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Central Micro-Peripheries: Temporary Uses of Central Residual Spaces as Urban Development Catalysts (?)


  • Helka-Liisa Hentilä


  • Timo Lindborg



New “urban wastelands” are continually developing in European cities as side effects of economic, technological and political changes. These abandoned industrial zones or former traffic nodes (railways, harbours) have typically been built in the late 19th or in the early 20th century to the fringe of the old city centres. The combination of low estate values with high potential land rents have turned these areas to important scenes of urban transformation since 1980’s. Especially locations close to waterfront have attracted investments and resulted rapid changes and new housing and commercial exploitations. There are though exceptions: some areas remain residual or vacant for years. These areas turn to potential places for temporary “lower secondary uses” since no “primary higher uses” are attracted of them. The contextual factors creating “gaps” for temporary uses are weak demand in the local estate market, delays in the political decision making and planning processes, unclear ownership or exceptionally high construction costs caused by soil contamination and massive old infrastructures. This paper examines the nature of temporary uses and users in the central micro-peripheries, the role of temporary uses in the urban development processes as well as their impact on urban cultures and urban economies in five European metropolitan areas. The research has been done as part of the research project “Urban Catalysts. Strategies for Temporary Uses – Potential for Development of Urban Residual Areas in European Metropolises” (duration 2001-2003), funded by the Fifth R&D Framework Programme of European Community and its key action programme "City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage". In this project local case studies have taken place in Amsterdam, Berlin, Helsinki, Naples and Vienna. The research methods have included interviews with local key actors (temporary users, estate owners, planners and other authorities, politicians) and examination of planning and other development documents as well as site documentation with spatial analyses of the patterns of temporary usage of urban space. The research results show that the areas containing temporary uses have succeeded to foster extremely dynamic and mixed uses (art, culture, education, leisure, sports, residences, production, commerce) and to attract heterogeneous user groups (established and start up companies, migrants, system refugees, drop-outs, part time activists, associations). Many of the sites have also attracted user groups working in the same branch, sharing a common production network or co-operating in flexible ways. The spatial analysis proved temporary uses to mean adaptive reuse of urban spaces, being in most cases part of industrial heritage. The residual spaces seemed also to offer a possibility also for weak social groups to take risks and do various experiments with relatively modest economic investments. They created synergy and arenas for collective learning. The results include further strategies, instruments and methods that have been used in some cities to integrate temporary uses into city management and urban design. The most successful best practice examples show that the temporary uses have had clear catalytic effects on local urban culture and economies. It could be stated that temporary uses are an underused resource in activating residual areas and in improving both social stabilization and competition capacity of urban regions.

Suggested Citation

  • Helka-Liisa Hentilä & Timo Lindborg, 2003. "Central Micro-Peripheries: Temporary Uses of Central Residual Spaces as Urban Development Catalysts (?)," ERSA conference papers ersa03p242, European Regional Science Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwrsa:ersa03p242

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