Occupying Vacant Spaces: Precarious Politics of Temporary Urban Reuse.
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Temporary urban projects are often portrayed as offering innovative and experimental solutions to the challenges of countering the negative perceptions associated with vacancy, and of providing rent-free open spaces for non-commercial activities in inner city areas. The political implications of temporary use, however, are controversial, being both celebrated as a form of participatory and emancipatory spatial re-appropriation and critiqued as a new frontier of experiential place marketing and a symptom of urban gentrification. This thesis aims to provide a situated investigation of the tension between the potential of reappropriation and its wider material conditions, to discuss the precarious politics of temporary use as a form of urban action at a time of austerity. My reflections are grounded in an ethnographic approach to practices of temporary use in contemporary London and in an in-depth study of a selection of cultural and activist projects that reclaim vacant shop fronts for community uses. In this thesis I address three main issues. The first concerns the development of the discourse of temporary reuse, and particularly of pop-up shops, between 2009 and 2011. By analysing media coverage, public events and forms of self-representation of London-based practices and practitioners, I attend to official and unofficial narratives mobilised and performed by a range of urban actors. The second issue concerns the material conditions of temporary vacant shop front reuse. In order to ‘re-materialise’ temporary reuse I engage with the often overlooked questions of access, diverse economies, and labour. Lastly, my investigation is concerned with the potential of these practices to engender radically different socio-spatial relations. Drawing on recent debates around the ‘affective turn’ in social sciences, I analyse the emotionally-charged performative openness of community-oriented shop fronts as capable of creating places where meanings and subject-positions are challenged and negotiated, offering insights into their potential for transformative urban encounters.
- Theses