The cpuls (continuous productive urban landscapes) project is a research project on possible levels of sustainability of the future city.
More specific, it takes a closer look at models of urban gardening and urban agriculture and examines how communities occupy with these activities the (unused) public space.
How much 'green space' is still available in the city, and what is the best possible interpretation we can give to these liminal places? Can we come up with new models for building a more resilient, sustainable and ecological society?
Introducing urban voids
Due to social and economical developments, the space surrounding us is continually subjected to adaptations. In an urban context however, this process is often confronted to the inertness of the built environment, resulting in ‘interruptions’ of the continuity of the urban fabric. This becomes obvious for example in places of conflict, deterioration and/or vacancy. Today for instance, the transformation of the city from an industrial node to a node of knowledge has resulted in the withdrawal of production units from the city centres, leaving behind numerous voids.
Re-appropriation and reincorporation of these spaces is time-consuming. First of all our society doesn’t always have well-defined purposes for these places. But even if there is a clear plan, the realization of any spatial redevelopment project is always preceded by a (sometimes very lengthy) phase of conceptualization, negotiation, planning and preparation, before the actual realization on site can start. On top of that implementation of plans can easily be delayed due to financial, social or other reasons.
This is why there will always be a number of urban spaces that are temporarily ‘in transition’. These are the places we are focusing on: abandoned by their previous users and not adapted to the demands of the current society, these places seem unsuitable or undesirable in the mainstream economic cycle. Because of this, they often (temporarily) slip out of the main urban actors’ notice and are left behind with little or no use - we could therefore say that they are ‘temporary out of use’. They consist of large or small scale places, public or private and built or un-built, which are in some kind of in-between phase - a pause - in functionality. Therefore these spaces can be described as ‘pause-land/spaces’.
Tactical urbanism and temporary use
As mentioned earlier, quite recently we observed the emergence of a broad range of urban activism emerging worldwide. These civil initiatives oriented towards spatial planning and urban redevelopment, aim at ‘re-conquering’ the city from institutional and economical organizations by mobilizing the bottom-up energy of the city and enabling citizens to take part in the shaping of their daily environment. They believe that the dynamism created by this network of weak and everyday users, might be able contribute to the reconstitution of urban life in areas, where official (traditional) planning strategies do not seem to offer adequate solutions anymore. To refer to this broad range of alternative urban interventions arsing worldwide today that are attempting at answering the need for more contemporary, flexible and spontaneous ways of developing we will use the term ’tactical urbanism’. The use of this term is inspired by a piece of writing by Rebar (2010) saying that ’In contrast to technocratic urbanism, there exists a set of people, processes, and places that we would characterize as user-generated urbanism. This is the urbanism of the tactician, those devising temporal and interim uses, and seeking voids, niches, and loopholes in the socio-spatial fabric. These processes are made evident in circular, hybridized, and overlapping patterns of resource consumption and tend to foster a diverse, resilient, social ecology.’ It also follows the distinction between tactics and strategy as applied by Michel de Certeau to describe the behaviour of people and institutions. A tactician, unlike a strategist, depends not power or financial resources to achieve his goal, but instead makes use of external forces (visitors, media, …) and specific circumstances, manipulating them in order to achieve his goal. He is motivated and wants to work hard, even with limited resources, for the realization of his plans.
An investigation into the approaches and methods employed by these actors, that we then could call ’tactical urbanists’, reveals that ‘temporary use of urban voids’ is one of the tools that is commonly adopted by them. The potential of voids to act as ‘heterotopia’, ‘liminal places’, ‘thirdspaces’ and/or ‘terrains vagues’ is then exactly what they are taking advantage of.
excerpts from 'learning from tactical approaches to urban voids'
a PhD project by Aurelie De Smet
full text for download here: Learning form tactical approaches to urban voids