From rags to riches? New planning implications of temporary use in Germany By Thomas Honeck (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development & Structural Planning, Germany)

Those who have visited German cities such as Berlin, Leipzig or Stuttgart in recent years might quickly have noticed the importance of temporary spatial uses for local identities. During the last 25 years, temporary uses have developed from informal – often even illegal – civil society initiatives to institutionally funded features of formal urban planning in Germany. While planners’ appreciation of temporary uses first grew in transforming cities in the East of Germany, such projects are nowadays also planning options in prospering cities and form part of the local business promotions. During the last two decades, German urban planning embraced temporary uses and gradually institutionalized related practices: in 2004 the building code was changed; nowadays many cities conduct public agencies or hire private consultants to facilitate temporary uses, and different administrative levels up to the federal ministry instruct studies on the potential of transient spaces.

In our project InnoPlan funded by the German Research Foundation (similar to British ESRC) at Leibniz-Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS) and Stuttgart University we research such drastic changes from former planning routines and ask how new planning approaches emerge, institutionalize and spread. Focusing on intentional acts of stakeholders during these processes we conceive the new way planning involves temporary uses as a social innovation. It is critical to point out, that our understanding of innovation does not include any normative assignments: in contrast to most notions in international literature, we do not conceive social innovation as ‘positive’ from a moral or ethical standpoint. Instead, we apply the analytical conception of social innovation proposed by the sociologist Werner Rammert.

Projecting Rammert’s understanding of social innovation (2010: 39) on the “rise of temporary use” in German planning, three aspects appear as essential. First, temporary uses can be understood as recombinations, reinterpretations and redesigns of already existing elements of planning or other fields. Second, temporary uses have been perceived as improvements and have, hence, been imitated in other contexts and adapted to them. And third, the new meaning of temporary uses may lead to a larger scale conceptual change of planning in Germany. Furthermore, we define social innovations in planning as social constructions with fluid identities, meaning for example that first experiments with temporary uses may differ to recent transformations and adaptations of the concept (Braun-Thürmann 2004: 4).

The long tradition of innovation research provides a large diversity of analytical and methodological concepts and tools that can be applied to the fields of urban planning. The possibilities of our proposed perspective as well as the results of our research will be presented in a full paper soon; but a few appetizers shall be mentioned here already. As a result of a discourse analysis, we identify five main phases in the lifecycle of the innovation. In a first phase of latency starting in the 1960s, the stage for the innovation process had been prepared in two main discourses: on the one hand, the planning system was criticised for its top-down dominance and tabula rasa approaches in urban renewal. On the other hand, the consequences of multidimensional structural changes such as large inner city vacant sites became more obvious, and planners and academics started to notice a lack of tools to react to them. The second is a phase of formation, in which the first experiments with temporary uses were carried out especially in East German cities such as Leipzig and Berlin or the Ruhr area, one of Europe’s largest deindustrialising regions. In this phase, the duality between informal temporary uses and formal urban planning slowly turned into dialectic. More and more positive notions of temporary uses appeared in related discourses. A third phase of fermentation was mainly characterised by processes of learning. From this time on, the literature on temporary use increased rapidly, research projects have been carried out and different administrative and political levels drew attention to temporary uses. Particular groups can be understood as agents of change since they facilitated symbioses between different actors and intentions. During a fourth phase of stabilisation, the new ways of planning involving temporary uses gradually became formalised and normalized. As a strong legitimation for the formerly new practices, the discourse on creative cities and creative industries gained attention in Germany. Subsequently, the economic dimension of temporary uses for a city became more evident. More prosperous cities considered temporary uses as relevant for their cultural and economic development.

Parallel to the normalisation of temporary uses in planning, in a fifth phase of critique, conflicts related to temporary uses reached the surfaces of several discourses. Temporary uses were described as “motors of gentrification” and “fields of self-exploitation”. Due to conflicts related to the immanent temporality, as for example in the case of the Berlin airport Tempelhof, planners started to be more careful involving temporary uses. In reaction to the critique – and similar to the phase of latency – nowadays, new forms of projects involving temporary uses develop as “innovations of the innovation” or “process innovations”.

As our short teaser suggests, the German debates on temporary uses are extensive. The innovation-perspective we chose is an analytical and non-normative one. Nevertheless, the presented results may provoke critical interpretations and inspirations for further research: how did the constellations of actors and motives of temporary uses in planning change from early to current implications? Can we maybe conceive the way planning recently embraces grassroots-practices as a commodification?



Rammert, W. (2010): Die Innovationen der Gesellschaft. In: Howaldt, J. and Jacobsen, H. (ed.): Soziale Innovation. Auf dem Weg zu einem postindustriellen Innovationsparadigma. Wiesbaden: VS Verl. für Sozialwissenschaften, 21-51.

Braun-Thürmann, H. (2004): Zum sozialwissenschaftlichen Verständnis von Innovationen. Planungsrundschau. 9, 9-17.


Thomas Honeck (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning)