Benjamin Pradel, who is a sociologist and urban planner, has conducted university research on temporality and mobility. He is also the co-founder of Intermède, an organisation that specialises in the temporary occupation of empty buildings, and a consultant for Kaléido’scop.

Urban planning of time and mobility

Why are they more important than ever?

With the Covid-19 pandemic, certain pre-existing trends have shown the limits of functional urbanism where the pairing of one space to one function makes it difficult for cities to adjust to new, changing and even, in some cases, urgent needs. Without completely overturning the idea of urban planning, this crisis has introduced more flexibility in urban design. It also leads us to reflect on the temporary nature of certain usages and the transitory nature of spaces. Gradually, mobility and time have become core issues in urban design, because the more we take different usages into consideration, the more we realise that they are not static but that they change according to the seasons, the days and the time of day. In this way, time becomes a new resource to help reflect on the organisation of space and urban dynamism. Mobility also fits into this temporal equation by including notions of speed and how long we spend travelling from one place to another. In the end, the way we function in our cities concerns space as much as time.

How can the rhythms of a city match the pace of life?

Whilst the pace of life is more and more heterogeneous and individualised, the rhythms of the city are more connected, in particular in shared spaces such as public transport at peak times or at events with an inflow of tourists, for instance. The post-Fordist society of the 70s was based on massive production rhythms, connected objects, individualised lifestyles or a global service economy, and as a result, schedules were completely desynchronised. Work and leisure rhythms are far more spread out now and the diversity of lifestyles must be taken into account in urban design, establishing a balance between spaces to breath and non-stop city life.

What are the benefits of temporary urbanism

in particular by transforming vacant spaces?

Empty buildings, brownlands and wastelands can in fact become resources because, as they are separate from the production and the rhythm of the city, they are temporarily withdrawn from the economic logic of real estate profitability. This gives them the possibility to penetrate cities collectively and in a different way, and thereby create new opportunities. Plateau Urbain in Paris, Intermède in Lyon, Entremise in Montréal or Communa in Brussels, are all players who support the temporary use of empty buildings to create hybrid spaces that combine collaborative and co-working spaces, workshops, restaurants and housing units.

These experiences raise the issue of real estate vacancy and transform it into local development, while encouraging functional and socio-cultural diversity. These projects are often mediums for inclusiveness, by opening up unoccupied spaces and turning them into experiments for various uses and exchanges that can have an influence on urban planning. They make premises available at below-market prices. They can serve as places to house emergency or transitory shelters for vulnerable people.

Inclusiveness is also based on the collaboration of all stakeholders in urban construction

How can we co-construct in a better way?

This is yet another facet of inclusiveness. Today there are methods, various players and assessments that show that temporary occupation works. For me, there are still a number of challenges for real estate development, including for example identifying unoccupied property and integrating temporary occupation into development processes, including business plans. All this is of course a source of complexity when notions such as feedback, iterative processes and transition become a part of the project throughout its duration. But at the end of the day, I believe it helps to gain time when it is based on contributions from different stakeholders to co-construct cities in short periods of time. Property development projects have everything to gain from a multiplicity of stakeholders around the table, in terms of flexibility and exhaustiveness. Uncertainty is not something that is usually involved in purely economic approaches but I believe that taking it into account is precisely the challenge today for the different players in urban design.