You are here

Developing Temporary Use as a (normal) service

30 October 2017

How can cities stimulate the diffusion of Temporary Use practices while keeping its innovative and experimental character?


Closed shops, empty upper floors, ghost streets, dead neighbourhoods: building vacancy is connected with negative dynamics and vicious circles in the evolution of the urban fabric. A structural vacancy of 8-10% – due to time laps for real estate business; renovation periods; renting turnover – is acknowledged as normal in a city. Temporary Use tends to turn vacancy from a pain to an asset for city dynamics. It opens a range of benefits: accommodating bottom-up initiatives; balancing social mix; experimenting with urban planning; etc. And it is frequent to hear city administrations complaining for the ending of the vacant building stock in particular of large industrial heritage near the city centre. 

Temporary use is a new “normal” in cities. Vacant urban spaces are not anymore considered as an anomaly. And as such temporary use is likely to develop as a form of public service with incentives and rules. This fourth issue of the REFILL thematic magazine focuses on the way cities can stimulate the diffusion of the temporary use practice while keeping its innovative and experimental character, mainstreaming it without flattening its dynamic.


Looking at temporary use as a service and not anymore as a challenge calls for a conceptual shift for public administrations in order to provide a service that was not provided before. It raises a series of questions: does such a service make sense as a public service? How can it be fair and transparent? What is its value creation model? How can we make it sustainable on the long run? What are the necessary supports, platforms, capacity building, subsidies etc.?

Dialogue and support

In the first article "How to connect with temporary users?", Emma Tytgadt from the City of Ghent (Belgium) is looking through the various experiences of the cities of Riga (Latvia), Poznan (Poland), Ghent (Belgium) and Bremen (Germany) what the key features of a support service for temporary use are. Her overview confirms in particular that financial subsidies are always welcome but not the only expected support. They work more as a pretext to formalise a relationship between the city administration and the temporary users, to raise awareness among civil servants on this emerging practice and to stimulate interaction between both sides. Beyond seeds or starter money, key ingredients to develop a good support service are a unique contact point at the city administration; a "godmother or godfather" coaching projects on the long run; a temporary use legal toolbox – with contract templates; insurances guidelines, licences tips, etc. – and the involvement of a larger range of stakeholders including experienced temporary users and citizens from the neighbourhood.

Temporary Use as a new normal

The systematization and diffusion of temporary use call for a consolidation of support services into the creation of a form of temporary use public service. Three examples are proposed:

  • Mārcis Rubenis presents the roadmap of Free Riga NGO from answering to a pressing need of finding space for artistic projects during the Riga Culture Capital year to forming a House guardian service for owners of vacant property.
  • Maija Bergström and Jenni Niemiaho focus on the case of the Helsinki Central Library and especially the way the design of the online reservation platform is an inspiring example of "multiple use" or intensification of use that helps making better use of public spaces.
  • Oliver Hasemann and Daniel Schnier describe the pathway in Bremen to the creation of the ZwischenZeitZentrale, a temporary use agency Waking up snoring spaces and opening front doors and windows of opportunity for temporary use and urban inclusion.

ZZZ Bremen

Temporary Users as service providers

A last section of this thematic magazine is an attempt to extend the idea of temporary use services questioning the way temporary users could consider themselves as providing a service. This idea is turning upside-down the service provided by public administration for temporary user. It represents also a conceptual shift for project initiators to pass from passive consumers of a service to providers of a service benefiting both to property owners and cities as a whole. It raises a series of questions: How can temporary users develop a service offer? How can they federate a group of users? How can they ensure the commercialisation and diffusion of this service?

Irina Mikelsone from the municipality of Riga and Marcis Rubenis from the Free Riga NGO are investigating on the one hand the value of temporary use for municipality: helping the creation of social services and supporting social initiatives; offering a planning experimentation tool for more successful development of public spaces; maintaining and revitalizing degraded streets and neighbourhoods; etc. On the other hand, they look at value of temporary use for property owners whether private of public: temporary use performs a physical maintenance services; it reduces costs and adds to the value of property; it provides image benefits for large corporations; etc.

Bringing these 2 key ideas together: city administration developing a service for temporary use and temporary users presenting themselves as a service for cities and property owners suggest a collaborative value creation model: city administrations don't behave only as mediator between economically weak temporary users and owners expectation on the real estate market. They are all stakeholders collaborating to create a constellation of value in the city.


This editorial is written by François Jégou (Strategic Design Scenarios). Read the full magazine here.