Bloomsbury Architecture Library - The Multiple Times of the City
Cities in Time
Cities in Time

Ali Madanipour

Ali Madanipour is professor of urban design and director of the Global Urban Research Unit (GURU) at Newcastle University, UK. In 2010 he was the City of Vienna senior visiting professor at the Technical University of Vienna, and in 2011 the Wits-Claude Leon Distinguished Scholar, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. He has published numerous books on planning, design, development and management of cities, which have been translated into many languages. His more recent publications include Critical Concepts in the Built Environment: Planning Theory (2015), Reconsidering Localism, (2015), Urban Design, Space and Society (2014) and Knowledge Economy and the City: Spaces of knowledge (2011). Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2017


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Book chapter



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The Multiple Times of the City

DOI: 10.5040/
Page Range: 1–8

From pop-up shops to street festivals, from mobile buildings to temporary gardens, the temporary construction and use of urban space is widely discussed and practised, as part of a growing international trend that can be found in different fields, where many invest their hopes and energies in what they think of as innovative and fashionable. The aim of this book is to develop a critical analysis of temporary urbanism, trying to understand, analyse and problematize it. The main questions that need answering are about what it is, the role it plays and the effect it may have on the future of the urban environment: whether it is an interim fashion aimed at filling short-term economic gaps or a reflection of structural change and an instrument of transformation with long-term impacts. If it is associated with the multiplication and acceleration of temporality in the city, does it make life more precarious or more creative?

The title of the American pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale was Spontaneous Interventions, which received a Special Mention for national participation from the Biennale’s Golden Lion jury. The exhibition was subtitled Design Actions for the Common Good and included 124 projects initiated by designers, artists and activists devoted to the improvement of urban areas, described by its initiators as ‘a new, democratic design movement that is growing across the country’ (Institute for Urban Design, 2013). The projects ranged across a variety of scales and themes, from guerrilla gardening to a pop-up chapel and from converting a street into a green space to placing historical markers around the town, and even including the occupy movement’s turning streets into protest spaces. The exhibition was selected through open competition by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State, aiming to showcase ‘the excellence, vitality, diversity, and innovation’ of the American architecture on a global stage (Institute for Urban Design, 2013). As the American organizers explained in the introductory essay for their entry at the Venice Biennale, ‘Provisional, informal, guerrilla, insurgent, DIY, hands-on, informal, unsolicited, unplanned, participatory, tactical, micro, open-source – these are just a few of the words floating around to describe a type of interventionist urbanism sweeping through cities around the world’ (Lang Ho, 2013).

What the contents of the American exhibition at Venice Biennale, a festival in London’s Regent Street, Parisian beaches, a container building in the centre of Vienna and the British pop-up shops share is that they are all temporary events in urban space. The flavour of events on London’s Regent Street is decidedly commercial, where the Regent Street Partnership sets up frequent events throughout the year as an encouragement for people to visit the fashionable shopping street, which already attracts 7.5 million tourists a year. The events range from a two-week ‘food safari’ to a Fashion Night Out, temporary traffic-free days and working with the Royal Institute of British Architects to offer young architects the opportunity to design prestigious shop windows (Regent Street Partnership, 2013). Meanwhile, the municipality of Paris has turned some parts of the banks of the Seine into sandy beaches each summer since 2002. Car traffic is stopped, deck chairs and ice cream sellers appear, concerts and games are set up, water sport and open air attractions operate, all for four weeks in July and August (Paris Municipality, 2013). Meanwhile, pop-up retailing is a global trend that is embraced by small entrepreneurs and large corporations alike. In the recent years, Bob Dylan, Chanel and Coca-Cola have all opened a pop-up shop in central London, while the luxury hotels Dorchester and Claridge’s ran pop-up restaurants (London Pop-ups, 2012).

These interventions, the spread and occurrence of which have been widening and accelerating with time, are widely different in location, scale and purpose, performed by the public, private and civil society actors. On the surface, they could not be more different from one another. What all these interventions share, however, is their ephemerality; they are all events that exemplify the temporary construction and use of urban space. While many of these activities are not new, it is noticeable that they have mushroomed in recent years in different types of activity and different countries, becoming a fashionable international trend. If it is such an emerging strong trend, an important question is: why? What do those who are involved in a short-lived activity expect from it? What is it, a sign of a fleeting fashion in a consumerist society, a recurring sign of endemic crises of the market economy or an existential condition of modernity magnified by the global economy?

As reflected in the American entry at the Venice Biennale, the theme of temporary urbanism is becoming increasingly important in architectural and urban design discourse, but it tends to be examined in an empirical and practical way. Some studies have focused on ephemerality and transience in specific cities: either tracing their rapid transformation, as in Houston (Scardino et al., 2004), or on the proposals for their transformation, as in Luxembourg (Koolhaas et al., 2008), or on an architect’s projects (Tschumi, 2010). More often, however, the temporary use of urban space is advocated as an opportunity for change and as a critique of fixed rules, rigid master planning and long-term strategies.

A number of such texts have come out of German-speaking countries for a decade, in particular Berlin, which had faced structural change after the unification and has been the site of vibrant cultural experiments. While some focus on conveying the sense of transience in a place, such as the photographs of Berlin clubs (Eberle et al., 2001) or the experience of tourism and migration in the city (Bauman et al., 2010; Weitzel, 2011), most are interested in the temporary use of space: the pioneering role of Berlin in finding alternative uses for its underused spaces (Jovis, 2007), the experimental projects for its public spaces (Zander, 2008), but also of examples from elsewhere to show the application of trial and error methods in opposition to long-range planning (Temel and Haydn, 2006; Bishop and Williams, 2012), the reuse of vacant sites and waste lands (Oswalt et al., 2013) and the recycling of underused spaces (Ziehl et al., 2012). In addition to the temporary uses of space, temporary buildings are also discussed, such as the imperial expositions held in fin-de-siècle London, Paris and Berlin (Geppert, 2013), or examples of current temporary buildings such as pavilions, fair stands, container-architecture, stage sets, installations and temporary housing solutions (Jodidio, 2011).

Analysing temporary urbanism may start by listing the diverse instances of short-lived events, arriving at the conclusion that it is a significant new trend in urban societies, and describing the details of its different forms and the place and frequency of their occurrence. Such an analysis would offer the examples of these short-lived events and in a way produce a catalogue of such events. This would be a valuable exercise in providing concrete examples of what might be considered to be the constituting elements of an innovative trend. My attempt, however, has been focused on developing a theoretical interpretation of this trend. The main aim of this book is to understand and explain the phenomenon of temporary urbanism through a critical and theoretical evaluation of this trend and its implications for the future of cities.

Urban processes and temporal change

The increased frequency of short-term events, in particular the temporary construction and use of space, has become known as temporary urbanism. This book develops a theoretical and critical analysis of this global trend by locating it in the philosophical concepts of time, the economic and technological processes of global change, and the social and personal experiences of life in the city. It offers a critical evaluation of temporary urbanism, the context in which it has come about, how it causes anxiety and precarity, but also how it may include creative potentials for the future of the city. It argues that temporary urbanism should be understood through the dynamics of urban temporality: how time unfolds in the city, locating temporary urbanism in the wider context of the multiple and multi-layered timeframes and lifecycles of the city, and opening up broader perspectives on how time is embedded and expressed in the life of the city. The substantive, relational and intuitive concepts of time are all at work to construct an order of events from a series of spatiotemporal fragments.

The approach that I have adopted is to combine a political economy and a cultural analysis of urban processes (Madanipour, 1996; 2003; 2007; 2014), which helps undertake a critical and multidimensional understanding of the subject of temporary urbanism (Lefebvre, 1991; Foucault, 2002, 2008). I have drawn on relational and intuitive concepts of time to develop a critique of substantive time and instrumental temporality, which frame the conditions of possibility of temporary urbanism. I have used a dialectical methodology, which would provide a critical analysis of how these different forms of temporality intersect, but also opens up new pathways to look for creative potential of events (Badiou, 2005, 2009). While focusing on temporality, I have analysed it in a close relation to spatiality, as time and space cannot be treated separately, and as the term suggests, temporary urbanism refers to both time and space at the same time.

As temporary urbanism is primarily a temporal designation for urban processes, it is evident that a starting point for such a theoretical articulation would be the concept of time. Ephemerality of temporary interventions in urban space leads to an exploration of time and temporality: how it is affected by the processes of, and responses to, acceleration associated with globalization, and how it includes both precarity and creativity. The book examines the notions of time, the economic and technological changes that have accelerated the pace of urban life, and the impact of change on the natural world and social life. While these changes bring about precarity for the vulnerable, temporary events may not be reduced to the conditions of their existence, and so the book also searches for the creative potentials of temporary urbanism, which are found in questioning, experimenting and innovating.

Temporary urbanism, as a pattern of events, is analysed at the intersection of three forms of temporality: instrumental, existential and experimental. Instrumental temporality is characterized by a utilitarian approach to time, accelerating quantified time for higher productivity and profitability. Existential temporality reflects the intuitive understanding of temporality, the materiality of the city which mediates this temporality, and the vulnerability and precariousness of the social and natural worlds in the face of globalization. Experimental temporality, meanwhile, is the view to the future, drawing on events as spaces of questioning, experimenting and innovating. The theoretical analysis draws on insights from the fields of philosophy, social sciences, and architectural and urban cultural history and theory. The investigation also draws on empirical material from the practices of architecture, urban design and planning, with a particular focus on the manifestations of time in the city and the experiences of temporary urbanism.

This investigation is an analysis of a social trend and its spatial implications. In undertaking this analysis, it is important to engage with the philosophical concepts of time. Thinking about time and temporality has been a long-standing preoccupation of all schools of thought, and therefore it is essential to benefit from this enormous heritage. The analysis, however, cannot rely solely on philosophical concepts and analyses, as these concepts need to be mediated through social processes and material changes to become visible in concrete experiences of a society. Many philosophical concepts focus on the metaphysical aspects of time and the intuitive sense of temporality. Time and space, after all, are in many respects metaphysical concepts, as they do not exist as such but are concepts that are developed to account for aspects of reality. While these concepts are the basic building blocks of individual experience, and they are fundamental to our analysis, we need to be able to translate them into the analysis of the emergence of a social trend and the transformation of the urban space. Social practices unfold and are shaped through their material and institutional dimensions. The gap between the intelligible and the sensible, therefore, needs to be bridged by social and spatial practice. In other words, it is through social processes, spatial transformation and the personal engagement that the sensible is experienced and the intelligible is constructed.

Structure of the book

The book is organized in three parts, which dialectically show the overall causes and consequences of temporary urbanism: instrumental processes accelerate time and generate temporariness, existential processes show precarity, adjustment and resistance, while creative processes look for a way forward.

The first part examines instrumental temporality; its two chapters analyse the concepts of time and locate the conditions of temporary urbanism in a broader context: how time has become treated as an instrument and an asset, how it has been subject to the pressures of acceleration in the process of globalization and how transience and ephemerality are the outcome of these pressures. Chapter 2 analyses the institutional and instrumental concepts of time, which have been developed to grapple with ephemerality and change. It argues that the concepts of time, while rooted in biological rhythms, are social constructions. Time has been conceptualized to regulate events and instigate a sense of order, while abstraction and institutionalization have paved the way for envisaging time as an instrument, equating it with monetary value and productivity outcome, with dramatic consequences for how the city is organized. The chapter is organized in four sections: the theories, technologies and institutions that have been developed to regulate temporality, and their implications for space. It analyses how time is reified through philosophical concepts and scientific theories; how it is captured and measured through changing technologies; and how it is framed through habits, institutions and law. The impact of these developments on urban space is the first basis for investigating temporary urbanism.

Chapter 3 investigates the accelerated beats of global time: how the city’s rhythms are created and managed, and how technological and economic change has accelerated these rhythms, creating a sense of restlessness and ephemerality. In exploring the methods of mobility and organizing work, the significance of technological and economic changes in how time is envisaged and managed in the city becomes evident. The processes of reification, quantification and commodification have paved the way for an instrumental treatment of temporality, turning it increasingly into the subject of market pressures for speed, productivity and profit maximization. The chapter starts with an analysis of innovation and its role in urban transformation, followed by five sections on the social implications of technical and economic change: expanding time and space, filling the gaps, nomadic urbanity, radical simultaneity and illusions of immateriality, and disrupted institutions. This shows how adjustment to the accelerated beats of globalization has become an existential condition.

The second part focuses on existential temporality; its two chapters show the intuitive sense of temporality as an existential condition, and how the processes of instrumentalization and acceleration of time have had an impact on this temporality, generating anxiety and fragmentation. Chapter 4 addresses temporality, memory and identity. The chapter explores the personal sense of time and its complex relationship with instrumental notions of time. It examines the existential unfolding of time at the intersection of phenomenological temporality, memory and identity. The main argument is that subjectivity, memory and identity are the key features of existential temporality, and that their disruption or loss leads to cultural amnesia, a sense of transience, loss of collective memory, and fluidity and multiplicity in the common frameworks of meaning and identity. While a sense of continuity and a hope for psychological security may persist in many traces, the intuitive temporality itself is not a continuous fabric, as it is subject to the fragmentation of selves and events. The chapter is organized in four parts: inner phenomenological time, memory and the reconstructed time, identity and the narrated time, and the multiplicity of the selves and voices that experience and narrate temporal multiplicity.

In Chapter 5, the focus is on the linkages made to the natural environment and the results of the ruptures in these linkages. It is organized in six parts. It first introduces the paradoxical approaches to nature in the modern period, and the way nature has been understood within the human body and in the wider natural world, both showing a dichotomous and ambiguous relationship. The natural world within the human body has been split into a mind–body distinction, while the natural world around us has been turned first into a subject of conquest and then to one of concern. The state of nature as a state of apparent originality refers to a nostalgic memory of the time that humans lived in apparent harmony with the natural world, while the absence of this harmony and the fragility of the natural world are vividly experienced today. The result is a sense of contingency and anxiety about the future, which is exacerbated by temporal acceleration.

After investigating the instrumental construction of time and its largely problematic impacts on the existential dimensions of society and nature, the third part focuses on experimental temporality, looking for the creative potentials of temporary urbanism and their implications for the future of the city. Chapter 6 concentrates on events and prospects, addressing experimental temporality as both diverse and future oriented, and how temporary interventions may act as catalysts for change. It investigates the creative potentials of temporary urbanism in three broad sections: questioning, experimenting and innovating. It examines how temporary urbanism questions the status quo through displacement and the break-up of structures, which change perspectives and indicate structural change, experimenting through how it contributes to the creation of times and spaces of possibility, in particular the opportune times and the public space, and innovating through how it can be significant in the processes of making space, in particular through the involvement of civil society forces in alternative practices. While Chapter 3 examined innovation in technical and economic terms and its contribution to temporal acceleration, this chapter identifies the innovative and creative potentials of temporary urbanism in areas beyond economic considerations, without losing sight of its possible shortcomings.

Some of the key themes of the book on the implications of ephemerality for the future of cities are brought together in Chapter 7, which concludes the book. It is organized in two sections. The first section addresses the three broad concepts of time: substantive, relational and intuitive. The three sides of time are all at work to construct the meaning of temporality, with many tensions and contradictions that emerge in their interface, with different impacts of ephemerality and temporal acceleration on the visions of the future. Temporariness has a wide variety of meanings, some or all of which may be at work in any particular situation. In the second section, different processes of temporariness are summarized as embedded, intentional and experiential. The interplay between the potentials for stimulating creativity and/or generating precarity, especially in the context of social and environmental vulnerability, becomes significant.