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)


Why segregation studies are stuck in Chicago By David Manley (Univeristy of Bristol)

The way in which we study segregation hasn’t really moved forward since the 1950s. Much of the literature that we use and the measures that we employ owe their conception to the Chicago urban school of thinking.  The thing is, these traditional ways of understanding segregation do not fit the modern urban environment. Of course, they didn’t really fit the 1950s urban landscape in the United States either but that was not the point: a measure that described the proportion of people that wold need to move to gain an equal distribution of whatever characteristic was of interest was sufficient. In the US that characteristic was racial inequality, and there wasn’t really a need to debate how the segregation had come about or what drove it: what they needed to know was how much segregation was there. Recently, scholars have noted that the city of Chicago isn’t particularly representative of US cities (no surprise), but that it also isn’t particularly representative of the other rust belt cities either.  Given that our understanding of segregation comes from a unique place at a particular time frame in history it is perhaps time to rethink how we investigated segregation more generally.
The most common measure of segregation is known as the Index of Dissimilarity. The thing is, it is biased. Studies by economists which simulated urban data have demonstrated that the Index of Dissimilarity has a tendency to record higher values of segregation than actually exist – that is to say it is upwardly bias. Actually, more recent work has suggested that it is more complicated than that and that the bias in the Index tends to move values towards 0.5 (or saying that to achieve an urban landscape with no segregation around half the population would need to move home). This is troubling because it suggests that what we thought we knew about segregation is wrong – or at least not as clear as we thought. However, even if the index was not biased there is a bigger problem that pervades the studies that have used it. I mentioned above that in the US segregation studies were, rightly, concerned with racial inequality. The modern segregation literature is much more diverse than this and not only considers segregation along racial or ethnic lines but also include multiple other factors as well: class; social; economic, and; cultural to name a few and the index has been deployed to measure all of these and more beside. But in doing so researchers trying to understand how segregation is playing out in our urban environments are forced to over simplify. In the urban environment people do choose where to live (or get forced to live) purely because of their ethnicity or social status or age. There is a complex interaction between these factors (and others) which can serve to intensify or the resulting distribution of individuals within neighbourhoods. But the index has no way of help us determine which of the factors is the most important (remember that the index is bias so a higher value may not necessarily mean that there is more segregation, just that the index was bias) and nor can it help us understand how much age segregation there is once we have accounted for the level of educational segregation that occurs. Moreover, index values calculated for units of one size (say small neighbourhoods based on a couple of streets) cannot readily be compared with units of another size (say large neighbourhoods or even regions within a city) because the index is relative to the size of the units used. Crucially, this prevents us from identify the scale at which segregation is occurring.
What should we do about this, are all segregation studies doomed to repeat the same mistakes as before? No. Recent work undertaken with colleagues at the University of Bristol has developed an approach using multilevel models harnessing the idea that segregation is about the variability in the numbers of different groups within neighbourhoods, the greater the variable in the number of a group within neighbourhoods over a city the greater the segregation. Importantly, once measured in a modelling framework we are able to include multiple different types of segregation at once and even multiple scales. In doing this we might be able to further our understanding of one facet of the complex urban environment.

New Politics and Geographies of Housing Struggles? By John Flint (University of Sheffield)

Recent controversies over ‘poor doors’ in London apartment complexes serve to illustrate the structural crisis in London housing that was powerfully described in a recent Critical Urbanist piece by Professor Rowland Atkinson.

But the irony of the physical and segregation of rich and poor that ‘poor doors’ symbolise and operationalise is that such doors actually serve to reveal how the fates of those urgently needing affordable housing are inherently intertwined with new forms of global affluence. One of the defining features of the housing philanthropy that developed in response to the Victorian industrial city was the shared destiny in place that linked elite and impoverished urban dwellers alike. No doors, poor or otherwise, were effective barriers to the ravages of infectious disease (and occasional social unrest). This understanding combined with growing public health recognition of the environmental and medical consequences of appalling housing conditions to act as catalysts for the birth of public housing policies. That cord of geographical proximity between rich and poor is, on one level, broken by forces of globalisation in which international investment decisions and flows are made with no cognisance of their socio-spatial impacts at a local level. Professor Mike Raco has long argued that we need a much fuller understanding of how public services, affordable housing and local democracy are being recast by new patterns of global ownership and investment. The high profile struggle of the New Era 4 All and Focus E15 groups to protect their homes has brought into sharp focus how global investment mechanisms exacerbate the continued erosion of the right to affordable housing in the city. But, equally, the apparent successes of the New Era and London poor doors campaigns suggest a new politics is emerging, in which exposing investment chains (such as Westbrook Partners), demanding new positions from prominent political figures, taking direct forms of action and skilful use of social and other media can achieve significant positive outcomes. This also challenges traditional understandings of forms of tenant activism. Similarly, local governance regimes are increasingly attempting to develop new mechanisms for tackling investors who leave properties vacant.

The importance of challenging the calculations of property investors and landlords is not new: the history of the early philanthropic housing movements was based on firstly seeking the support of investors and then establishing new models of housing finance and provision when this support was not forthcoming. The achievements of New Era 4 All and similar campaigns are to be applauded and admired, but the lessons from earlier eras is that we cannot leave it to such groups alone if we want to end a housing system that has poor doors as it primary motif.

Prof. John Flint, University of Sheffield (@JFlintSheffield)

Exposing the Illusion of Devolution By Alister Scott (Birmingham City University)

Recently our cities have been aloud with the disparate voices of devolution. This has risen like a proverbial phoenix from the aftermath of the Scottish referendum vote as the UK Government seeks to respond to criticisms of Whitehall domination of policy and decision making. Consequently, we see distinctive Scottish, English and Welsh expressions of “devo” reflecting both their different trajectories and power in the debate. In the English case the political imperative needs to redress the loss of regional autonomy which, when compared to the powerhouse of London, seems somewhat ironic given the rhetoric of Big Society and localism that have been defining characteristics of this government since 2010.

This then begs questions about what localism actually meant, means and will mean, given that now the political sound music is having to be reconstructed. Undoubtedly, there is an inherent attraction about our city regions having more power devolved from Whitehall. Raised expectations are everywhere which only makes the rhetoric all the more dangerous if such freedoms are not delivered. Yet within this constructed opportunity space there appears to be only one preset option available to secure the additional monies and power from the central government piggy bank.   This ‘managerial’ localism requires an elected mayor and is built upon a combined authorities’ model. However, despite pleas for tax raising revenues as in Scotland, the government have said no emphatically. This suggests a deficit of government trust in this local governance model delivering the kind of localism that they want.

So is this UK government pre-construction of localism fit for purpose? Many of our most pressing problems need strategic solutions where any governance model needs to work with, and across, scales and sectors to address the current disintegrated thinking and strategic planning vacuum that limits success. So the silos of housing, energy, biodiversity, employment growth, infrastructure (grey, blue and green), water management and climate change need better integration. Arguably the combined authorities model may not necessarily be the best fit for these diverse purposes as it appears that it is the money that is doing the talking, with cities scrambling to join in and have a piece of the action.

I certainly do not know or claim to have the answer on what is a complex and multilayered set of problems but it seems somewhat premature to rush hastily into this response when many people already seem dissatisfied and disengaged with our current models of local authority governance. So it is a valid to ask whether merging authorities within a further layer of political complexity through an elected mayor is a recipe for success or a political fudge?

In my mind, there should be a debate about what kind of structures are needed drawing on the lessons (positive and negative) from previous governance frameworks including regional planning. Drawing from our recent research on what successful policy and decision making looks like the primary ingredients revolve around different groups and sectors co-producing solutions rather than engineered political interventions at national and local levels that arguably are seeking to perpetuate, in some cases, discredited power bases. Behind such approaches there is strong leadership quality normally requiring them to operate outside the boundaries of the ‘box’.

Whatever expression takes root there is a major problem with the governance of our cities in the multitude of different geographies crossing the same space making coordination across the different sector priorities unnecessarily complex and largely elusive. So water (catchment management) biodiversity (local nature partnerships) economic development (local enterprise partnerships) planning (local and county/unitary authorities. Perhaps rather than add yet further layers we ought to think about a unifying landscape scale that is most relevant to these concerns ad ‘we’ the public who elect these politicians surely should have a say here. Otherwise I fear we will continue with the very disintegrated policy and public dissatisfaction that has created this political opportunity in the first place. So can I make a plea for our government and local authorities to perhaps consult their publics enabling us all to have a say in the kind of localism that we want rather than what is being allowed.

Prof. Alister Scott (@bcualisterscott)

A City Both Full and Empty: London and the Super-Rich By Rowland Atkinson, University of Sheffield

It has become hard to read the popular press without finding a newspaper article or accompanying opinion piece on the massive changes being wrought on London’s property market. There are two stories at play here. The first focuses on the many thousands of households living in housing stress – finding it hard to keep-up with their rents or mortgage payments – and those who are struggling even to get a home of their own – manifest as massive waiting lists for social housing, bidding wars for rental properties and house prices that exclude many. There are now more than 380,000 households, not people, just on waiting lists for social housing in London. This story has long been a feature of life in London, given the cost and scarcity of housing in the capital; but it is also related to a second story that is the focus here. At the same time as these households are waiting to be housed it is quite possible to purchase a single 6 bedroom house costing more than £100m. So, this is emblematic of the second story that we can tell about the kind of changes being wrought upon London over the past ten to fifteen years or so: the massive growth in those earning and generating gigantic personal wealth and their disproportionate take of housing resources in the city. How are we to make sense of these changes and their impacts?

Numerous observations may follow from an analysis of London’s property markets and the way they act as a crucible for the formation and solidification of patterns of social and economic inequality. First, we might want to suggest, as many property, newspaper and political pundits do, that this is essentially a story of success of which we should be proud. Here we have a world class urban economy positioned at the epicentre of the global processing and accumulation of wealth which highlights the essential role and the dynamism of our economy and its primary city. In this narrative, notions of economic growth, prestigious city status and national pride are clearly identifiable. More importantly, where this discourse wins-out we can see it shaping important policy decisions wherein any intervention in how the City operates or how property is bought and sold is seen as anathema to good fortunes and the basic nature of a market economy that is paying major dividends more broadly.

The second narrative is one of decline and stress in the city, and is one that is increasingly evident in discussions about what to do to improve the city for its residents. As property prices rise, welfare supports are withdrawn from those doing increasingly badly during the economic downturn (many of whom are in work but remain poor). But the most important point to make here is that these two narratives are contested and in many ways not seen to connect when it is clear that the broader changes in the city are linked to these outcomes.

To what extent can we think of the rich as a problem?  TV series like Fox TV’s Meet the Russians and Made in Chelsea have popularised life inside the bubble of extreme wealth and privilege, yet the reality is that many of us operate with impressions of the super-rich built around anecdote or (sometimes very good) journalism and this has recognisable impacts on the tenor of debate around what we should do. For sociologists something called society, a holistic entity that includes all of ‘us’, in fact tends to be only a partial and somewhat skewed analysis of its institutions and groups who form in fact only a small sub-section of the population. State-funded and intellectually driven work has always tended to focus on the poor, the dangerous and the exotic. The cost to society is that ordinary citizens are not being offered systematic, evidence-based assessments of the full range of social experience, nor are they being offered insights that build on very real concerns that profound wealth and inequality are indeed social problems that require evidence in order to challenge inequities and drive the kind of public interventions built on popular and informed public viewpoints. This is a very simple point but one that drives the ambitions of the project that we are currently leading.

So to go back to the narratives we can observe around London’s dramatic changes in recent years we can add that there is a need to get to grips with the full range of costs and impacts.  We can see that an expansion in the wealth of those at the top of the social pile not only continues within one of the worst national recessions for nearly a hundred years but has also accelerated and been transferred into the massive property investments of national and international investors and buyers. Much of this activity is driven by the sense that London is a safe bet, that its property taxes are some of the lowest among competing cities, but also that it contains some of the most important cultural events seen globally. This combination of safety and culture appears to be driving upward and unending waves of investment and the realisation of massive dividends for those who are already wealthy.  London is now home to the most multi-millionaires (the UHNWis we mentioned earlier) with 4,224 living within its boundaries (in raw numbers this is the most of any city globally) and around 70 billionaires.

But it also appears to be changing the social character of the neighbourhoods it touches (talk of ghost neighbourhoods and tax dodges) and is now being linked to broader concerns about the cost of housing more generally as property prices ripple outward and down through the hierarchy of desirable areas across the city. To put this a little poetically perhaps we can see that those struggling to buy or rent in some of the cheapest parts of the city are being affected in part by the ramping-up of prices in areas like Belgravia or Mayfair. These changes come on the top of a history of massive increases in prices in the capital fuelled by increasing real incomes for many of the best-paid service workers and, of course, the offer of mortgage lenders to give increasing offers of credit to those wanting to buy their own home. Combined with historically low rates of homebuilding the scene appears to be set for a scenario in which global accumulations of wealth, massive investment with little need for real-time social use of the city, concerns with the planning and building of housing and political attacks on welfare and support for social housing to create a perfect storm – a city full of housing stress and personal troubles on the one hand, and another glittering city of opportunity for those who have profited from the global capitalist system yet who appear to create largely empty neighbourhoods of homes that nevertheless rise dramatically in value.

These various observations highlight the need for on-going work on how the rich live, their attitudes towards and aspirations for the places they come to inhabit and the deeper links between their choices and practices, on the one hand, and the complex outcomes they produce in cities like London, on the other. There is always a danger that social research that focuses on the middle-classes and the rich can be dismissed as the self-interests of a similarly rarefied academic elite, yet there is a long history of sociologists making pleas to their colleagues to engage, despite the difficulty of doing so, with elites and wealthy groups who often not only co-ordinate responses to social problems but are also part of the problem themselves. The expansion of inequality amid social distress and economic decline is only the most recent and notable feature of such problems; there is an on-going need for social researchers to measure, profile and understand the ways in which wealth, power and social life combine.

Professor Rowland Atkinson, Chair in Inclusive Societies at the University of Sheffield (@qurbanist)