Conversational Cuts on Exploring the Intersections between Post-Growth Planning and Temporary Urbanism

Conversational Cuts on Exploring the Intersections between Post-Growth Planning and Temporary Urbanism. Insights following our international panel discussion in August 2019.

By Robin A. Chang, 23 October, 2019

Questions at Boundaries and during Uncertainty: A Post-Growth Context

What happens when we reach the boundaries of growth? Do we suddenly confront restrictions and drastic change that are inevitable? Or do we meet these edges with a different way of thinking and also alternative meanings and intentions for growth? Could these alternative meanings help us to live patterns that do not circle our own egos and fears? Could they help us to craft cultures and practices that are thoughtful and curious? Above all, how can we aim for a respectful growth that expands in quality as opposed to quantity? This struggle lies at the heart of a concept that was been recently recognized in the German urban and regional planning discourse, and bodies such as the Academy for Spatial Research and Planning (ARL).

 

The Post-Growth Planning or in German “Postwachstumsplanung” mantel covers six theses that a collective of urbanists currently promote through a pithy number of statements with significant potential for impactful planning. The theses call to attention the needs for change (from granular to transformative), active learning (including experimental and artistic lessons as well as those from failure) and explicit engagement and experimentation of all persons. In other words, Post-Growth Planning demands that planners not only concern themselves with their professional calling to urban development but also invites all people to concern themselves with their responsibility to collectively improve the built, natural and social world.

Beyond the initial sense of idealism this initiative boldly waves, is a wizened critique of unquestioned assumptions underlying contemporary urban planning. We do ourselves no favour by ignoring inadequacies in practice and culture and could better commit to collective responsibility for action and reflection on our own roles and relationships with surrounding and complex change. We, as individuals, have the strongest control on our own internal decisions facing the complete uncertainty that accompanies change. While we can shape or select the means through which we act or plan, we have no handle over change, which can lethargically creep into human settlements through periodic vacancy that aggregates into lifeless blocks.  We have no handle over change, which may alternatively spring through urban blocks and leave unexpected gaps in areas of infill development. The truth in control over our decisions, plans and actions is the only certainty and improves with our increasing ability to learn and adapt. Small-scale interventions under the canopy Temporary Urbanism* which now communities and even public administration more often initiate are examples of temporally defined moments of this endogenic truth that are also possible in circumstances with limited resources and capacities. These micro-initiatives of temporary and tactical uses also provide the subject of discussion for a recent event which staff and students organized in Dortmund introduced in the following sections.

* For readers who are not so familiar with Temporary Urbanism, feel free to peruse this piece I wrote for The Conversation back in 2017 for a review of how Temporary Urbanism is unfurling and could be scaled in post-industrial regions.

Interacting with and Intersecting: Post-Growth Needs and Temporary Capacities

As I try to do with every semester, I embedded an active component into my Temporary Use seminar during summer of 2019. This iteration departed from the standard student workshop and included local, regional and international guests at a panel-discussion entitled InterPlay/Plan which explored temporary use as tactical interventions and Post-Growth instruments. Our discussants included Jan Bunse from Dortmund’s Die Urbanisten e.V.; Sara Caramaschi from the Gran Sasso Science Institute in L’Aquila, Italy; Thomas Eltner of the Dortmund 2040 initiative and TU Dortmund University; and finally Oliver Hasemann and Daniel Schnier from ZZZ Bremen and the founders of AAA. My colleague Dr. Christian Lamker (now based in Groningen) and I moderated the evening, which  Prof. Dr. Karsten Zimmermann and the Department of European Planning Cultures at the School of Spatial Planning from TU Dortmund University kindly supported. Since the event was rather long (you can find the full 77-minute video recording here) we thought it might be helpful to summarize and offer some insights from the Q & A portion of the event in a short blog-post.

There is no doubt that the thinking behind Post-Growth principles has a slippery slope to climb before reaching firmer grounds for understanding. The abstraction and extent of meta-thinking (i.e. the reflection it demands on how we think about our current thinking) are challenges of which Post-Growth supporters are aware and working to clarify. A few of these difficulties in addressing these challenges were identified and discussed at our event including 1) the confusion between Degrowth and Post-Growth, 2) the privileged circumstances which permit few to think in such a way, and 3) the demands that we change how we live and interact in our surrounding environments.

To begin and clarify, Post-Growth, unlike Degrowth, is a recognition of how current practices require a different philosophy for directions instead of an outdated vision that (economic) growth is limitless. Post-growth, in this sense, is broader and also open to different starting points to begin with changing established patterns. Questions from the audience made this clear with examples drawn from specific spatial patterns as witnessed in regions of shrinkage. Other strategies such as growth boundaries illustrate hard delimitations for influencing growth whereas more adaptive or temporary measures prove to be more functional and popular. While it is easy to question growth, its subject and meaning, understanding the mechanism and the logic behind efforts to strive for improvement in quality and quantity of human development is much more complicated. It requires us to acknowledge that growth in quality is not symbolized a by a static ideal. Instead, it demands for us to acknowledge and relate to changing realities in order to indicate a growth in the quality, a humility to admit that existing tools and wisdom are outdated, and a courage to seek out new frontiers in learning and practice. In the scope of many planning projects, there is no opportunity for such reflexivity or the sunk costs for resources invested in conceptualizing and implementing plans dwarf the value in checking that the values remain valid. One example shared by Oliver Hasemann through his years as a temporary use agent and temporary user in Bremen was that of retail spaces and shopping which typically involve planning and financing over a period of 20 years followed by maybe 10 years of preparations or build-out, after which the lifecycle of the use and function is finished. Instead considering the lifecycle and dove-tailing of uses and functions on specific sites, most people will be trapped by the costs and profits in the preparations and build-out. Therein is an opportunity for planners and urbanists to expose more sensible or creative solutions like temporary use during the dove-tail phases of projects and evolve them into sustainable impacts as opposed to rhetoric.

Another opportunity highlighted by Sara Caramaschi is through specific manners of regulation for temporary uses. In the global north, which often involves highly regulated environment, this would appear as softening in regulations. The comparison to cities in the global south shows a different picture that might require hardening or compensatory regulations to help support environments that are more lax in legislations or have to address increasing human mobility. The latter is key if we turn to the observations made by international bodies and established research, which indicate that much of this mobility will drive towards urban centers around the globe. While this final description of human and spatial patterns present a paradox to audience references to shrinking regions, the initial thinking brought forward by Post-Growth still applies: change and uncertainty is present and more visibly so, thus we must learn, adapt and engage. A more holistic approach to understanding this globally is helpful or perhaps we can look at specific local-level models that provide the flexibility and opportunity for learning and engagement. Sharing from her own research base in the USA, Caramaschi shared one such models in the form of commoning, which is practice of temporary use that involves organizing and decision-making as a group to establish a set of common goals and rules in order to advance their own financial, social and political benefits. This model has its own hurdles, however, as it requires effective social coordination which requires a very good mediator and almost a radical epistemology that are well established in certain geographical or institutional contexts, but challenging to root in contemporary or individualistic environments.

Drawing on European experiences from Gent, Hasemann introduced an experiment towards green streets as festivals. The open calls for citizens to determine if and how they could re-organize the functions on neighbourhood streets in a carless and sustainable manner during summer months has become a permanent program at the municipal level through the moment from collective agency. To complement the examples of collective care and ownership, Jan Bunse shared his own reflections on how effective responses to such complex and communal initiatives often require simple and small inspirations that can spark individuals desire to engage in collective agency. Turning to Dortmund legacies such as the recreational activity of football, which brings much of Dortmund together, he points out that it is simplicity, which requires an initial instance of coaching and learning that in turn sparks the understanding of common rules. Once you coach and help single persons learn to play, then they can form not only teams, but also a game with rules that influence the path towards a flexible but shared end goal. In Jan’s eyes, the Fridays for the Future movement that is no longer radical but prevalent in all parts of the world mirrors this spirit of simplicity of sustainability. In contradiction to Bunse’s statement on the simplicity and sustainability of effective collective rules, Thomas Eltner shared the suggestion that breaking up with rules can also permit more effective and efficient solutions. Eltner highlighted the NYDOT experiments with the Ghel Institute that change public boulevards from car-centric spaces to people-oriented plinths. By relating this to the idea of temporary use or co-housing, which could help alleviate local challenges with affordable housing, Eltner shared his view of how the city of Dortmund could learn and adapt for its own challenges. Either way, both suggestions point towards a critical reflection on current and collective rules, and the manners with which we engage them.

Last Words and Steps beyond the Post-Growth Planning and Temporary Urbanism Intersection

The benefit in hosting a diverse range of guests is the opportunity to contrast a range of experiences with temporary use as well as observations on the settings and conditions, which enable such phenomenon. The obvious dichotomies of the global North and South, American and European instances indicate that different cultures and policies exist to facilitate opportunities for adaptivity and learning. A positive conclusion out of our discussion is that the instances of adaptivity and learning were not isolated but spread out amongst the globe. Which brings us to another positive conclusion that a Post-Growth Planning philosophy highlights, that perhaps it is not the geographies which promote such initiatives but the people as this was emphasized by Daniel Schnier for even greater diversity in representation at such events. Clearly, everyone and anyone can or should engage. This was an exploratory and first event to bring together two alternative concepts. Understanding this, we chose to close our exchange, by inviting discussants to share last words to help everyone in their steps forward with Post-Growth Planning and Temporary Urbanism:

…dialogue, experiment, learn, reflect, continue…

…observe, experiment, take chances/opportunities, be free, talk about it…

…be open, love, love, love, love…

…write, talk, make, move, destrupt…

…to share more…

…social justice, negotiation, design/think, be a mediator…

…be critical, be engaged, be reflective, be yourself, talk to others…

In case you might have your own last words on this post, feel free to email robin.chang@tu-dortmund.de or contact the Post-Growth Planning collective via www.postgrowthplanning.com and perhaps you might just find it on a next Post-Growth Planning Post.

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