Today’s urban cores are redefining themselves in remarkable and lasting ways. Neighborhoods are no longer defined by only one or two activities. City dwellers are increasingly seeking a fine-grain urban fabric, with a blend of culture, commerce and housing. Empty lots—whether filled with cars or covered with trash and weeds—acts as holes in this fabric.
Developers often talk of empty lots as short-term blanks that will be filled as soon as the economy improves. But “temporary” conditions have a way of becoming permanent, as countless examples in cities across North America show. As a result, many city centers are blighted with lasting scares on their urban landscape that damper the very civic revitalization the developers once promised.
A movement called temporary urbanism is looking to change this. It is showing how—with a lot of ingenuity and a little investment—cities could transform these urban voids into urban oases. Some lots could be turned into instant parks, landscaped with fast-growing trees and shrubs that offer environmental benefits. Others could be transformed into outdoor markets,’pop-up’ retail spaces or event locations. Still others could display art or offer casual spots for social interaction. The concept of temporary urbanism is also being taken to the streets through events, such as monthly Critical Mass bike rides or the annual Park(ing) Day events. The goal is to inspire peoples’ imagination to the potential of not only these vacant sites, but for urban life overall.
Temporary urbanism goes beyond exhorting what should be done. It focuses is on what CAN be done by creating tangible—if temporary—alternatives to the status-quo. The temporary nature of these transformations enable citizens to think ‘outside the block’ and use the spaces as testing grounds for new ideas about urban living. In the process, it encourages cities to move beyond developers’ empty lots (and promises) and engage residents about their city’s future.