Urban Catalyst studio and partners, Berlin, 2001-2003 Research analysis
Since 1970 s, post-industrial change in Europe has generated very different social, economic and spatial conditions in urban centres. Urban Catalyst is an attempt to reopen the debate on strategies and tools of planning, critically reflecting upon both, the shortcomings and innovations of development both inside and outside the vocabulary of conventional urban planning. For instance, economic crisis and collapsed property markets in Berlin have led to a slow down and virtual standstill in property development. In a context of an oversupply of space and high vacancy rates many developers resign to apathy and “wait for better times”. In contrast, a booming economy with an over-inflated real estate market can banish all creative energy from the city, making it impossible for young and weak economies to thrive, potentially endangering what one might call a “sustainable mix”. Both scenarios reveal a crisis in current planning tools, which fail, to different degrees, to initiate and direct sustainable urban change.
All selected case studies were characterised either by a time gap between the collapse of a previous use and a new commercial development, or revealed the problems of gentrification and social exclusion. A good example is the Ostbahnhof area in Berlin, where the absence of commercial development has developed into a breeding ground for new forms of art, music and pop culture, start-up companies, leisure, night life… Cost/free access to these spaces gives financially weak players the opportunity to grow. Found spaces and materials are recycled with a minimum of investment and physical intervention, what can be called “light urbanism”. Alternative spaces are barely to be found in the context of a lack of vacant space and overpriced rents.
Urban development processes in Europe produce time gaps, in which former uses come to an end, whereas the future use has not yet started. They evolve in urban areas with lower economic pressure and are economies based on social capital and on recycling of existing value. The new focus on the innovative strength of cities goes along with the rise of the so-called “cultural industries”, which, according to many economists, will become one of the most important industries in the cities. This new economies depend on the opportunities a city gives to innovative and creative citizens.
Users regularly have little or no capital, but are flexible and active and can adapt to given circumstances. They range from start-ups, migrants and system refugees to drop-outs or part time activists… While money and status are usually of secondary importance for most of the users, social networks are prime resources, and vital for these temporal clusters to work, where different activists have to collaborate and help each other to make it work
The scale of the temporary used spaces can range from a single empty building/small shed to a post-industrial area or a network of different spaces spread on a whole city in decline.
The spaces are used mostly as given and founded. They add new infrastructure if needed (water, electricity, gas, heating…) and use mobile equipment and furniture to adapt spaces.
The relation of these spaces with the site can be very different: while some of them have not any specific relationship towards the site, others have a strong interaction with the site and the local community. Some are interested mostly in the internal context of the site, while many choose a strategic position inside the overall city (good access, centrality…)
Temporary uses can be found within a vast spectrum of uses such as housing, work, leisure, consumption or social services. The most typical types of programs are related to youth culture, the art world, leisure/sports, start-up businesses, alternative cultures, migrant cultures, social services, or flee market/car boot sales. These experiments can fail and sometimes do so. But they can also become very successful and establish themselves, than the temporary use becomes the starting point for a new type of activities. It is no coincidence that they appear in tourist guides with the same importance as the major museums and cultural institutions in the city. Moreover, many established and quite formal institutions, companies and programes apply in the last decades more and more strategies of informal temporal use.
The effect and status quo of temporary uses on the development of a certain location can be different. UC teams distinguish some typologies:
1_Stand in: they do not have any lasting effect on the location
2_Impulse: they give an impulse for the future development of the site establishing new programs or clusters
3_Consolidation: they establish theirselfs at a location and they transform to a permanent use
4_Coexistence: temporary use continues to exist even after the establishment of a formal permanent site at the location.
5_Parasite: temporary use is developed in dependence of existing permanent uses and takes advantage of existing potentials and availability of space.
6_Subversion: they interrupt an existing permanent use by squatting as a political action.
7_Pioneer: they are the first urban uses of the site
8_Displacement: a permanent institution is displaced for a limited period of time, when they establish in an improvised way.
Urban Catalyst has initiated and realised new projects and interventions with temporary users, site owners or developers, as well as effectively influenced already existing processes.
Challenges and Opportunities
Urban Catalyst set out to demonstrate how temporary use is an important urban resource, which can play a strategic alternative in capital-oriented urban development concepts offering new models for action where traditional urban planning tools are inadequate. The research shows how unconventional alliances between stakeholders can take place, and lead to mutual benefit. By providing profit-free space for temporary users, property owners can raise the profile of the property. The main hypothesis with which UC started the research where that spontaneous temporary uses can develop positive long-term effects and that unplanned phenomena of temporary uses can be successfully incorporated into planning and management of cities, which were proved throughout the research process.