Urban Catalyst 2001 - 2003

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Matthew Griffin
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Urban Catalyst Research Report

Temporary use and urban regeneration in European cities

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Urban Catalyst has developed models of action and strategic planning tools, integrating the potentials of temporary uses into a long lasting urban development and forming an unique archive, which is now available to architects, planners, municipalities, developers, property owners and temporary users.

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What are temporary uses, and How do they emerge and operate?

Temporary uses are generally not considered to be part of normal cycles of urban development. If a building or area becomes vacant, it is expected to be re-planned, build over and used as soon as possible. Temporary uses are often associated with crisis, a lack of vision and chaos. But, despite all preconceptions, examples like the vital scene of Berlin's nomadic clubs or temporary events proves that temporary uses can become an extremely successful, inclusive and innovative part of contemporary urban culture.

Knowledge about the origins and the mechanisms of temporary use have so far not been available. For this reason, the first step of investigation conducted by the research project Urban Catalyst was an in-depth study of existing clusters of temporary use in Berlin, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Vienna and Naples. The detailed case studies of apparently spontaneous and unplanned uses revealed patterns and mechanisms.

What is the European context?

Urban development processes in Europe produce time gaps, in which former uses come to an end, while future uses have not yet started. In all European cities examined in the project these spaces function as breeding-grounds for temporary uses. Urban residual areas are therefore no spatial vacuums, but rather a fundamental and necessary part of the urban system of cities. Apart from the analysis of the spatial contexts of temporary use urban catalyst examined several in-depth comparisons concerning the economic, legal and cultural context of temporary uses.

What are the main typologies?

The research teams identified different types of temporary use programs, tactics of space appropriation and categories of spaces captured by temporary users. This analysis generated a new understanding of uncertainty and its potential in urban development, answering the following questions: Who are temporary users? How do citizens become temporary users? In which network and clusters do they emerge? What is the relationship between user and site and how do they use a site? Which tools can be applied in which context?

The most traditional tool in formal planning in the European context are zoning plans and master plans - spatial plans to describe an envisioned final form of urban development. However, the following factors, characteristic for many urban conditions in Europe today question the effectiveness of these tools:

  • dependent on large scale financial investment and economic climate
  • as singular actors become less and less powerful, and more and more dependent on other stakeholders and outside forces, the realization of these ideal visions becomes more and more cases difficult, and if not impossible. Even when realized, the change of conditions make the developed urban setting often soon outdated and asks for alterations and further developments.
  • traditional master planning is a very slow process, taking years to be legalised and complete, unable to adapt to short term change.
  • traditional formal planning addresses the question of what should be developed, while the question of how to develop is left unanswered.

The approach of the urban catalyst research projects asks for new types of tools that are able to engage in 'weak planning'. The inventory of urban catalyst tools are able to deal with changing situations and can be applied quickly, and are fuelled by the synergies between the different stakeholders and existing resources, rather than by major investment. The inventory of tolls includes therefore not only physical and build interventions, but multitude of instruments for moderation, communication, networking, etc.

Recommendation for implementation and main results

The research Project Urban Catalyst investigated the potential of temporary uses for long-term urban development. This agenda was based on two main hypothesis:

  1. spontaneous temporary uses can develop positive long-term effects
  2. the unplanned phenomena of temporary uses can be successfully incorporated into planning and management of cities

Apart from developing the unprecedented archive of best practice projects and strategic tools the Urban Catalyst research partners have initiated and realised new temporary use projects and interventions which test these tools in practice. The projects were developed with local temporary user groups, site owners or developers as well as the local municipalities. ]

Urban Catalyst proposes to build upon already existing, if fragmented and scattered experience with temporary use. The project has generated a knowledge pool that has been carefully gathered through the analysis of fragmented niche activities and individual case studies. All activitiesare based on personal engagement and are rarely supported by institutions or other stakeholders. A combination of energies, the exchange of experience and a change of attitude and mentality of all stakeholders is necessary to unfold the potential of temporary uses. On this background urban catalyst developed specific recommendations for users as well as for municipalities and property owners.

Main literature produced

Throughout the course of the project nearly all partners published numerous articles in academic and non-academic magazines and newspapers and generated a list of publications which included in the pdf download.

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More detailed information can be found in the pdf- download

Strategies for Temporary Use (4272:1067866243) Potential for development of urban residual areas in European metropolises. 1_UC_finalR_synthesis.pdf

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