Urban-Orchard
Urban Orchard – Heather Ring, wayward.co.uk

My reading, so far, during this MA in Urban Design has been characterised by the ubiquitous term ‘urbansim’; everyday urbanism, new urbanism, post urbansim, etc (Kelbaugh, 2002). For ‘urbanists’, defining the term is clearly a matter of vital importance.  This is especially true if they are to reimagine their roles after a period of unprecedented change within our urban environments to help facilitate a transformation. Furthermore, the plurality of meanings and the various scales with which it can be applied, highlights urbanism’s influence and complexity. Therefore, ‘urbanism’ and ‘urbanists’ needs to constantly renew in order to reflect the socio-political contexts of the time and retain an ability to initiate change (Koolhass, 1995).

One area of urbanism that is helping shape a future and responding to changing socio-political contexts is the field of ‘temporary urbanism’ (TU) which is rooting itself as an integral urban design practice. How TU can address the needs of the future is the main topic of discussion in this post. I am interested in how we, as urban designers, can facilitate and develop the possibilities for social action with citizens to ‘transform [the] socio-political and physical spaces’ of the future (Tardiveau & Mallo, 2014). In order to do this, these questions need to be investigated; how can temporary urbanism help: 1) renew the meaning of ‘urbanism’, and 2) shape future urban design practice?

How can temporary urbanism help renew the meaning of ‘urbanism’?

According to Kelbaugh (2002), urbanism is a reformist practice that “aspires to a social ethic that builds new or repairs old communities in ways that equitably mix people of different income, ethnicity, race and age” alongside “a civic ideal that coherently mixes land of different uses and buildings of different architectural types” (14.2). In the context of current global crises, for example, increases in income/wealth inequalities, in particular here in the UK (OECD), children becoming less active, and air pollution levels reaching new highs, the need for this ‘ethic’ could not be stronger.

These economic, public health and environmental issues are coupled with, and in part caused by, an ever increasingly urbanised global society, and the inability of professionals to deal with them with using standard methods (Petrescu, 2009). Therefore, it occurs to me that ‘urbanism’ and ‘urbanists’ have a crucial role to play in the future, and it’s renewal at both the professional and grassroots level is essential to help overcome these modern day challenges.

By reflecting and focusing on how we design places for people and how urban ‘space’ can be transformed or enhanced to support human well-being (Gehl, 2010), urban designers are increasingly engaging in design processes which seek to encourage every individual to participate in their own development. With the challenges and potentialities described above in mind, the practice and concept of TU is creating new learning on a possible way forward that can help on a wider level scale beyond itself.

How can temporary urbanism help shape future urban design practice?

Sustrans temporary urbanism
Community Planting – Sustrans, Community Street Design

TU offers a focussed and direct pathway for urban designers to express this ‘ethic’, and crucially, engage citizens at all levels – institutional, commercial, grassroots and third sector groups, whilst at the same time challenging ‘everyday’ stereotypes to help transform behaviour. TU can take many forms, for example; pop-up community cafes, small scale gardens on disused land, urban agriculture, street furniture trials to renew a people orientated focus on a street etc (Tardiveau & Mallo, 2014). As part of the social action or temporary trial, urban designers seek to engage local residents and stakeholders to co-create and be part of the design and construction process, and/or to participate in activities/events that are being held. From my understanding, core to TU thinking is the idea that “making community and making space for community cannot be separated” (Petrescu, 2009), which in practice means consulting and reflecting with individuals and being a ‘facilitator’ to help guide and encourage. What urban designers are doing is building capacity within a community of people to understand and tackle everyday issues for themselves, particularly in design and planning. TU is a field of practice where learning outcomes are acutely being developed; outcomes that are transferable to other forms of planning and design methods.   

In summary, the renewal of ‘urbanism’ through learning about the research on TU, can help us develop new participatory design methods to overcome the everyday political, social and environmental challenges we experience. Constant critical reflection on practice and a greater understanding of how to build capacity within a ‘community’, will no doubt help develop this sense of ‘renewal’ for urbanists in this increasingly urbanised and often conflictual geography.

To take this discussion further I invite others to comment on how the practice of TU could be regarded as providing another platform to promote and sustain profit driven economics. Equally, ‘participation’ is an often glorified term that can often be superseded by economics or politics, despite its good intentions.

References

Gehl, J (2010) Cities for People, Island Press

Kelbaugh, D (2002) “Three Urbanisms and the Public Realm”, Proceedings of the international space syntax symposium, Vol 3: pp14.1-14.8

Koolhass, R (1995) The Generic City, and Whatever happened to urbanism? The Urban Design Reader, 2nd Edition, pp.358-372

OECD (2015) “In it Together: WHy Less Inequality Benefits All” (Online: http://www.oecd.org/social/in-it-together-why-less-inequality-benefits-all-9789264235120-en.htm)

Petrescu, D (2009) ‘How to make a community as well as the space for it’, The Rururban Plot, pp.107-112

Tardiveau, A & Mallo, D (2014) Unpacking and Challenging Habitus: An Approach to Temporary Urbanism as a Socially Engaged Practice, Journal of Urban Design, 19:4, 456-472