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Vacancy as a laboratory: design criteria for reimagining social-ecological systems on vacant urban lands


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The complex socio-economic conditions underlying (temporary) vacant urban landscapes have produced a wide range of spatial outcomes. Solutions to address these diverse spatio-temporal conditions inherently call for a range of design approaches. This paper, through literature and project review, introduces a conceptual design framework consisting of four criteria integral for developing sustainable solutions for repurposing vacant urban lands: (1) environmental justice and ecological democracy; (2) ecosystem services and urban biodiversity; (3) aesthetic experiences, and; (4) programming. By examining five case studies, I reveal a number of different and innovative ways in which these criteria can be integrated and deployed to transform urban vacant lands. Here, vacancy becomes a laboratory for testing and implementing new social-ecological systems across a range of spatial and temporal scales. This requires experimentation in the development of alternative planning and design strategies, including new public participation models, policy frameworks and funding mechanisms.
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Vacancy as a laboratory: design criteria for
reimagining social-ecological systems on vacant
urban lands
Kees Lokman
To cite this article: Kees Lokman (2017): Vacancy as a laboratory: design criteria for
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Vacancy as a laboratory: design criteria for reimagining
social-ecological systems on vacant urban lands
Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
The complex socio-economic conditions underlying (temporary) vacant
urban landscapes have produced a wide range of spatial outcomes.
Solutions to address these diverse spatio-temporal conditions inherently
call for a range of design approaches. This paper, through literature and
project review, introduces a conceptual design framework consisting of
four criteria integral for developing sustainable solutions for repurposing
vacant urban lands: (1) environmental justice and ecological democracy; (2)
ecosystem services and urban biodiversity; (3) aesthetic experiences, and; (4)
programming. By examining ve case studies, I reveal a number of dierent
and innovative ways in which these criteria can be integrated and deployed
to transform urban vacant lands. Here, vacancy becomes a laboratory for
testing and implementing new social-ecological systems across a range
of spatial and temporal scales. This requires experimentation in the
development of alternative planning and design strategies, including new
public participation models, policy frameworks and funding mechanisms.
1. Introduction
Designers have been engaged in important work related to the reintegration of vacant urban landscapes
into the built environment. Whether through the development of community gardens, stormwater parks,
urban meadows or temporary events, many cities are implementing spatial interventions to address
vacancy (Desimini, 2014). However, a conceptual framework to help planners and designers integrate
and evaluate key design approaches has yet to be established. This paper, through literature and project
review, formulates such a framework consisting of four interconnected design criteria. With an emphasis
on spatial interventions at the site and neighbourhood scale, these criteria incorporate notions of
environmental justice, ecosystem services, aesthetic experiences and programme considerations.
As such, this paper seeks to answer the following questions: What aspects of ecological democracy
and ecological functioning should be considered when redesigning these spaces? How can spatial
interventions be used as a laboratory to enhance ecosystem services and urban biodiversity, as well as
a tool to promote appreciation of urban nature? And nally, how can this be achieved at various spatial
and temporal scales—are any of these approaches replicable?
By now it is well understood that as a consequence of processes of globalisation, inter-urban
competition, increased mobility and exible production, the urban landscape is in constant ux and
always evolving (Harvey, 1989; Ryan, 2012). Conditions of vacancy are inherently connected to these
global capital ows and market-driven developments (Clement & Kanai, 2015; Deriu, Kamvasinou,
Vacancy; social-ecological
systems; landscape
architecture; spatial
interventions; urban ecology
© 2017 Landscape Research Group Ltd
CONTACT Kees Lokman
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& Shinkle, 2014; Groth & Corijn, 2005). And while vacancy is often merely associated with shrinking
cities—urban areas that have faced substantial loss of population, de-industrialisation, unemployment,
disinvestment and low educational attainment over a sustained period of time (Oswalt, 2006; Pallagst
et al., 2014; Ryan, 2012)—these conditions, albeit to a lesser degree, can also be found in cities that
are growing (Martinez-Fernandez, Kubo, Noya, & Weyman, 2012). Moving forward, regardless if these
spaces are in cities that are growing or shrinking, I will use the term vacancy to describe urban areas not
currently managed as public (green) spaces or (temporarily) undeveloped sites with spatial qualities
outside conventional notions of productivity, urban form and market value. These spaces have elsewhere
been referred to as derelict lands, browneld sites and interim spaces, as well as terrains vagues (De
Solà-Morales, 1995), urban voids (Armstrong, 2006), and urban wildscapes (Jorgensen & Keenen, 2012).
While understanding the structural conditions and theoretical underpinnings of vacancy is important,
it is not the focus of this paper. Instead, this paper is interested in exploring the possibilities of spatial
design to transform and repurpose vacant urban lands. In doing so, we must rst understand the spatial
and temporal conditions of vacancy.
Vacancy is not homogenous. The complex socio-economic conditions underlying vacant urban
landscapes have produced a wide range of spatial outcomes (Hudson & Panas, 2010). Vacancy occurs
at varying spatial densities, with variable parcel sizes and ownership as well as with diverse biophysical
conditions (e.g. soils, contamination levels, microclimates) and contextual relationships (Burkholder,
2012). Furthermore, vacancy is inherently related to time (Nassauer & Raskin, 2014). Some properties
have been vacant for decennia with no immediate plans for redevelopment, whereas others are
temporarily unused and slated for redevelopment in the near future. Solutions to address these diverse
conditions of vacancy inevitably call for a range of urban planning and design approaches (Deriu
et al., 2014).
This process starts by reframing vacant sites as places that have social and environmental attributes
(Corbin, 2003). Labels such as dead zones and voids often render vacant lands as negative spaces without
any value or qualities (Hudson & Panas, 2010). According to De Solà-Morales (1995), conditions of vacancy
constitute ‘strange places [that] exist outside the city’s eective circuits and productive structures’
(p. 120). However, a growing body of literature suggests these sites contain frequently overlooked
qualities (social, environmental, aesthetic) and latent potentials (Cupers & Miessen, 2002; Desimini,
2014; Kowarik & Langer, 2005). For example, Cupers and Miessen (2002) suggest vacant spaces are a
‘domain of unfullled promise and unlimited opportunity’ (p. 83). Similarly, Hudson and Panas (2010)
proclaim, ‘as a consequence of their indeterminacy and ambiguity … [vacant] spaces are freer more
tolerant spaces which represent sites for spontaneous activities to unfold, activities and experiments
evocative of a future beyond restrictive capitalist, urban forms’ (p. 5).
Moreover, vacancy provides opportunities to address a number of pressing environmental
challenges, including food provisioning, stormwater management, urban heat island mitigation and
urban biodiversity (Burkholder, 2012; Kowarik & Langer, 2005; Nassauer & Raskin, 2014). Burkholder
(2012) posits ‘through looking at ecosystem services and the dening characteristics of vacant land,
signicant gains in urban air, water and biologic quality could be planned for and achieved’ (p. 1155).
Combining these social and ecological perspectives, vacancy oers a unique context for producing
new meaning and alternative ‘place-images’ (Shields, 1991) as well as a context for unconventional
programmes and ecologies to unfold. In important ways, urban vacant lands can become experiential
learning environments, or living laboratories, for testing and implementing new social-ecological design
2. Design criteria
Over the past decades, issues of vacancy have received interest from a number of disciplinary elds,
including urban studies, urban planning, architecture, landscape architecture and public art. In addition
to asking ‘What is causing conditions of vacancy?’, recent literature is increasingly interested in exploring
the questions ‘What can be done?’ and ‘How can physical design play a key role in repurposing vacant
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urban lands?’ (Czerniak, 2013; Desimini, 2014; Oswalt, 2005, 2006; Ryan, 2012). I will discuss two recent
contributions relevant to our discussion, namely, Brent Ryan’s book Design After Decline (2012) and Jill
Desimini’s essay From Planned Shrinkage to Formerly Urban (2014).
In Design After Decline, Ryan encourages spatial practices to create new visions and guidelines for
shrinking cities, and to embrace vacancy as a means to create new urban landscapes and forms. In
addition to discussing projects in Philadelphia and Detroit, Ryan examines recent developments in
Medellín, Colombia to promote ideas of social urbanism and palliative planning. In describing these
projects, Ryan calls for a combination of strategic interventions by the federal government and
bottom-up, community-based approaches to articulate new uses and opportunities for vacant urban
lands. He also introduces the term patchwork urbanism to describe his vision for creating a shifting
patchwork of open and settled areas. According to Ryan (2012),
the future shrinking city should be neither New Urbanism’s ideal restored cityscape of historicist homes nor
landscape urbanism’s successional landscape of returned nature, but rather a patchwork of dierentiated areas
containing settlements of multiple densities and form, interspersed with open areas of various sizes, programs,
and levels of use. (pp. 355, 356)
While Ryan’s call for a dierentiated spatial approach to vacancy is timely and necessary (Pallagst, 2013;
Wegmann, 2013), Desimini (2014) rightfully criticised him for ‘a near-dismissal of landscape architecture’
(p. 21) and the critical role landscape plays in articulating sustainable solutions to vacancy.
Indeed, landscape architects have made signicant contributions to formulating design mechanisms
for repurposing abandoned and vacant sites (Corner, 1999; Desimini, 2014; Latz, 2000). According to
Desimini (2014), there is a natural t between socio-spatial challenges surrounding vacancy and the
theoretical, ideological and practical underpinnings of landscape architects. She argues: ‘rather than
a gure-ground of built and non-built environments, landscape architects conceptualise cities as an
interweaving of complex systems’ (Desimini, 2014, p. 19).
Since projects in the context of vacancy inherently involve limited budgets, nite resources and
unknown timeframes, design practices have to develop innovative ways to implement projects. Here,
the focus shifts from developing traditional master plans—which often prescribe a xed spatial end
product—to more exible landscape-based strategies that aim to accommodate a myriad imagined,
planned or anticipated programmes over time (Corner, 1999). In this context, Desimini (2014) introduces
four considerations essential to this design process: (1) constructing context (nding value in found
conditions); (2) embracing slow time as a mechanism; (3) devising a gradient of maintenance techniques;
and (4) operating across scales. She discusses a number of contemporary projects and makes a persuasive
case for the benets of landscape-based and process-based design approaches for shrinking cities. Yet,
the principles and projects discussed heavily favour relatively large sites that have been abandoned
for long time periods, and, as such, have developed substantial vegetation cover. Therefore, Desimini’s
framework is not particularly useful for addressing non-vegetated sites, nor does it highlight design
interventions that address short and intermediate timeframes.
Considering Ryan’s call for socially embedded design practices to promote spatial dierentiation
as well as Desimini’s plea for process-based design strategies, the following paragraphs will discuss
four criteria integral for developing sustainable solutions for repurposing vacant urban lands: (1)
environmental justice and ecological democracy; (2) ecosystem services and urban biodiversity; (3)
aesthetic experiences; and (4) programming. By embracing the importance of both human and natural
systems, as well as their form and functioning, these criteria provide a conceptual design framework
for the reintegration of vacant urban landscapes into the city fabric.
2.1. Environmental justice and ecological democracy
Those involved in repurposing vacant sites are increasingly aware that community involvement and
heightened attention to social dimensions are critical to developing sustainable solutions (Palamar,
2010; Nassauer & Raskin, 2014). This is particularly important in the context of poor and marginalised
groups, who often suer disproportionately from the social, environmental and physical implications of
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vacancy (Hollander & Nemeth, 2011). These groups have limited resources (social, material and nancial)
to bring about necessary change. As such, they struggle to address the challenges related to vacant
properties, which include lack of maintenance, illegal dumping of waste and contamination. This not
only aects health and safety, it also compromises people’s welfare and rights to clean air, land, water
and food (Palamar, 2010). Moreover, Nassauer and Raskin (2014) suggest that social capital—‘the value
of support that people provide for each other through their networks, norms, sanctions, and mutual
trust’ (p. 3)—is a key component for all involved in developing sustainable solutions to address vacancy.
Here, landscape architect/sociologist Randy Hester has long argued for the importance of integrating
principles of social justice, environmental ethics and democratic citizen participation in the design
of urban landscapes. In Design for Ecological Democracy, published in 2006, Hester calls for creative
practices that promote interactions between social relationships and environmental systems in order
to promote long-term stewardship. Hester (2006) introduces the notion of ecological democracy to
emphasise that citizens should be engaged in every process of environmental decision-making in order
to create inclusive, functioning and vibrant environments for all living things.
The framework of ecological democracy is fully embedded in the environmental justice movement.
In this context, the First National People of Colour Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, held in
1991, was an important event. Not only did it bring together 600 people to discuss issues of social and
environmental function and interconnection, it also produced a document formulating 17 Principles
for Environmental Justice (PEJ). These guiding principles are meant to ensure environmental justice
for all citizens, regardless of race, class, gender or historical privilege or oppression (Grossman, 1994;
Palamar, 2010). A number of these principles are particularly relevant for this discussion, including:
PEJ #3: Environmental justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land
and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.
PEJ #7: Environmental justicedemands the right to participate as equal partners at every level
of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and
PEJ #12: Environmental justicearms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up
and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honouring the cultural integrity of all
our communities, and provided fair access for all to the full range of resources.
PEJ #16: Environmental justicecalls for the education of present and future generations, which
emphasises social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our
diverse cultural perspectives.
These guiding principles underline that as we continue to shape the built environment we can no longer
neglect ecological systems and social justice as pillars for creating resilient urban landscapes. In doing
so, planning and design practices need to fundamentally address community needs and desires, and
be driven by citizen participation and collaboration (Hester, 2006; Palamar, 2010). Spatial interventions
should appropriately respond to local site conditions as well as respect the history, norms and values
of specic communities, while integrating environmental systems and nonhuman aspects (Hollander
& Nemeth, 2011). Here, vacant urban lands present a frontier for reconnecting people to place and to
empower communities to establish social networks and become stewards of their own environment
(Nassauer & Raskin, 2014).
2.2. Ecosystem services and urban ecology
The concepts of environmental justice and ecological democracy are fundamentally based on a profound
appreciation of the form and functioning of ecological systems. According to Sean Burkholder (2012),
the ‘ecological potential of the urban environment is just beginning to be understood’ (p. 1156). Vacancy
provides a possibility to both study and develop new understandings of the spatial and temporal
dynamics of urban ecology. In particular, through strategic design and management, vacant urban
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lands can provide ecosystem services, services that directly and indirectly positively contribute to
human and non-human wellbeing (Burkholder, 2012; Nassauer & Raskin, 2014). Depending on the
size, location and density of vacant properties, these areas could provide the city and its residents
a number of ecosystem services, including provisioning of food, climate regulation, stormwater
management, phytoremediation, nutrient cycling, biodiversity, habitat, as well as cultural services such
as recreation and spaces for contemplation. However, in the context of vacancy, currently few projects
are fundamentally motivated by enhancing ecosystem services (Burkholder, 2012). This is a missed
opportunity to not only improve the health and quality of life for all living things but also to develop
resilient and regenerative urban landscapes (Kamvasinou, 2011).
Given the inherent complexity and increased interest in urban ecology, it is important that any
research focusing on this topic integrates both basic and applied principles from the natural and
social sciences (McDonnell, 2011). Here, restoration ecology provides a relevant framework that seeks
to establish new relationships between social and ecological systems. Introduced in the late 1980s,
restoration ecology acknowledges society’s dependence on nature, but also argues that nature can
benet from deliberate human actions to speed up restoration processes and maintain biodiversity
(Jordan, 1987). According to Jordan (1997), ‘restoration gives humans a role in “nature’s” work and creates
articial natural systems that not only make nonsense of any radical distinction between humans and
nature, but also provide a way of negotiating the dierences between them’ (p. xvi). In this sense,
restoration ecology aims to overcome an anti-urban bias that has long guided the practice of ecological
restoration (Clewell & Aronson, 2008; Ingram, 2008; Palamar, 2010). By stressing the importance of
physical human interventions, through a combination of expert-driven management practices and
participation of layman and citizen groups, restoration ecology embraces human involvement as an
integral part of restoring urban ecosystems.
This idea not only challenges the belief that restored or designed landscapes are any less natural
than pristine ones, it also calls for wider appreciation of dierent forms of urban ecology. Ingo Kowarik
(1992) introduced the phrase ‘nature of the fourth kind’ (pp. 40–42) to describe the specic qualities of
spontaneous urban nature. Kowarik (1992), followed by Hunt (1999), denes the rst nature as remnants
of pristine ecosystems with signicant percentages of undisturbed vegetation and soils. The second
and third natures refer to landscapes intentionally shaped and maintained by humans for agriculture
and urban greening (Hunt, 1999; Kowarik, 1992). ‘Nature of the fourth kind’ (Kowarik, 1992, p. 42), then,
refers to urban landscapes where spontaneous vegetation has emerged as a result of abandonment
or limited levels of maintenance. Recent research indicates that such adaptive vegetation can provide
important social and ecological services that are currently undervalued or not widely recognised (Del
Tredici, 2010; Kowarik & Körner, 2005; Kühn, 2006). These types of vegetation are resilient, tolerant of
harsh urban conditions, and have been shown to host high levels of biodiversity (Lachmund, 2013).
‘Nature of the fourth kind’ is also relatively inexpensive to maintain, a characteristic that is of increasing
value as cities face ever-tighter budgets (Kühn, 2006). As such, this specic landscape type should be
acknowledged and better integrated by planners and designers (Burkholder, 2012; Desimini, 2014).
Vacancy, thus, provides numerous opportunities to promote new models of urban ecology, as well as
possibilities to increase biodiversity and ecological productivity. At the same time, public engagement
is critical to ensure long-term stewardship and appreciation of urban ecosystems. In some cases, this
might mean enhancing the current state of spontaneous vegetation on vacant urban lands, and to
make them accessible to the public. In other cases, the implementation of green infrastructure or
restoration ecology involving intensive methods of human management might be needed to enhance
ecosystem services. In this way, vacancy becomes a testing ground for imagining and managing new
social-ecological relationships over time.
2.3. Aesthetic experiences
In order to move beyond society’s current ambivalence of these ‘empty’, ‘unorganised’ and ‘messy’
spaces within the urban fabric, spatial interventions also have to promote new aesthetic experiences
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and modes of perception (Hudson & Panas, 2010). As discussed in the previous paragraphs, vacancy
most immediately presents opportunities to expand the public dialogue about what urban ‘nature’
and ‘wilderness’ should look like. Hofmeister (2009) claims vacant areas can be understood as
‘socially and ecologically open spaces’ (p. 310). They can be seen as physical experience spaces that
produce new understandings of nature–culture relations (Hofmeister, 2009; Kowarik, 2011). These
experiences include a ‘diversity and dynamism of time and encounters with (individual) things
unknown and unfamiliar’, which in turn might cause ‘surprise, evoke frictions, irritations, feelings
of curiosity or astonishment, but also of insecurity, alarm, or even fear’ (Hofmeister, 2009, p. 310).
Thus, vacancy provides a context for designers to explore different ways in which the physical
environment can be managed and manipulated to stimulate multiple aesthetic responses and
embodied experiences (Jorgensen, 2011).
Meyer (2008) has asserted that designed landscapes have the capacity to ‘break down barriers
between subject and object’, and ‘to provoke those who experience them to re-centre human
consciousness from an egocentric to a more bio-centric perspective’ (p. 6). Recent empirical evidence
supports this claim and suggests ‘aesthetic appreciation can provide a pathway to enhanced ecological
awareness among urban citizens’ ( Thompson, 2012, p. 31). This means designers have the opportunity
to use design interventions and visual language as a conduit for promoting a more positive attitude
towards vacancy.
At the same time, the temporary nature and uncertain timeframes associated with the future of
vacant urban sites also necessitates design interventions that embrace notions of ux, change and
process. Corner (2006) has suggested that urban landscapes should be considered ‘not so much an
object that has been “designed” as it is an ecology of various systems and elements that set in motion
a diverse network of interaction’ (p. 31). The outcome of this work is less focused on a formal resolution
but instead uses aesthetics as a driver to communicate landscape change, and to incorporate a range
of cultural values and public processes (Corner, 2006; Jorgenson, 2011). Along these lines, Gustavsson
(2012) proclaims, ‘when the notion of aesthetics incorporates the art of living, things and places around
us can be interpreted in ways that will uncover layers of contextual and existential meaning, both
in our practical existence and in our imaginations’ (p. 30). The open-endedness of vacant sites, thus,
presents opportunities to create new layers of meaning and signicance. As such, they can become
places to tell stories, create new identities, promote ecological aesthetics and oer new ways of being
(Jorgensen & Tylecote, 2007).
2.4. Programming
Finally, spatial interventions on vacant land should integrate new programmes and uses. These can
be temporary or permanent, spontaneous or planned, active or passive, social or ecological, as long
as they are inclusive and respond to the needs and desires of the larger community. Because vacant
sites are perceived and zoned dierently from typical open spaces, such as parks, plazas, playgrounds
or conservation areas, they also have the opportunity to host unique activities and uses which might
not be possible in other parts of the city (Hudson & Panas, 2010).
Groth and Corijn (2005) have argued, ‘the unclear and undetermined status of these urban “no-man’s-
lands” may allow for the emergence of a non-planned, spontaneous “urbanity”’(p. 503). The apparent
appeal of vacant sites to marginal groups and urban youth suggest they already represent a ‘space of
social compensation … where non-conformity is accepted as normal’ (Cupers & Miessen, 2002, p. 92).
While certain activities by these groups might be considered out-of-bounds’ by some, it underscores
that many vacant lots already hold programmatic potentials and numerous qualities that designers
can learn from and might want to retain or strengthen as part of future adaptations (Hudson & Panas,
2010). Planners and designers also have the ability to initiate cultural platforms in order to attract a
diversity of urban actors and shape coalitions (Groth & Corijn, 2005). This, in turn, can spur new ways
of appropriating vacant urban lands.
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Furthermore, in times of limited budgets and nite resources, planning departments and design
practices are developing alternative ways to envision and implement projects. Designers have to be
inventive in order to provide ideas that are both resourceful and imaginative, both practical and feasible
(Van ‘t Klooster, 2013). This demands all parties involved in designing the built environment to ‘venture
outside conventional practice and to deploy fresh tactics to make cities more sustainable, accessible,
and inclusive’ (Spontaneous Interventions, 2012). Vacant land presents an ideal location for testing
and implementing some of these tactics while potentially identifying new uses and programmatic
3. Case studies
The preceding paragraphs have described four criteria integral for re-imagining vacant urban landscapes.
I will now discuss a handful of exemplary design projects that use vacancy as a laboratory to develop
new social-ecological systems. In dierent ways, each example illustrates how the above-mentioned
criteria can be applied to dierent spatial, temporal and contextual conditions in order to re-integrate
vacant urban landscapes. Excluded from these discussions are more conventional projects, such as
community gardens and urban agriculture. This is not because these projects do not meet the criteria
discussed, but because the social-ecological benets of these types of projects have already been
well documented and understood by planners and designers (Dimitri, Oberholtzer, & Pressman, 2015;
Hodgson, Campbell, & Bailkey, 2011; Palamar, 2010; Tracey, 2011). Instead, the following projects oer
new models for reinvigorating urban vacant lands.
3.1. Lent space
The rst project is Lent Space, a temporary project by Interboro Partners on a vacant site in Lower
Manhattan awaiting future development. The designers worked with the landowners (Trinity Church)
and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council to turn the site into a temporary event and exhibition space,
a tree nursery with moveable planters, as well as a place for leisure and local gatherings. Interboro
Partners fully embraced the short duration of the project (three years) to develop innovative solutions.
The interventions primarily consist of highly adaptable and modular components, and can be easily
recongured or transported to another site once the space is dismantled. The trees, as part of this
tactic, will be adopted and planted along neighbouring streets and nearby public spaces once the site
is being redeveloped. Interboro’s principal, Daniel D’Oca, explains, ‘There [were] so few open spaces in
the area, so we immediately wanted to have trees. But we didn’t want to plant anything if they were
going to be torn out in a few years’ (Ho, 2010, p. 32). For the time being, the trees enrich the space, and
provide key ecosystem services, including urban heat island mitigation by providing shade, ltering
air pollution and providing habitat for birds and insects (Figure 1).
Another smart intervention is the wooden perimeter fence comprised of eight-foot-wide panels
that pivot, which is installed along one side of the property. Combining the developer’s requirement
to have the property be closable at night with a desire to introduce aspects of play and interaction,
this intervention allows users to manipulate the degree of openness and enclosure. Furthermore, the
rotating panels have built-in benches and provide display spaces for exhibitions. As such, ‘the fence
itself becomes public and creates an object that can be interpreted, used, and appropriated in many
dierent ways’ (Interboro, 2017) (Figure 2).
Lent Space provides a platform for citizens and interest groups to shape and transform the urban
environment, through exhibitions, events and their own actions. The exible environment created
integrates temporal urban processes and does so in ways that typical, xed urban places cannot.
Theodore (2012) posits,
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by acknowledging that urban conditions result from countless, often … totally uncoordinated actions, by a variety
of dierent actors, I think we can take a progressive, optimistic position where we as architects, planners or everyday
people can actually reconstruct and change the city.
Aesthetically, the project pushes the boundaries of what temporary vacant parcels can look like. It
juxtaposes elements we typically associate with these areas (chain-link fences and excessive pavement)
with subtle design interventions, including wooden planters and vegetation to soften the appearance
of the site. Using these simple and cost-eective methods, it creates a space that is unusual and unique,
welcoming both planned and spontaneous activities. By renegotiating the line between public and
private, Lent Space provides a new model for using and animating interim vacant spaces.
3.2. Sunower+Project: STL
Contamination is perhaps the biggest issue preventing redevelopment or transitional use of abandoned
urban sites. In St. Louis, for example—a city where nearly 20% of all city parcels are vacant—typical
cleanup costs of a single lot, which includes soil excavation, transportation, tipping fees for land lling
and import of clean soils, averages between $6000 and $10 000 (Koster, 2012). In cities already struggling
to attract developers, private individuals, or community groups to buy or lease these properties, these
costs further limit opportunities for re-activation. Here, the Sunower+Project: STL, a project initiated
by architect Don Koster and Richard Reilly of the Missouri Botanical Garden, presents a low cost social-
ecological experiment to remediate lead and other contaminants in the soil using sunowers. In addition
to beautication, these iconic plants have the potential to absorb contaminants, sequester carbon and
attract wildlife while providing an opportunity to educate the public about issues of sustainability
(Figure 3). Once contamination levels in the plants and soils have come down to meet regulatory
standards, seeds can be utilised for purposes of food and fuel, creating the potential for entrepreneurial
Figure 1.Lent Space, New York. Movable planters with integrated seating act as a temporary tree nursery while creating ‘rooms’ for
art installations. Photo by Dean Kaufman.
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business opportunities. In order to maximise remediation eorts and provide seasonal interest, the site
is planted with winter wheat during the winter months.
As part of The Sustainable Land Lab, a joint eort of the City of St. Louis and Washington University
in St. Louis to creatively reuse vacant land, the project has now been implemented in two dierent
locations in St. Louis, each with dierent biophysical and socio-economic characteristics. In both
instances, the projects have garnered much attention from local residents, community groups and
planners, providing opportunities for education, participation and recreation. One volunteer has stated:
‘to me, a sunower means happiness. Happiness comes to those who are always positive. Don’t ever
give up … Have hope and dreams. Keep your head up high, just like the sunowers’ (Gillerman, 2014). In
this sense, more than simply introducing a productive landscape and remarkable aesthetic experience
in the built environment, the project represents hope and optimism, and enables both citizens and
planning departments to think about the future instead of reminiscing the past.
With over 8000 vacant lots available in St. Louis (Koster, 2012), the Sunower+Project provides a
replicable strategy for transforming marginal lands into productive community spaces (Figure 4).
Using the tools and techniques of restoration ecology, the project enables the co-production of natural
scientic knowledge and societal knowledge (Gross, 2003). By continuously monitoring project progress,
including remediation levels, growing conditions, biodiversity and public engagement, new knowledge
can be gained and transmitted as soon as it becomes available. Over time, this continuous feedback
and co-evolution of management techniques will help to answer practical questions, such as: How
eective is phytoremediation using sunowers and winter wheat in city lots? What is the best planting
plan for easy access, weeding and harvesting? How can communities be best engaged in envisioning,
Figure 2. Lent Space, New York. The operable fence panels can be repositioned to simultaneously manipulate the degree of
permeability and to create a variety of social seating arrangements. Its ambiguity challenges the notion of public versus private.
Lent Space, New York. Photo by Dean Kaufman.
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Figure 3.Sunflower+Project: STL, St. Louis. Diagram showing the annual cycle of the Sunflower+Project, which includes testing
the soil, preparing the ground, planting the seeds, plant growth, harvesting and disposing of plants in case of heavy contamination.
The project can be scaled up and implemented at the neighbourhood scale. Diagram by Don Koster.
Figure 4.Sunflower+Project: STL, St. Louis. Nearby residents are involved in all phases of the process, from growing the seeds to daily
maintenance activities. At full bloom, the sunflower field creates spatial enclosure—temporarily ‘filling’ the void—instilling a sense
of neighbourhood pride, and signalling the promise of a more sustainable future. Photos by Sunflower+ Project: STL.
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programming and stewarding the sites? Furthermore, long-term outcomes will disclose whether this
strategy provides viable avenues to create economic spin-os. At the time of writing this paper, ndings
and outcomes of the project have yet to be published.
3.3. De Ceuvel
Another project addressing contamination and transitional use is De Ceuvel in Amsterdam, the
Netherlands. Designed by Space & Matter and DELVA Landscape Architects, the project repurposes a
vacant industrial site by developing a soil cleaning and nutrient-ltering landscape featuring retrotted
houseboats, which serve as oces, ateliers and workshops for creative and social enterprises. Informed
by the outcomes of a community-driven process and an ideas competition, the project will occupy the
site for a short period and demonstrate the possibilities of new clean technologies and environmental
systems. According to Sascha Glasl (2015), co-founder of Space & Matter, the winning team
got the right to use the heavily polluted 4,600-square-meter plot for a period of ten years. But we didn’t receive
any money and there were no buildings, so our plan had to be exible, cheap, and o the grid as we didn’t want
to touch the [contaminated] soil. (Glasl, 2015)
As such, recycling, creative reuse, phytoremediation and entrepreneurship became central themes
for developing the project—turning ‘wasted’ land and materials into a valuable and productive urban
space (Figure 5).
Houseboats that otherwise would have ended up at junkyards were bought cheaply, retrotted
at a nearby wharf and equipped with low-tech additions to make them nearly self-sucient. Now,
integrated solar panels provide nearly half of the required energy, dry composting toilets minimise
water usage and air-source heat pumps provide ecient heating and cooling (Glasl, 2015). Moreover,
Figure 5.De Ceuvel, Amsterdam. The site is conceptualised as a circular, metabolic framework in order to reuse waste materials and
improve resource efficiency and productivity. Diagram by Delva Landscape Architects.
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the landscape, in addition to creating an attractive aesthetic environment, uses specic vegetation to
purify the soil, recycle nutrients, provide habitat and produce biomass for the generation of energy to
be used on-site. After 10years, the boats can easily be moved to another location, while the land will
be less polluted, more valuable and have more biodiversity (Figure 6).
Opened in 2014, the site now hosts a restaurant, a bed-and-breakfast, and 16 oces. It has had an
enormous impact on the surrounding area as well as on planners and decision-makers, so much so
that the approach of De Ceuvel inspired the City of Amsterdam to sign a manifesto declaring that urban
metabolism and circular economy will become the cornerstone for the redevelopment of the entire
industrial area (AEB Amsterdam, 2015). As an ongoing development on formerly vacant land, De Ceuvel
provides a model for combining landscape-based strategies with economic and social sustainability in
order to create new forms of urbanism.
3.4. Bartokpark
As suggested by the previous project, vacancy presents opportunities to construct context, shape new
identities and promote new nature–culture relationships. In this context, Bartokpark in Arnhem, the
Netherlands reveals the possibilities for reframing the relationship of cities and its residents with the
surrounding landscape. Designed by landscape architect Harro de Jong in collaboration with DTO and
the municipality of Arnhem, this project transforms a former demolition site into a communal space.
The project takes advantage of Arnhem’s close proximity to De Hoge Veluwe, the country’s largest
nature reserve, which is home to spectacular sand dunes and heath vegetation. Since lowland heath is
drought-tolerant and thrives in poor sandy soils, they are good pioneer species, and are able to survive
in bare and open conditions with extreme microclimates and limited nutrients. These qualities make
lowland heath vegetation a likely choice for vacant sites, which often face many similar conditions. As
such, the designers imported heath plants from De Hoge Veluwe to create a new urban park. The result
is a unique miniature heather landscape that is at once iconic and instils a new sense of place (Figure 7).
Moreover, by reusing vegetation that is periodically stripped from De Hoge Veluwe to prevent
succession, the project taps into existing resource and material ows. De Jong uses the term nature
transplantation to describe this method by which lowland heath vegetation, including soil conditions,
benecial fungi and insects, are reused and transplanted to reinvigorate vacant urban spaces, increase
biodiversity and provide ecosystem services such as stormwater management and pollination (Buro
Harro, 2017). The management activities associated with nature transplantation have also nurtured
Figure 6.De Ceuvel, Amsterdam. Over the 10-year period plants are used to remediate the polluted brownfield site, while retrofitted
houseboats provide a space for creative social enterprises as well as opportunities for public programming and events. Photo by
Delva Landscape Architects.
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community engagement and stewardship, providing an educational opportunity and tool to promote
co-dependency between social and ecological processes. At the same time, by integrating notions of
displacement, dislocation and juxtaposition, this strategy fundamentally questions what is urban and
what is natural.
Further strengthening the identity of the mini-scale natural park is a 30-m-long over-scaled
Partyaardvark, an artwork by artist Florentijn Hofman. This iconic object provides a unique play element
for children, instilling new life and uses to an area previously lacking these traits (Figure 8). Combining
Figure 7.Bartokpark, Arnhem. The flourishing heather vegetation creates a distinct urban landscape while reconnecting citizens
with the broader regional ecology of Arnhem. Photo by Buro Harro.
Figure 8.Bartokpark, Arnhem. The colossal artwork, a gift from Burgers Zoo to the city of Arnhem, provides a unique and interactive
feature—creating a hotspot where people come together and children can play. Photo by Buro Harro.
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elements of nature transplantation, art and play, Bartokpark provides an unconventional approach to
shape a new neighbourhood identity, while increasing biodiversity and reconnecting citizens to the
larger environment.
3.5. Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände, Berlin
The nal project I will discuss is Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände in Berlin, Germany. This 18-hectare
park occupies the area of a former switchyard in inner city Berlin. Following construction of the Berlin
Wall, the railyard was decommissioned, allowing the site to be colonised by spontaneous vegetation
(Kowarik & Langer, 2005). By the 1980s, rich woodlands and grasslands had established on the site,
drawing much interest from urban ecologists. Studies revealed that the site was home to numerous
rare species and particularly diverse invertebrate populations (Kowarik & Langer, 2005). Subsequently,
these ndings were successfully used to build a case for protection of this unique landscape against
When in 1995 a large portion of the site was set aside for the development of a ‘nature park’, the
design team, which included landscape architects, ecologists and artists, were presented with two
main challenges: (1) How to enable site access without endangering rich local ora and fauna? and (2)
How to respond to natural vegetation dynamics that would lead to woodland domination and most
likely diminish species diversity? (Kowarik & Langer, 2005). Subsequently, the master plan framed an
approach based on developing ‘simultaneity of culture and wilderness, of distance and nearness of the
visitor’ (Kowarik & Langer, 2005, p. 291).
Today, Südgelände is actively managed to maintain the ecological and aesthetic values of the site
through various manipulations of the successional stages of the vegetation on the site. Parts of the
park are managed to create a series of ‘rooms, ‘clearings’ and groves’ through mowing and the manual
removal of trees and shrubs (Kowarik & Langer, 2005, pp. 295, 296). The more open areas created
through this management strategy strengthen views and provide staging grounds for art installations
and historic elements that have been preserved on the site. In other areas, human access is strictly
controlled. Raised boardwalks guide visitors through these areas in the park, which include actively
managed dry grasslands as well as uncontrolled woodlands (Figures 8 and 9).
Figure 9.Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände, Berlin. Raised boardwalks indicate certain parts of the site are restricted to human
access to allow for natural succession. The image shows how trees (symbolising nature) take precedence over boardwalk placement.
Photo by Allison Tweedie.
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Far from following a predetermined maintenance regime, ‘managers conceived their schemes as
provisional and in need of being continuously adapted according to new experiences gained on the site
… this knowledge only took shape throughout local processes of negotiation and material interference
with [the site]’ (Lachmund, 2013, p. 190). In this sense, the park can be understood as a living laboratory
Table 1.Breakdown of case studies by design criteria.
Environmental Justice/
Ecological Democracy
Ecosystem Services/
Urban Biodiversity Aesthetic Experiences Programming
Lent Space Fair access for all; democratic
use of temporarily vacant
land, recycling of materials
Urban heat island
mitigation, climate
regulation, food
provisioning, habitat
Aesthetics as a driver
to communicate
landscape change and
public processes
Temporary exhibitions
and events space,
food trucks, seating,
people watching
Project: STL
Improving health and
safety by cleaning up
contaminated vacant lots,
fully engaging residents
in various stages of
restoration ecology
management, energy
(biofuel), habitat,
Plants used as a visible
design medium to
communicate the
process and to create a
meaningful landscape
Outdoor education,
gathering, seating
De Ceuvel Improving health and
safety by cleaning up
contaminated site,
education in responsible
land use and material
Nutrient cycling, waste
decomposition, food
provisioning, energy
(biofuel), habitat
Aesthetics as a tool to
communicate ideas
of recycling, urban
metabolism and
Work spaces (offices
and workshops),
café and restaurant,
event space,
gathering, education
Bartokpark Transformation of formerly
fenced-off space into the
public park, community
engagement through
nature transplantation
Stormwater management,
habitat, pollination
Aesthetics help to
reconnect people with
the broader regional
landscape, and to
create a unique identity
Play, gathering,
seating, education
Fair access for all; opening
up of formerly inaccessible
area to the larger public
Climate regulation, carbon
sequestration, removal
of particulate pollutants,
habitat, biodiversity
Aesthetics used as a tool
to promote public
understandings of
urban ecology and
urban wildness
Nature recreation,
Figure 10.Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände, Berlin. Since 1997, sheep are periodically introduced to graze on alternating sites
of the dry meadow in order to maintain specific plant communities and levels of biodiversity. Photo by Allison Tweedie.
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for testing the interplay between control and neglect—a place for scientic inquiry and aesthetic
exploration. The project also arms the value of Kowarik’s (1992) ‘nature of the fourth kind’ and how
strategic design interventions in these spaces can shape new nature–culture relationships. In doing
so, the project has transformed negative associations with overgrown vacant land and instead created
‘an alternative place image, one that aligns ecological representations (species numbers, biotope type
category) with images of wilderness, historical memory practices, and new modes of visual and physical
apprehension’ (Lachmund, 2013, p. 161).
Finally, as a signicant area of urban forest, Südgelände provides numerous ecosystem services,
including carbon storage, climate regulation and important habitat as well as opportunities for recreation
and education. While ecologists have argued that some of the design interventions, particularly the
various art installations, have compromised the uniqueness and true ‘wilderness’ of the site, the project
has been successful in preserving historic site elements, while opening up access to those that might
not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the unique character of the urban wild (Kowarik &
Langer, 2005).
4. Conclusions
The challenges of vacancy are manifold and require a range of dierent design strategies and responses.
In addition to being process-driven and context sensitive, projects should fundamentally be based on
principles of environmental justice and ecological democracy, provide ecosystem services, oer new
aesthetic experiences and values, and provide opportunities for alternative programmes and uses. The
case studies discussed in this paper reveal a number of dierent and innovative ways in which these
criteria can be integrated and deployed to transform urban vacant lands (Table 1). Similarly, each project
has, in distinct ways, approached vacancy as a laboratory for developing new social-ecological systems
and relationships (Figure 10).
The case studies also provide insights in relationships among project size, timeframe and replicability.
As illustrated in Table 2, of the case studies discussed, temporary and short-term projects such as
Lent Space and The Sunower+Project can be implemented on individual parcels or an aggregation
of multiple city lots. As a consequence of being exible, relatively cheap and resource-savvy, these
types of projects are easily replicated. On the other hand, projects like Südgelände require sites with
signicant histories as well as substantial periods of neglect to enable the establishment of ‘nature of
the fourth kind’. As such, these projects are site specic and cannot easily be replicated. De Ceuvel and
Bartokpark occupy a middle ground. Envisioned for the short- and medium-term, both these projects
are replicable but also have the potential to turn into permanent urban landscapes.
Moving forward, there are a number of aspects which were outside the scope of this paper that
still require future research. First, it will be important to better understand the relationship between
funding models and policy frameworks in relation to the implementation of these innovative design
solutions. As suggested by Groth and Corijn (2005), projects on vacant land normally ‘don’t follow the
typical planning trajectory but emerge out of a unique platform that enables citizens, community groups
Table 2.Spatio-temporal characteristics of each case study.
Scale Timeframe Replicability
Lent Space Small; individual lot Temporary Yes
Sunflower+ Project: STL Small to medium; individual lot
or multiple lots
Short to medium-term Yes
De Ceuvel Small to medium; post-
industrial site
Medium to long-term Yes
Bartokpark Small to medium; individual lot
or multiple lots
Medium to long-term Yes
Natur-Park Schöneberger
Large; post-industrial sites Long-term No; site specific, depends on
existing vegetation
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and designers to envision new social and environmental relationships (p. 521). This raises a number
of questions, including: How can policy change facilitate the implementation of innovative physical
design strategies? How can policy change promote ecological democracy and new land uses? And,
how can design strategies inspire the development of new policy frameworks (as it did in the case of
De Ceuvel and the City of Amsterdam)?
Second, the projects discussed primarily focus on the scale of individual sites or a neighbourhood.
Especially in shrinking cities with large amounts of vacant land, it is essential to develop strategies at the
city scale (Girot, 2005; Desimini, 2014). To date only a small number of proposals have done so, including
IBA Stadtumbau 2010 in Dessau-Roßlau and Detroit Future City ( Both
proposals present ambitious visions for the future of each respective city by proposing new urban land
uses, management practices and demographic shifts, formulated across scales—from the larger urban
fabric to the parcel. For a number of reasons, however, these proposals have not been implemented.
In the case of Dessau, implementation stalled as a result of overreliance on community participation
(Desimini, 2014), while Detroit Future City has received serious criticism for adopting design strategies
that disproportionally burden its poorest and most isolated residents, and, as such, has been ‘forced to
redesign its … public participation mechanism’ (Clement & Kanai, 2015, pp. 382, 383). As such, numerous
questions remain, including: How can (shrinking) cities holistically embrace vacancy as an opportunity
to develop new forms of urbanism? How do we make sure notions of patchwork urbanism do not result
in physical fragmentation and social inequalities? Is it ethically acceptable to relocate residents out of
high-vacancy areas in order to eliminate municipal services and introduce alternative land uses? Future
research is needed to further these discussions.
Finally, of the case studies discussed, only The Sunower+Project is located in what is generally
understood as a shrinking city. All other projects are located in cities where vacancy is not a structural
problem. This is because in selecting the case studies, the author prioritised successful and innovative
projects to re-integrate vacant urban sites regardless if these are located in cities that are growing or
shrinking. At the same time, however, planning departments and community-based organisations in
growing cities typically have better access to social, economic and organisational resources to support
and initiate these types of developments. As such, future research is needed to determine whether
projects to re-appropriate vacant urban lands are more likely to succeed in growing cities because of this.
Given the ongoing evolution of the built environment and its associated socio-spatial conditions, it is
important that planners, designers and decision-makers continue to invest resources in the development
of new solutions for repurposing vacant urban lands. This paper provides a conceptual framework to
help guide those committed to this endeavour. It suggests that instead of being paralysed by the socio-
economic and spatial complexities, vacancy becomes a laboratory for testing and implementing new
social-ecological systems across a range of spatial and temporal scales. This requires experimentation
in the development of alternative planning and design strategies, including new public participation
models, policy frameworks and funding mechanisms.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
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... Several recent studies draw attention to the social and environmental value/services of wastelands (Anderson & Minor, 2017;Botzat et al., 2016;Burkholder, 2012;Carlet et al., 2017;Threlfall & Kendal, 2018;Zefferman et al., 2018). Nowadays, vacant land is progressively being regarded as part of the city's green infrastructure Lokman, 2017), serving as spontaneous or unplanned green areas and providing cultural services, such as vital exposure to wilderness, with reduced or zero costs (Botzat et al., 2016;Heckert & Kondo, 2018;Rupprecht et al., 2015;Threlfall & Kendal, 2018;Zefferman et al., 2018). In fact, aesthetic and affective qualities may be attributed to the crude authenticity of 'novel urban ecosystems' (hereinafter 'NUE'), with their naturalistic appearance (Gandy, 2013;Lokman, 2017). ...
... Nowadays, vacant land is progressively being regarded as part of the city's green infrastructure Lokman, 2017), serving as spontaneous or unplanned green areas and providing cultural services, such as vital exposure to wilderness, with reduced or zero costs (Botzat et al., 2016;Heckert & Kondo, 2018;Rupprecht et al., 2015;Threlfall & Kendal, 2018;Zefferman et al., 2018). In fact, aesthetic and affective qualities may be attributed to the crude authenticity of 'novel urban ecosystems' (hereinafter 'NUE'), with their naturalistic appearance (Gandy, 2013;Lokman, 2017). ...
... Other studies have shown that the end of an activity on a particular site and, consequently, its formal abandonment and ruination, are rarely translated into total abandonment, as the disappearance of prior uses may pave the way for other appropriations and informal uses in the form of productive activities, such as urban vegetable gardens (Calvet-Mir & March, 2019;Park & Coirici, 2013;K. Pothukuchi, 2017), consumption and leisure practices (Edensor, 2005;Klausen, 2017;Rupprecht, 2015), and artistic or creative practices (Apel, 2015;Arboleda, 2017;Foster, 2014;Lokman, 2017). ...
Over the last decades, interim reuse has emerged as a possible solution for vacant land and abandoned spaces in cities. It is presented as an alternative to conventional regeneration projects, opening up new possibilities for the occupation of formerly derelict spaces. However, in addition to such opportunities, it also poses a number of risks which need to be mitigated, calling for new mechanisms that foster the consultation and participation of communities within the scope of urban planning. The present research seeks to fill this gap by introducing scenario-elicitation, an innovative participation methodology, which relies on new visualisation and communication techniques in planning. Application of the methodology to an abandoned industrial lot in Barreiro – a shrinking city in the suburban belt of Lisbon, Portugal – yielded the following conclusions: (i) scenario-elicitation constitutes a potential tool for the consultation of communities, as a complement to other visualisation and communication techniques in planning; (ii) interim reuse is embraced by communities as a useful device to respond to vacancy and urban abandonment situations; (iii) citizens' adherence to types of interim reuse is geared, primarily, towards collective space options linked to healthy living practices and the combination of different functional and spatial assets.
... Na podlagi razumevanja praznih zemljišč kot potencialno dragocenih naravnih dobrin lokalne skupnosti se lahko izboljša okoljska kakovost sosesk (Kim, 2016). Neizkoriščeni javni odprti prostori so v literaturi opredeljeni zelo različno, in sicer kot praznine v zgradbi mest (Trancik, 1986), nikogaršnja zemlja (Mariani in Barron, 2014), prazna zemljišča in nezasedeni kraji, razpoložljivi za spontano uporabo (Lokman, 2017), in urbane praznine (Newman in Kim, 2017), ki se dojemajo kot javni prostori (Kamvasinou, 2011;Kim, 2016). ...
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Avtorji v članku obravnavajo pogosto krhko povezavo med javnimi prostori in širšim okoljem. S pristopom urbane akupunkture na neizkoriščenih odprtih javnih prostorih se lahko mestno tkivo revitalizira z manjšimi prostorskimi posegi, zasnovanimi v skladu s preferencami lokalne skupnosti. Avtorji na podlagi preferenc prebivalcev in mnenj strokovnjakov proučujejo posege na neizkoriščenih mestnih zemljiščih. Na primeru praznega odprtega javnega prostora v Teheranu proučujejo preference javnosti z družbenega, oblikovalskega in estetskega vidika, pri čemer uporabljajo opisno in analitično metodo. V prvi fazi opravljene raziskave so bila proučena mnenja šestih strokovnjakov, katerih vsebina je bila razvrščena v kategorije, v drugi fazi pa bile so teme in podteme, izluščene iz prve faze, vključene v anketo o javnih preferencah. Skupno število pravilno izpolnjenih (veljavnih) vprašalnikov je bilo 165. Po analizi odgovorov, pridobljenih z anketo, je bilo opravljenih 22 osebnih intervjujev. Izsledki raziskave kažejo, kateri posegi so v lokalni skupnosti bolj zaželeni.
... Understanding the role of vacant land as a potentially valuable natural and community asset can improve environmental quality in the surrounding neighbourhood (Kim, 2016). Leftover spaces have been defined very differently: as cracks in the urban structure (Loukaitou-Sideris, 1996), undesirable urban areas (Trancik, 1986), no man's land (Mariani & Barron, 2014), vacant land and unoccupied places available for spontaneous utilization (Lokman, 2017), and urban voids (Newman & Kim, 2017), which are perceived as public spaces (Kamvasinou, 2011;Kim, 2016). ...
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The article deals with the fragile connection that public spaces often have with their context. In this regard, the use of urban acupuncture in leftover space can be an opportunity to revitalize the urban fabric through small-scale interventions developed in accordance with community preferences. This study evaluates interventions in vacant plots based on both residents’ preferences and experts’ opinions. Using the example of leftover space in Tehran, this article explores public preferences and priorities regarding urban acupuncture from a social, design, and aesthetic perspective, applying a descriptive-analytical method. The opinions of six experts were examined and categorized in the first phase. In the second phase, the topics and subtopics extracted from the first phase were incorporated into visual questionnaires to evaluate preferences, from which 165 valid responses were obtained. Following the analysis of the questionnaires, twenty-two personal interviews were carried out. The results show which interventions are preferred over others.
... It should be designed and managed as a multifunctional resource capable of delivering those ecological services and quality of life benefits required by the communities it serves and 9needed to underpin sustainability" (Wood 2009, p. 7) The view that a city could 'produce' land within its perimeterlandscape expansion - (Nassauer andRaskin 2014, Lima andEischeid 2017) can be regarded as an opportunity to increase citizens' proximity to natural spaces and to strengthen cities' ecosystems. The associated advantages would include: water, air and material fluxes in the city (Spirn 1984); and citizens' physical and mental health (Ward Thompson 1998, Mitchell et al. 2011, Ward Thompson and Aspinall 2011, Mitchell 2012, Hartig et al. 2014; better storm water management (Albro et al. 2017); and growth of seed banks (Lokman 2017), or biodiversity reserves (Langer 2012). The health improvements, in particular, might involve lowered levels of stress (Ward Thompson et al. 2012, Roe et al. 2013, less depressive mood (Rautio et al. 2018) increased physical activity (Pietilä et al. 2015), and reduced exposure to pollutants, noise or heat (Ward Thompson and Silveirinha de Oliveira 2016). ...
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This study focuses on the relative importance for resident’s wellbeing of different attributes of the living environment, namely urban typology, population density, green space type, green space quality, community and security, in the context of urban depopulation. The study used conjoint analysis, a methodology for comparing preferences, in three neighbourhoods in the Portuguese capital city. A total of 130 participants were recruited to take part in this study, based on whether their residential neighbourhood was growing in population (N = 49) or depopulating (N = 44); or whether they were searching for a new house at the moment (N = 37). The results showed that residents of depopulating neighbourhoods value the presence of a friendly community more than the other participants and were less negative about high population densities. House buyers valued environments with good quality green spaces significantly more than the other two groups. These findings suggest that a friendlier community and the quality of its green spaces are key attributes in encouraging current dwellers to remain, and in attracting new residents to move in. These two attributes are known to be relevant factors for overall citizens’ quality of life, health and wellbeing; they should, therefore, be given particular consideration in any intervention in depopulating contexts.
Landscape areas have spatial discontinuities, such as vacant land and leftover spaces. Undefined lands present a compelling area for landscape research, aesthetical experience, and development of cities which discuss irregular and unexpected aspects in landscape settings. Having lacked a formal definition of undefined land, this study aims at proposing keywords of undefined lands, a comprehensive review of knowledge, and definition. In order to promote new aspects of such spaces in the future research, the study conducts a systematic analysis of 65 peer-reviewed papers for their temporal trends, locations, methods, key authors, and commonly studied aspects. Results show the production of vacancy and the temporary use of undefined lands as an opportunity, and a flexible method of regeneration. An increase in publications over the past 30 years demonstrates that leftover space is an evolving subject. Although socio-ecological aspects are the most effective, serious gaps are mentioned in the literature considering aesthetical and ecological qualities in leftover spaces formed by visual, sensorial (hearing, touch, smell, taste), and cognitive perception. These gaps in the literature suggest that it is important to understand the potential effects of repurposing citizens' ideas about interventions in which to use leftover spaces. Having identified the knowledge gaps, undefined lands are suggested as a significant sub-discipline in landscape research.
This chapter is aimed to analyse the implications that demographic changes have on urban decline and shrinkage in a global environment. The analysis departs from the assumption that deindustrialization restructuring and demographic suburbanization processes contribute to economic urban decline and shrinkage. After reviewing the evolution of urban decline and shrinkage framed on a methodological approach, the study analyses in detail the different factors involved in any demographic and urban decline and shrinkage. It is concluded that deindustrialization restructuring, demographic decline, and suburbanization processes are crucial in urban shrinkage.
Despite the focus on (large parks) green public spaces in urban areas, mini-parks have been disregarded, especially the way they should be designed based on people’s aesthetic preferences, in order to fulfill societal potential. Having used 25 computer-generated pocket park (PP) scenes with various levels of enclosure based on planting, this study seeks to investigate public opinion on three factors: coherence, legibility, and the refuge. Since vacant lands inherently receive limited budgets, design practices must develop innovative ways to implement the projects. Residents from Tehran, Iran (n = 318) participated in a visual online questionnaire depicting five main types for the permeability of enclosure in small leftover spaces, which had the possibility to change into PP. They were asked to assess the coherence, legibility, refuge, and select the types of activities they could imagine in each park. This study adopted a descriptive-analytical method. The results were evaluated using the chi-square test and are as follows: (1) In terms of all five types, participants rated the lowest for refuge in visually open and physically open scenes. (2) If the visual and physical scenes are enclosed, participants perceive the legibility to be higher compared to open scenes. (3) In visually open scenes, there are no significant differences in the participants’ sense of coherence even though the physical enclosure is changed. (4) Due to the investigation of spatial configurations of PP, when compared to other variables (coherence and legibility), it is demonstrated that enclosure will be more significant in terms of refuge.
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As investment in urban conservation grows, researchers must balance the needs of residents and conservation targets. We discuss some of the challenges we have encountered and the importance of taking a transdisciplinary approach informed by design and social knowledge.
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Amongst the proliferation of practice- and theory-based concepts that are changing urban planning, the renaissance of resilience is proving its potential for impressive implications instead of remaining a brief trend. This paper considers the affordances of an evolutionary and adaptive resilience framing for planning policy and practice in relation to economic development. Specifically, the research presented here explores the explanatory and analytical values of resilience through transformative collective action that incites experimentation, social learning and adaptive capacity building through entrepreneurial temporary uses. In the spotlight is Bremen’s temporary use policy of ZwischenZeitZentrale, through which temporary use is managed in the wake of economic and structural change. This softer form of policy demonstrates how planning mechanisms can complement strategies to address hurdles following gradual forms of crises. Through the case study of Plantage 9, an illustration of collective action is anchored by entrepreneurial temporary use that enable temporary users, temporary use managers and public administrations to build adaptive capacity for economic resilience.
Emerging Landscapes brings together scholars and practitioners working in a wide range of disciplines within the fields of the built environment and visual arts to explore landscape as an idea, an image, and a material practice in an increasingly globalized world. Drawing on the synergies between the fields of architecture and photography, this collection takes a multidisciplinary approach, combining practice-based research with scholarly essays. It explores and critically reassesses the interface between representation - the imaginary and symbolic shaping of the human environment - and production - the physical and material changes wrought on the land. At a time of environmental crisis and the 'end of nature, 'shifting geopolitical boundaries and economic downturn, Emerging Landscapes reflects on the state of landscape and its future, mapping those practices that creatively address the boundaries between possibility, opportunity and action in imagining and shaping landscape. © Davide Deriu, Krystallia Kamvasinou and Eugénie Shinkle, and the contributors 2014. All rights reserved.
Almost fifty years ago, America's industrial cities-Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Baltimore, and others-began shedding people and jobs. Today they are littered with tens of thousands of abandoned houses, shuttered factories, and vacant lots. With population and housing losses continuing since the 2007 financial crisis, the future of neighborhoods in these places is precarious. How we will rebuild shrinking cities and what urban design vision will guide their future remain contentious and unknown. In Design After Decline, Brent D. Ryan reveals the fraught and intermittently successful efforts of architects, planners, and city officials to rebuild shrinking cities following mid-century urban renewal. With modern architecture in disrepute, federal funds scarce, and architects and planners disengaged, politicians and developers were left to pick up the pieces. In twin narratives, Ryan describes how America's two largest shrinking cities, Detroit and Philadelphia, faced the challenge of design after decline in dramatically different ways. While Detroit allowed developers to carve up the cityscape into suburban enclaves, Philadelphia brought back 1960s-style land condemnation for benevolent social purposes. Both Detroit and Philadelphia "succeeded" in rebuilding but at the cost of innovative urban design and planning. Ryan proposes that the unprecedented crisis facing these cities today requires a revival of the visionary thinking found in the best modernist urban design, tempered with the lessons gained from post-1960s community planning. Depicting the ideal shrinking city as a shifting patchwork of open and settled areas, Ryan concludes that accepting the inevitable decline and abandonment of some neighborhoods, while rebuilding others as new neighborhoods with innovative design and planning, can reignite modernism's spirit of optimism and shape a brighter future for shrinking cities and their residents. Copyright
The perspective of the landscape architect is often missing from scholarly literature and media accounts that address the conditions of the shrinking city. This absence stems from both an alternative, cyclical reading of the urban condition within the discipline and a failure to develop theory and practice specific to different political, economic, and demographic situations. Landscape architects, through their process-based understanding of development, offer an important lens on the phenomenon. They recognize value in the abundant, cleared land; are comfortable with the slow process of its transformation; understand land management and maintenance as tools of design; and routinely operate across the multiple scales, from parcel to region, required for visionary restructuring. Here, I put forth the argument, through an expanded literature and project review, that there is an essential role for landscape architects in shaping the future of the shrinking city.