In pursuit of what constitutes good planning, one of the topics at the Young Planners’ Conference that took place on 2 - 3 November, a suitable starting point could be the middle of 2008 when I entered the profession as a graduate planner for Glasgow City Council.
At the time, the impact of the global financial crisis was just beginning to manifests itself on the country through halted developments, declining numbers of planning applications, shelved projects and growing levels of vacancy and dereliction. This recollection will undoubtedly be shared by many young planners who entered the world of planning in the wake of adverse socio-economic conditions.
Yet, thriving in uncertainty, it was temporary urbanism which I witnessed emerging as an exciting trend of urban planning and redevelopment - something able to offer a more flexible, adaptive and participatory approach to city activation. A decade on, I wonder if this movement still has relevance and can form the basis of good planning in these uncertain times.
Greyfriars Gardens, a temporary garden space in Glasgow's historic centre providing a social growing space for local residents
What is temporary urbanism
Temporary urbanism has often been best understood as activities taking place outside the ordinary functioning of the real estate market, working within the gaps between mainstream planning, speculative investment and local possibilities. The practice has frequently been associated with descriptions such as tactical, do-it-yourself, meanwhile and pop-up.
· Over the years, it has helped foster a wide range of uses including temporary growing spaces, mobile gardens, pop-up events and restaurants, interim playscapes, art installations and short-term recreation facilities.
Of course, the activity of temporary use is not new, having always existed in cities. The temporary activation of public places for civic gatherings or the periodic use of spaces for festivals or street markets has long been embedded in human cultures, as documented by Ali Madanipour in Cities in Time: Temporary Urbanism & the Future of the City.
Yet, it has been the increase in frequency and the diversity in the range of activators, locations and nature of projects which have rooted it in the contemporary conditions of the time.
In Glasgow, since 2010, I have helped develop a type of temporary urbanism initiative called the ‘Stalled Space Initiative’. It has helped facilitate over 130 community-led projects, been internationally recognised, and rolled out nationally in Scotland. The initiative has continued to remain oversubscribed for support requests, year on year, highlighting the enduring demand for this form of urban planning.
More than a ‘stop-gap’
In broad terms, temporary projects have shown to provide communities, communities-of-interest and emerging urban practices with limited access to financial capital an ability to actively participate in city development. Temporary spaces have often been transformed into testbeds for ideas, with places being established as catalysts, urban incubators and outdoor laboratories.
By being adaptive, activities have been able to provide a direct response to local demands and needs, or provide a lighter and cheaper way of testing community interest. Many temporary projects have been successful at creating destinations in urban sites which had ceased to be of interest to others. Therefore, the movement has demonstrated a remarkable ability to test demand, grow momentum and provide a potential to create permanent outcomes for people and places.
In Glasgow’s Canal Corridor, for example, a cluster of temporary uses has emerged. The most distinct is the ‘Test Unit’, a week-long annual summer school to prototype different developments and interventions for the area.
Test Unit 2016 prototypes alternative developments for a brownfield site next to Glasgow’s Canal.
Future relevance of temporary urbanism in planning
While temporary urbanism is by no means the only approach to good urban planning, it does seem to present remarkable worth as a precursor to a more inclusive planning system.
This strongly aligns with the increasing call for greater community involvement in different stages of the planning process. In addition, with the concept of ‘urban resilience’ rapidly moving to the forefront of cities’ planning agendas, temporary urbanism is able to offer a mechanism by which to test, conceptualise, adapt and experiment.
So where do we go from here?
As we face an increasing climate of uncertainty in terms of social, economic, environmental and political factors, the capabilities of temporary urbanism appears to remain both relevant and vital.
To achieve a more flexible, inclusive and participatory planning system able to thrive in the face of uncertainty, I would encourage planners to create some permanency for temporary urbanism. This should be through enabling and embedding it within contemporary planning policy and practice, because I too share the reflections of the famous Jane Jacobs (from The Death and Life of Great American Cities), that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody”.
Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.