Temporary use brings city administrations closer to their citizens – Interview with the Lead Partner GHENT

Temporary use brings city administrations closer to their citizens –

An Interview with Emma Tytgadt, Ariana Tabaku and Nele Descheemaeker

The combination of its industrial history and innovative character makes Ghent an ideal ground for temporary use. Can you tell us something about the experiences?

The first experiments started more than ten years ago. We have two flagship projects representing our approach in these experiments: an old industrial waste platform in the densely built 19th century belt around the city centre was converted into a lively meeting place (De Site) and the former harbour docks which became a place for cultural events during the summer (DOK) . They have become iconic of the methods we can use to give a new image to the city while involving citizens to take part in urban regeneration. We are now integrating the most successful elements into further city development. In addition, an increasing number of initiatives are emerging on temporary use places in different neighbourhoods (city gardens, meeting space for social-cultural initiatives, and workspace for socio-economic entrepreneurship, etc.). As Ghent has a tradition in working close to its citizens, temporary use emerges in co-creation between the municipality and private initiatives.

How does temporary use policy and experiences affect city governance?

The shift towards more co-creation and co-production is disrupting traditional politics. Ghent is now reinventing its city politics and administration to make it a more open and smarter governance model responding to these trends. Therefore, it recently converted its former ‘Community-based Planning Unit’ into a ‘Policy Participation Unit’. With its 15 neighbourhood managers, it is in a unique position to connect citizens’ initiatives with city governance, and to enable policy-makers to integrate a bottom-up approach in planning and decision making processes. The unit is actively involved in temporary use policy through its presence in the neighbourhood and through the funding of initiatives. With the gained experiences and insights, it is upgrading the city governance in terms of participation/co-creation (legal framework, role of civil servant, funding, new governance, co-creation…).

What has motivated the city of Ghent to launch a network on the link between temporary use and organisational shifts of the administration?

On the one hand, Ghent is experiencing an enormous pressure on the urban space. On the other hand, it is facing some structural vacancy of retail spaces, with empty factories, vacant plots and wasteland waiting for activity and renewal projects. Meanwhile, the municipality benefits and learns from interesting bottom-up initiatives and new fascinating coalitions with temporary users who for instance operate in the field of social innovation and have success in involving citizens to take active part in their initiatives. Today, the municipality feels the need to explore further the topic of temporary use and to experiment through connecting with different perspectives and activities such as economy and environment. This exploration is best done in exchange with other experienced partners in Europe so we can learn from each other’s experiences and good practices.

Could you describe the political interest and support to temporary use in Ghent?

The Municipality, with the strong engagement of the Mayor, embraces temporary use initiatives and the whole ecosystem related to it (entrepreneurs, citizens, organisations, urban coalitions, community groups, creative people, etc.). Such a bottom-up approach involving those “smart citizens” is seen as key to build on to the future of the city throughout all its dimensions (cultural, social, economic, environmental). Therefore, the Municipality initiated a ‘Temporary Use Fund’ which gives a financial support to new ideas or initiatives of temporary use.

What are your expectations from your URBACT network, and how could it help you achieving the objectives you set up for yourself and your partners?

Our expectations are fourfold. Firstly, we want to identify ways of ensuring long-term effects of temporality and to build financial and business models which provide long-term existence and independence in the end. Secondly, we want to rethink the various roles and paradigms of local governments in order to put citizens at the heart of its initiatives. Thirdly, and on a more concrete level, the municipality is currently questioning its legal framework: how can it evolve to support social innovation as a whole? Ultimately, we would also aim to learn more on the matchmaking between real estate owners and local initiatives (for example, public-private management and ownership structures).

Your current partners in this network are Amersfoort (NL), Athens (EL), Bremen (DE), Riga (LV) and Poznan (PL). What do you expect from this partnership?We want to identify instruments that ensure long-term effects of temporality and to explore how the dynamics of/in temporary use can leave a permanent mark in our cities. Our partnership in this regard is very inspiring:

  • Amersfoort has developed many initiatives for integrating social innovation in its administration. New concepts and methods of ‘permanent temporality’ and ‘narrative inquiry’;
  • Because of the financial crisis, Athens is highly advanced in working jointly with citizens in a mutual learning process. In terms of temporary use, the municipality has initiated a very interesting matchmaking platform, Synathina;
  • In Bremen, a matchmaking agency, the ZZZ, links real estate developers of empty buildings and those in need of a space. It already transferred its experience in the previous URBACT TUTUR network;
  • In Riga, an NGO-led map of the empty buildings in the centre enables involving citizens and providing a readily usable tool for the municipality;
  • Finally, the Poznan city centre benefits from many programmes experimenting with temporary use involving NGOs and citizens for its regeneration.

We are now expanding our partnership. We receive interest from many cities, which shows the importance of the issue nowadays. We will, however, focus on the most complementary candidates to our network (in terms of geographical locations and experience of temporary use and organisational shifts within the administration).

One word to conclude?

We look forward to share collaborative governance models where citizens make up a huge resource for cities. Ghent wants to use the network as a catalyst for existing local ambitions on temporary use, participation/co-creation and governance. We are convinced that the partners in the network can influence existing ambitions and future action on this topic.

Interview by François Jégou and Marcelline Bonneau
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