Why the Pop-up Hype Isn’t Going to Save Our Cities

Why the pop-up hype isn’t going to save our cities
Parckfarm Brussels / © Espaces Possibles

Temporary and bottom-up urban projects are just a cover-up for failing governments

These days there is a strong belief among spatial professionals in a certain type of spatial intervention, often described using terms such as ‘bottom-up’, ‘tactical’, ‘guerilla’ or ‘pop-up’ urbanism. These interventions are modest in size, focus on one specific locality and are generally implemented by freelancing spatial practitioners, small companies or collectives, often given a bit of subsidy, but hardly ever structurally supported.

This type of ‘urbanism’ is also often temporary, to some extent characterised by the flexible (re-)use of structures and materials and organised the DIY-way. Obviously these kind of interventions have always existed but they have become more important in the spatial professions since the 90s, as local and national governments have gradually withdrawn from both large scale planning as well as local service provision.

The multiple crises of the last decade have led governments to choose for more austerity, further undermining their own influence on spatial production (and an equitable society). However, it was the short period at the height of these crises, when the market temporarily suspended many large-scale projects, that the small-scale, bottom-up spatial interventions were elevated from niche to mainstream practice.

While in promotional materials and in the media often portrayed as cute, likeable and featuring smiling locals, these kind of spatial interventions have also been subject to a considerable amount of criticism. […]