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Everybody says "don't"

18 May 2017

How can cities adapt technical requirements, security standards and public access rules to facilitate temporary use? 

Karting - by SAMOA

By Boris Meggiorin (SAMOA, FR), Elena Eizaguirre (SAMOA, FR), Miruna Draghia (Urbasofia, RO)


Legal challenges of temporary use

The reality is that the current legal framework is not adapted to the actual practices of temporary use. The phenomenon of temporary use is not yet standardised in the practice of most local authorities and, as such, there is no clear legal framework to support these practices, which often intersect multiple sectors and the varying needs of the local communities. For this reason, the different local players willing to imagine and structure temporary use in public and private spaces need to deal with this unexplored environment themselves. The road to temporary use is a path of negotiation to push existing standards; public authorities have to be involved as much as possible, with the aim of legitimising temporary use and finding a more flexible interpretation of the law regulating each and every space. As laid out in Boukje Keijzer’s book Bending the Rules, one has to make use of the space between the lines of all the rules and regulations. There are many ways to stretch the rules, but the most important thing is how you interpret and particularise each case.

A focus on adapting building regulations

Temporary use can challenge the status quo, almost as if urban dwellers were looking for a taste of nomadic life in a sedentary urban society. This mind-set is in line with the shift in life-expectations brought about by the transformation of the job market in Europe over the last 30 years and the resulting need for a test area in a time of life-long learning and individual professional development.

There is a growing trend among researchers, cultural players and local authorities towards reflection on the needs of citizens, with a focus on how we can work with a different value chain in a time of global markets, local settings and digital shift.

More specific examples of legal issues to be tackled include:

  • security and safety issues of temporary-use spaces;
  • accessibility for differently-abled people (e.g. people with reduced mobility);
  • the possibility of generating revenues from the use of vacant public spaces;
  • processing and selling food and beverages within a temporary-use context; and
  • the signing of a contract between the different parties for the temporary rental of the space.

Île de Nantes - Karting (creative businesses) © SAMOA

Île de Nantes - Karting (creative businesses) © SAMOA

The ephemeral life cycles of companies along with changes in the local economic fabric can bring about the need to retrofit existing spaces or revitalise vacant urban areas that may have arisen as a result of, for example, a trade-off between the reduced engagement of local bodies in public services (social support, healthcare) and their replacement by community practices. 

Direct negotiation with the local authorities in charge of these legal issues to find a specific solution to each problem is fundamental to the development of temporary uses and services. The precarious status of these temporary activities provides the opportunity to break down certain barriers posed by the ‘usual’ legal framework. Such negotiation can contribute to a reduced cost for the development of the operation and the administrative follow-up.

Experiences of temporary use in Nantes (FR) and Cluj (RO)

Although most of the REFILL partner cities haven’t developed a specific legal framework for temporary use, there are still some interesting experiences worth being shared. SAMOA, a local agency for urban regeneration in Nantes (FR), is redeveloping the Isle of Nantes (a former brownfield next to the city centre). Their focus is on temporary uses and gaining an understanding of the real needs of the area and its citizens in order to adapt the uses, buildings and services of the future city to these real requirements and create together the future public spaces of the city. As such, SAMOA needs to know, understand and engage with the legal framework for temporary uses, adapting its projects to the legal standards. Similar to SAMOA’s Karting case (temporary accommodation of creative start-ups and SMEs), Cluj  has recently  developed two projects that encourage temporary use – TEAM centre (Technology, Evolution, Entrepreneurship and Microenterprises) and CREIC (Regional Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries) –, which function as incubator hubs for start-ups. Unlike SAMOA, which works with a longer time-span (about 5 to 10 years), Cluj offers rather a medium-term use (1 to 5 years), but still functions as a catalyst for innovative and creative initiatives. In both cases the property hosting the temporary activities is publicly owned.

TEAM Centre Cluy-Napoca

TEAM Centre Cluj-Napoca © Cluj-Napoca

There were some clear examples of negotiation and the finding of different solutions, attributed to the fact that the temporary nature of the activities necessitated reduced costs. SAMOA succeeded in negotiating with public authorities in terms of regulations (having only one lift and an elevated foot-path without the need of adapting the whole building and the related investment, instead of three lifts in line with the surface available for the first floor). In contrast, Cluj provided all the indoor facilities needed to create functional centres in line with regulations, without the need of further improvements made by the temporary users.   

A puzzle to be solved

Although SAMOA is mainly funded by local authorities, the negotiation process between temporary users and local administration is neither standardised nor regulated. Still, SAMOA succeeded in finding a solution with respect to the rental agreement for the temporary use of the Karting complex in Nantes. Since the property is publicly owned and there are specific requirements for renting under French law, the limitations were overcome through an agreement for the temporary occupation of public ground. This solution, taking into account the legal requirements and the temporary status, is possible due to the lack of a specific legal status for the use and temporary existence of the warehouse (soon to be demolished). The companies housed here are utilising the status of an occupied public space, like a street market does, in order to avoid the usual rental agreements and their long-term character.

The Karting complex gave SAMOA the opportunity to learn how to deal with the relevant legal requirements. In working around the restrictions, it had to find cheaper solutions due to the temporality of its activities. At the same time, this experience brought about expertise and know-how with respect to the management of start-ups and the regeneration process of public spaces for temporary uses. This expertise has been put to use in developing a new business park adjacent to the Karting complex called SOLILAB, this time dedicated to social and solidary businesses. Certain technical requirements, security standards and legal issues are shared between both buildings for the sake of efficiency.

The approach of Cluj, on the other hand, was to adopt a local tax policy for encouraging and facilitating temporary use, based on a daily fee/tax for the short-term temporary use of outdoor public places (up to 4 months). The local tax policy mostly regulates temporary use for holidays or popular events/street commerce for festivals and fairs, promotional events, sporting and cultural activities and other open-air installations (e.g. Someș Delivery, Urban Living Room, TIFF Urban Event, Transylvania's International Film Festival).

The key to assuring a smooth process is to involve all stakeholders in the search for solutions. A fundamental phase is to assess the risk of each temporary use and establish who is ultimately accountable for it. Another possibility is to justify applying a different regulation for a temporary use, as it is, by definition, temporary. There is a balance to be struck between the different areas in order to meet regulations while taking into account the expected impacts and risks. An advocacy platform should be consulted so as to reduce operating risks. However, having a standardised procedure, as the ZZZ in Bremen does, doesn’t automatically yield a smoother process when it comes to compliance with the rules. Some colleagues at SAMOA defined this process as a puzzle to be solved with the involvement of all the stakeholders – the head of the insurance services, firefighters, ambulance drivers, etc. – by including them early on in the discussion phase.

Someș Delivery Festival, 2016 © Cluj-Napoca

Someș Delivery Festival, 2016 © Cluj-Napoca


Temporary use activities are not easy to accommodate; there are many legal requirements that generate barriers to temporary uses for people, products and services. These barriers may raise the costs or slow down the implementation process. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t stop the cities of the REFILL partnership from experimenting with different kinds of temporary use activities and trying to anticipate the future needs of a city by testing activities on a temporary basis. 

Citizen participation in reaching a critical mass and consensus, the quality of the proposed projects and the negotiation skills of the professionals involved have proven to be key in the process of finding enough room for flexibility in the regulations and delivering new temporary activities. 


This article is an excerpt from our first thematic magazine 'Fitting temporary use in the legal framework'.