Here’s how “Temporary urbanism” can transform struggling industrial towns

The J.L.Hudson building, Detroit, being demolished in 1998: the tallest building ever imploded. Image: Getty.

What will become of manufacturing towns in a post-industrial world? From the Ruhr region of Germany to the American “Rust Belt”, once-prosperous factory cities are today faced with dwindling industry, shrinking populations and fundamental questions about their role in the modern global economy.

The population of Detroit, Michigan, for example, an auto manufacturing centre that was once one of the United States’ largest cities, has declined from 1.85 million in 1950 to just 675,000 in 2017.

Reinvigorating these legacy cities, as they are sometimes called, is not easy – but it is not impossible. Based on my research in Europe, and inspired by the work of the urban planning nonprofit Die Urbanisten, located in my hometown of Dortmund, I have identified several innovative redevelopment models that may offer lessons for post-industrial cities across the globe.

These three movements focus on ephemeral, flexible solutions that are broadly applicable to any city seeking to reinvent faded manufacturing zones: tactical urbanism, sustainable landscapes and the tiny homes movement.

Temporary, tactical urbanism (Plantage 9, Bremen)

Plantage 9 in Bremen. Image: Robin Chang.

For decades, the post-industrial harbour city of Bremen, in Northern Germany, struggled to to adapt to the socioeconomic ideals of the 21st century.

Today, it is known for the success of its tactical urbanism-inspired approaches. Officially coined by the Street Plans Collaborative, this approach broadly encompasses all short-term, low-cost, scalable measures that instigate longer-term, community-building change.

In Bremen, the the ZwischeZeitZentrale (ZZZ), a local organisation set up to work as a project middlemen, set out to match underutilised urban spaces in Bremen with projects in need of a home.

One result was Plantage 9, an old textile factory turned culture and innovation hub with over 30 independent, creative and entrepreneurial temporary users, including a food-truck kitchen, bike repair workshop, and studios and galleries for young artists.

Some of these businesses stayed for less than two years. Others remained, and in 2012 these users negotiated a new lease and management contract between the city and the collective. Plantage 9 has gone from a pilot project to a community association with an ongoing role in the city’s cultural life.

This temporary urbanism experiment succeeded in large part because of citizen engagement. ZZZ played a moderator role between citizens and the municipality, working with a cook, a bicycle mechanic, students, teachers, photographers and filmmakers, among other Bremen residents, to conceptualise and coordinate these tactical initiatives.

As Plantage 9-style matchmaking revitalised lifeless spaces with exciting projects, Bremen’s national reputation has changed, too – from struggling post-industrial city to dynamic urban innovator.

Sustainable landscapes (Zomerhofkwartier, Rotterdam)

 

20/2 14-16uur uitreiking #prijsvraag #Archiprix in #ZoHoLab!

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Local residents in Rotterdam, Netherlands, have also cultivated comprehensive urban revitalisation processes in one neglected neighbourhood. The result: Zomerhofkwartier, aka Zoho,, the new face of a former industrial area near the city’s central train station.

Originally conceived as a temporary project by the group ZOHOCITZENS in 2013, Zoho now includes permanent co-working spaces, along with studios that host events, classes, green spaces. Already in this decade-long process that its developers have dubbed “slow urbanism”, the area has matured into one of Rotterdam’s core makers’ district.

Zoho’s innovations include climate-proofing, and the site serves as an urban laboratory for ecological adaption and transition. Thus far, the project has implemented water collection, storage systems in public spaces, green roofs, urban gardens, and the reduction of hard surfaces.

The ultimate goal is to increase the whole district’s ecological resiliency and the socioeconomic vitality of the district through the micro-greening of the specific locations in the urban concrete fabric.

Tiny Houses (Berlin)

 

Troubled to see a long queue of asylum seekers shivering for hours on a winter's day outside Berlin's notoriously chaotic registration centre, Van Bo Le-Mentzel decided to take action. "I fetched my drill and collected some wood that I found randomly in the streets and brought it to the line where people were standing there bored to death and we just started building," the architect told AFP. The end products were pint-sized playhouses that children could crawl into for shelter as well as break up the monotony of the endless wait. It also marked the birth of the so-called Tiny House University, a project bringing together architects, designers and refugees to experiment with innovative ways to house a population in need. "We are trying to create new kinds of housing forms in society in which it's possible to live and survive without having land or money," said Le-Mentzel. #berlin #survive #survival #house #housestark #instahouse #land #money #houses #instahouse #instastay #instagram #instagrammed #instagrammer #instagallery #tinyhouse #tiny #tinyhouseliving #tinyhouseuniversity

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The Tiny House Movement, which relies on small modular units that recall images of cottages, has ballooned in the aftermath of the US housing crises as an alternative for affordable housing. These wee residences, which are sometimes standalone and other times secondary units, have even inspired an American TV show, “Tiny House, Big Living”.

This movement is firmly established in North America, but is still developing on the European continent (as this tiny house map confirms).

While the typical context for tiny homes is residential, the Bauhaus Campus Berlin collaboration between the Tinyhouse University and Bauhaus Archive from the Museum of Design in Berlin is demonstrating how these units can temporarily reconceive unused spaces for social justice, learning and research.

Inspired by the challenges with providing housing for new residents and refugees in Germany, for example, the project established in early 2017 an educational forum and workshop that allows people to learn how to build their on tiny homes.

Recently featured in German media alongside other similar projects, Bauhaus Campus Berlin includes 12 tiny homes on the front lawn of the museum and promotes tiny house building through design crash courses, panel discussions, and other cultural gatherings.


Scaling innovation

These European narratives reveal resilient trajectories of temporary urbanism, comprehensively coordinated at the neighbourhood scale, using informality to engage citizens and ensure that municipal governments respond effectively and inclusively to contemporary urban quandaries.

Temporary use at the street and neighbourhood level in its diverse range of formats are not limited to post-industrial cities, nor are they confined to Europe. Denver, Colorado, for example, took a tactical approach to launch one of the US’s first large-scale modern bike share systems in a highly automobile-dependent city. And Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, included pop-up landscapes as part of the revitalisation of its Delaware River waterfront, engaging entrepreneurial municipal officials, urban planning agencies, and landscape designers to strategically harness and catalyse investment.

Something is working. But from a scholarly perspective, however, we still know little about the mix of enablers and drivers that inspire such transformative moments. What, exactly, are the factors that make one temporary urbanism project succeed where another fails?

Much critical literature seems stuck on questioning whether the ephemeral has just as much impact as the planned, and whether citizens are as entitled to create effective urban revitalisation as professional planners are. And most current research on temporary use is descriptive or expository – narrating and cataloguing the process and types of users, formats and instruments seen in tactical initiatives.

Critical scepticism is healthy to understanding the change. But I believe that this adaptive practice is the next frontier in city planning.

Ultimately, we have to work backwards to measure the specific dash, dosage, amount and numbers of specifically defined stakeholders, processes, and mechanisms necessary to replicate those results and develop pre-configured “recipes” for more resilient temporary urbanism.

The ConversationBy deconstructing the successful conditions and their combinations can we help cities across the globe build new and modern futures for their residents.

Robin Chang is a research associate at the Technical University of Dortmund.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.

 

Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.

 

The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.


The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.