are both at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

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