Temporary Urbanism
: Innovative Tactics for the Co-Production of Social Resilience

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Temporary urbanism initiatives have become a widespread practice amongst activists and practitioners aiming to trigger grassroots processes of urban regeneration and social innovation. Participatory decision-making and processes of collective transformation are recognised as central aspects of social resilience, a quality highly coveted by governments and civil society in a complex world. Vast bodies of literature focus on exploring temporary urban practices and social resilience as two separate areas of knowledge, but there is a striking lack of systematic research that investigates the intersection between these two fields, describing the intricate relations that regulate the social dimension of practices of co-production in the public realm.
This thesis, reflecting on an extensive practice-based research activity, throws some light on the ways in which the collective creation of temporary interventions in public spaces can activate new forms of civic participation by including unrepresented voices in the city-making processes and, at the same time, trigger socio-spatial dynamics that can support communities in developing social capacities that promote their resilience. The practice aims to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals of cities and the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, focusing on the creation of equal, safe, inclusive, accessible public spaces for all and to set guidelines for temporary urban practices that are scalable and applicable to different urban contexts.
With these objectives, the author initiated a five-year-long practice aimed to empower various local communities to take ownership of urban spaces, decide on their use, and take action. Drawing on David Harvey’s notion of the ‘right to the city’ and the freedom to make and remake our cities as a human right, this community-engaged, temporary urban practice promoted a series of tactical, small-sized, co-created, temporary interventions in public spaces in Portsmouth, UK.
The study follows an Urban Living Lab approach, together with design thinking theories and methods (innovation toolkits) to enable a meaningful participatory co-creation practice. By analysing the obstacles and difficulties that were faced, as well as the social responses to the projects, and by iteratively reflecting on the results, the research identified a series of guidelines for improving temporary co-creation practices with the aim of fostering social change.
Social inequalities and power-relations in urban spaces can significantly affect the degree to which citizens can appropriate the public realm. The key recommendations that emerged were to encourage in practitioners a transdisciplinary and multi-actor collaborative environment, ensure that full creative powers are transferred to the participants at the earliest stage, address specific socio-spatial needs of community groups, focus primarily on the process rather than the physical design outputs, and carefully orchestrate the process of co-creation. Taking this approach may enhance the ability of temporary practices to promote a genuine socially inclusive process that is meaningful to the participants and to their civic involvement in city-making, and in this way, increase their ability to foster their capacities to promote social resilience. Temporary urban practices of co-production can help to expand social networks, tighten social bonds and experience togetherness, pushing individuals’ boundaries and setting new aspirations and future perspectives, building new knowledge, learning new skills and promoting a feeling of belonging to the city, all of which contribute to the urban communities’ ability to become resilient.
Active participation in the collective creation of the public realm holds a transformative power. Temporary urban practices and flexible environments for experimentation can be considered effective tactics to reinforce social capacities and prepare the community to face future situations of chronic or traumatic adversity. These initiatives promote small changes that can act as catalysts for bigger, long-lasting change. To avoid these actions remaining limited in space and time and to foster their positive impacts, the author argues it is important for public bodies to recognise the value of temporary urban practices and use them as learning opportunities. The inclusion of these tactics in governmental agendas and policy frameworks, turning them into integrated mechanisms for the governance of the city, can ultimately improve the significance, reach and durability of their impacts.
Date of Award11 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorOren Lieberman (Supervisor), Alessandro Melis (Supervisor) & Alessandro Zambelli (Supervisor)

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