Temporary Urban Fabric and The Future of Placemaking

The Praying Mantis fire-breathing sculpture outside the container park in Old Downtown Las Vegas draws visitors and locals every night

The fire-shooting Praying Mantis at the Old Downtown Las Vegas container park draws crowds nightly

“In 2014, what will be the most important MOVEMENT, PROJECT, or PERSON making a global impact on sustainable urban policy and community development?”

Cities, district organizations and residents are increasingly implementing intentionally temporary features in the urban landscape. This ‘movement’ is actually a cluster of trends, all of which seek to create novel and changeable experiences for residents, workers and visitors and is profoundly changing the way people experience cities.  Increased experimentation with elements such as pop up stores, parklets, short term public art installations, periodic street closures like Sunday Streets, food truck/cart clusters and periodic events ranging from farmers markets to music festivals are all part of this phenomenon. What’s particularly interesting is that activities and interactions which used to occur mostly in Downtowns or special districts are now increasingly happening everywhere in cities.

There are many contributing reasons for this. The young creative and entrepreneurial class is attracted to urban living because of the possibility of new and spontaneous interactions, rapid fulfillment of wants and needs and nearby sources of stimulation and recreation.  Ever increasing on-line purchase options has challenged older commercial areas to attract customers by other means. The rise of the sharing economy may also play a role as Uber and Lyft have increased ease of urban mobility and air b&b has made every urban neighborhood a place to explore and recreate. The rise of business improvement districts throughout the country have established unprecedented budgets dedicated for urban programming, often in districts that never had any before. Of course, temporary events and programs are much more flexible and affordable than traditional investments in streetscape infrastructure.

photo credit: laughingsquid.com

a mobile parklet in San Francisco, CA. Photo credit: laughingsquid.com

For years urban districts have sought to distinguish themselves as special, authentic places in efforts to attract new customers and business activity.  While historic architecture, plazas and other elements of the built environment are central to those efforts, cities are looking to integrate temporary elements more than ever before. In the future, it appears likely that districts that are most flexible in accommodating such elements will have an advantage in successful urban ‘placemaking’.  The only real question is what sorts of wonderful new and unusual features and activities might emerge as cities increasingly play with their public spaces. Perhaps 2014 is the year when it becomes clear to all that the movement towards temporary urban fabric is truly here to stay.

Learn more about Michael Caplan

Feature photo: San Francisco parklet. photo credit: www.oaklandnet.com


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