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.

 
 
 
 

The Adam Smith Institute thinks size doesn’t matter when housing young professionals. It’s wrong

A microhome, of sorts. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Adam Smith Institute has just published ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’, a report by Vera Kichanova, which argues that eliminating minimum space requirements for flats would help to solve the London housing crisis. The creation of so-called ‘micro-housing’ would allow those young professionals who value location over size to live inside the most economically-active areas of London, the report argues argues.

But the report’s premises are often mistaken – and its solutions sketchy and questionable.

To its credit, it does currently diagnose the roots of the housing crisis: London’s growing population isn’t matched by a growing housing stock. Kichanova is self-evidently right in stating that “those who manage to find accomodation [sic] in the UK capital have to compromise significantly on their living standards”, and that planning restrictions and the misnamed Green Belt are contributing to this growing crisis.

But the problems start on page 6, when Kichanova states that “the land in central, more densely populated areas, is also used in a highly inefficient way”, justifying this reasoning through an assertion that half of Londoners live in buildings up to two floors high. In doing so, she incorrectly equates high-rise with density: Kichanova, formerly a Libertarian Party councillor in Moscow, an extraordinarily spread-out city with more than its fair share of tall buildings, should know better.

Worse, the original source for this assertion refers to London as a whole: that means it includes the low-rise areas of outer London, rather than just the very centrally located Central Activities Zone (CAZ) – the City, West End, South Bank and so forth – with which the ASI report is concerned. A leisurely bike ride from Knightsbridge to Aldgate would reveal that single or two-storey buildings are almost completely absent from those parts of London that make up the CAZ.

Kichanova also argues that a young professional would find it difficult to rent a flat in the CAZ. This is correct, as the CAZ covers extremely upmarket areas like Mayfair, Westminster, and Kensington Gardens (!), as well as slightly more affordable parts of north London, such as King’s Cross.

Yet the report leaps from that quite uncontroversial assertion to stating that living outside the CAZ means a commute of an hour or more per day. This is a strawman: it’s perfectly possible to keep your commuting time down, even living far outside of the CAZ. I live in Archway and cycle to Bloomsbury in about twenty minutes; if you lived within walking distance of Seven Sisters and worked in Victoria, you would spend much less than an hour a day on the Tube.

Kichanova supports her case by apparently misstating research by some Swiss economists, according to whom a person with an hour commute to work has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied as someone who walks. An hour commute to work means two hours travelling per day – by any measure a different ballpark, which as a London commuter would mean living virtually out in the Home Counties.

Having misidentified the issue, the ASI’s solution is to allow the construction of so-called micro-homes, which in the UK refers to homes with less than the nationally-mandated minimum 37m2 of floor space. Anticipating criticism, the report disparages “emotionally charged epithets like ‘rabbit holes’ and ‘shoeboxes,” in the very same paragraph which describes commuting as “spending two hours a day in a packed train with barely enough air to breath”.


The report suggests browsing Dezeen’s examples of designer micro-flats in order to rid oneself of the preconception that tiny flats need mean horrible rabbit hutches. It uses weasel words – “it largely depends on design whether a flat looks like a decent place to live in” – to escape the obvious criticism that, nice-looking or not, tiny flats are few people’s ideal of decent living. An essay in the New York Times by a dweller of a micro-flat describes the tyranny of the humble laundry basket, which looms much larger than life because of its relative enormity in the author’s tiny flat; the smell of onion which lingers for weeks after cooking a single dish.

Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley has described being “appalled” after viewing a much-publicised scheme by development company U+I. In Hong Kong, already accustomed to some of the smallest micro-flats in the world, living spaces are shrinking further, leading Alice Wu to plead in an opinion column last year for the Hong Kong government to “regulate flat sizes for the sake of our mental health”.

Amusingly, the Dezeen page the ASI report urges a look at includes several examples directly contradicting its own argument. One micro-flat is 35 m2, barely under minimum space standards as they stand; another is named the Shoe Box, a title described by Dezeen as “apt”. So much for eliminating emotionally-charged epithets.

The ASI report readily admits that micro-housing is suitable only for a narrow segment of Londoners; it states that micro-housing will not become a mass phenomenon. But quite how the knock-on effects of a change in planning rules allowing for smaller flats will be managed, the report never makes clear. It is perfectly foreseeable that, rather than a niche phenomenon confined to Zone 1, these glorified student halls would become common for early-career professionals, as they have in Hong Kong, even well outside the CAZ.

There will always be a market for cheap flats, and many underpaid professionals would leap at the chance to save money on their rent, even if that doesn’t actually mean living more centrally. The reasoning implicit to the report is that young professionals would be willing to pay similar rents to normal-sized flats in Zones 2-4 in order to live in a smaller flat in Zone 1.

But the danger is that developers’ response is simply to build smaller flats outside Zone 1, with rent levels which are lower per flat but higher per square metre than under existing rules. As any private renter in London knows, it’s hardly uncommon for landlords to bend the rules in order to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their renters.

The ASI should be commended for correctly diagnosing the issues facing young professionals in London, even if the solution of living in a room not much bigger than a bed is no solution. A race to the bottom is not a desirable outcome. But to its credit, I did learn something from the report: I never knew the S in ASI stood for “Slum”.