It’s Not Just a Solution, It’s a Way of Life

In the cemeteries of the industrial revolution a new definition is given to urban living. What is seen by many as a temporary solution to an urban problem is, for others, a political alternative to the dominant interpretation of urban living.

Due to great examples such as the Flughafen Tempelhof in Berlin and the NDSM-werf in Amsterdam, the temporary use of urban spaces has become particularly popular to fill the gap between the changing urban economy and the changing urban landscape. Urban economies have been transforming for a while now. Massive factories, industrial railways and simple working-class housing in the inner-city are not as needed anymore since economies have become service-based. In an ideal world, these places would be torn down to give way for new and suitable spaces that fit today’s urban economy, but it seems that money, investors and permissions are hard to get these days.


Skaters at Flughafen Tempelhof

The problem of how to incorporate these vacant, unused and abandoned places back into the urban landscape can be solved by temporary use. This new strategy of using urban space is primarily shaped by its temporary character as Haydn nicely puts it: ‘temporary uses are those that seek to derive unique qualities from the idea of temporality’ (2006: 17). In order to adapt to the visual and practical character of these spaces designed for industrial use and to the fleeting and transitory character of the time frame, these projects have to make use of a great deal of creativity.

Flughafen Tempelhof has attracted people because you can skate or compete in a kyte competition, a vacant field in Lichtenberg, Berlin has attracted people because it is now a sun flower labyrinth and the NDSM-werf is now a cultural hotspot where skaters and artists gather. The example of the NDSM-werf in Amsterdam shows how by renting the industrial spaces to artists, to creative commercial ventures or to crafts people can lead to the upgrading of the whole area. Partially due to these projects, the people of Amsterdam are actually excited to take the ferry to the other, more creative side of the IJ. Something that was not really popular in past because of the bad image of Amsterdam North.

As a solution, temporary use can reactivate prominent spaces in the urban landscape, it can break former boundaries between neighbourhoods and it can be the first step for unusual ideas to become professional but it can also be a political statement. A plea first made by Henry Lefebvre and revitalised by Susan Fainstein very much fits the principles of temporary use. This plea stands for a new urbanism where the urban landscape is used to fulfil benefits of all who live in the city. The executives of temporary use projects often call themselves urban pioneers to give their project exactly this political charge. Urban pioneers try to create free spaces accessible and beneficial for all. This contrasts the dominant urban landscape that is shaped by a focus on economic growth. This focus leads to an unequal distribution of opportunities in the city with all types of privileged spaces based on economic differences. The events and practices in temporary use projects are not merely based on profit or economic growth but more so on creativity and cultural significance of the urban space. Mostly urban pioneers try to create areas where citizens can reconnect with each other in activities, on markets and on festivals or where citizens can garden without being dependant on commercial interest or economic capital.

So, if the housing market does not offer the space for you to paint your painting or you cannot find a shop where you can sell all your old stuff, you should look for an abandoned area in your own neighbourhood. The urban pioneers show us that the urban landscape does only allow large entrepreneurs to set their mark but particularly now we have the chance to give our own definition to urban living by doing it. So, get off your lazy ass and do something cultural, but keep it temporary.

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Posted on by Monte Königs in Urban Sociology

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