Meanwhile spaces

Use: Referring to concrete projects working in the interstices of masterplans. Ex: “This old factory has many cultural activities, it’s a meanwhile space”).

Definition: : Term referring to a disused site temporarily leased or loaned by developers or the public sector to local community groups, arts organisations, start-ups or charities in areas that are in a urban redevelopment process. Calls for making use of such spaces in other crowded urban centres are getting louder. A report published in October by the thinktank Centre for London highlights both the need for and positive possibilities of utilising empty urban sites and how this could transform the landscape of cities around the globe. (Source: The Guardian).

The Think Tank Centre for London defines the term in this way: Not all temporary uses are meanwhile: meanwhile uses take advantage of a window of opportunity on a site, before and after another use. And not all meanwhile uses are short term. Some meanwhile uses are offered long leases, for instance in regeneration projects spanning decades.

Three sources of meanwhile value have been highlighted:

  • Efficiency – the benefits of avoiding vacancy. Leaving land empty is costly, not only in terms of security and property taxes, but also because it increases the risk of crime and lowers land values nearby. Indeed, some scholars speak of vacancy as an “epidemic”, because empty units have an effect on neighbouring properties: they suggest that a place is not looked after, and signal a spiral of decline.
  • Affordability – the benefits of adding affordable space; Meanwhile use also creates value by driving up the supply of affordable space. Affordable space gives licence to experiment in an expensive city, providing businesses with an opportunity to prove a concept, or fail at low risk. Meanwhile use also creates space for non-market uses, such as public realm, the arts, education, training and temporary housing, which cannot afford the city’s land values without subsidy.
  • Flexibility – the benefits of doing projects on an interim basis. they offer a platform to raise interest, showcase work or an idea – much like art exhibitions – and meanwhile projects can do this for their promoters, but also for the city, by allowing flexibility for places to evolve, and opening up the development process. Time-limited interventions can create stimuli that change perceptions of an area and strengthen local economies. Meanwhile use also challenges conventional citymaking, because it does not operate within the usual life span of new buildings, and is less deterministic over who their users will be. Meanwhile activity allows developers to leave some flexibility for places to evolve, without pre-empting how lifestyles and demand will change. But “meanwhile citymaking” goes beyond challenging the type of development, and can influence its process too. We found that housebuilders doing meanwhile use are interacting with local charities and resident groups to produce social impact, for instance animating public space, funding art exhibitions or mentoring small businesses. This can potentially shape the design of new development, as planning authorities may require provision of community spaces or public realm, but few housebuilders have experience of managing this themselves. Having occupants on site provides a prototype for the future space and can potentially influence its design.

The fact that a project starts as a Meanwhile space does not necessarily mean that it will be efimerous. European cities have several examples of cultural institutions and creative and cultural industries projects that started as temporary before going through a progress ladder (prompt, regular, stable) and a social consensus building process that ended with the project becoming permanent or moving to a place where it becomes permanent, becoming a core strength of an area’s new identity.


Use of the term in Academic publications:

Related terms: Meanwhile strategies, Meanwhile use.

Alternative terms: DIY spaces, Pop-up spaces, cultural factories, Adaptative reuse, T-spaces (new term based in T-factor project’s name)

Macroterm (to be used when talking about the general practice. “Temporary urbanism is a win-win situation”).