Temporary urbanism: “It is necessary to demonstrate to owners that it is possible to put buildings back to use”

Faced with the challenges of real estate vacancy and the desire to recreate common spaces, temporary urbanism is developing everywhere in the territories. Anne-Sophie Bonin-Ziadi, founder of Tempo, and Joanna Haddad, coordinator of the Bercy Beaucoup project for the Yes We Camp association, meet to discuss the challenges of its development.

Tempo identifies vacant office buildings to find temporary uses for them. Depending on their configuration, they will be rented as offices at minimal market prices or transformed into an emergency shelter. Tempo acts as a link between the real estate world (real estate companies and investors) on the one hand, and the SSE world (mainly associations) on the other hand, to extend the life of a building before it is permanently transformed. Tempo is part of Leonard’s Intrapreneur 2022 program.

Yes We Camp is an association under the law of 1901 born in 2012 to create a welcoming, ecological and artistic place, in the context of Marseille European Capital of Culture 2013. Today, the association has 65 employees, with the core business of activating, for a limited time, available spaces, gradually transformed to bring together various functions and audiences. At Bercy Beaucoup, a one-hectare railway wasteland located in the Bercy Charenton urban development zone in Paris, Yes We Camp has been working since May 2022 with partners to bring to life ecological, artisanal, social and artistic initiatives while working with residents and developers to prefigure the development of the future Bercy Charenton neighborhood on this land. The Bercy Beaucoup project is supported by the Fondation VINCI pour la Cité.

What is transitional urbanism?

Joanna Haddad: It is to intervene, over a given period of time, on an available space, often between two types of activities (a hospital replaced by a housing complex, a railway wasteland that will become a public garden…), in order to collectively bring out new uses that prefigure the possible future uses of the place.

We can identify at least two objectives of transitional urbanism. First, to limit real estate vacancy as much as possible, since we know that some spaces can remain vacant for several years between two urban projects. Second, to create places dedicated to listening, available common spaces inviting everyone to get involved and to propose innovative and experimental uses to influence the continuation of the urban project on a larger scale, as much as possible.

At Bercy Beaucoup, for example, Yes We Camp allows the experimentation of many uses (a guinguette, a shared garden, a sauna, a sports area, seats, a recycling center, games for children, a nursery…) and works with institutions, developers, urban planners, consultation agencies, to integrate these new uses in the future of the urban project.

Anne-Sophie Bonin-Ziadi: Many other transitional urban planning operations can also be carried out on vacant office buildings, which are becoming more and more numerous due to changes in work habits and their obsolescence, by proposing to create different living spaces while these buildings are being transformed. In Ile de France, several million square meters of office buildings are vacant.

What are the specificities of the projects you are developing to meet these challenges?

Joanna Haddad: Yes We Camp adopts a contextual and multidisciplinary approach to projects under development: the project evolves according to the duration of occupation (from 3 days to 12 years), the characteristics of the space (built or not, available surfaces, …), the needs of the inhabitants… The association develops multiple partnerships such as with the greening association Coup de Pousses in Bercy Beaucoup but also with institutions such as the City of Paris or with cooperatives and companies (Plateau Urbain and Petite Lune at Bercy Beaucoup).

At Yes We Camp, the emphasis is on voluntary initiatives, allowing volunteers to use available resources to experiment and develop projects. Governance is collective, with hybrid economic models specific to each project (commercial revenues, public subsidies, investments).

Anne-Sophie Bonin-Ziadi: Tempo focuses on vacant commercial buildings that are more than 12 months old and are to be used as offices or more than 18 months old for conversion into temporary accommodation. The challenge is to demonstrate to owners that it is possible to put these buildings back to use and that they are useful to society.

It has been observed that the provision of vacant buildings is more often made by public organizations than by private owners, who are still unfamiliar with temporary occupation and overestimate the risks that accompany it. In reality, temporary occupation is a concrete way for them to maximize their social impact and reinforce their CSR policy. This subject is becoming a structuring factor for some owners, who go so far as to set up a company with a mission. Our mission at Tempo is to offer them a framework that guarantees that their property will be operated without risk, at zero cost and with maximum social impact.

What are the challenges in developing an offer in the sector?

Anne-Sophie Bonin-Ziadi: We have to succeed in ensuring that the timeframes of each of the actors involved (from the owner to the associations, including the administrations issuing authorizations or financing transformations) are rapidly linked. Time is of the essence to bring the project to life, to amortize the investments over a limited period of time and to balance the project financially.

Joanna Haddad: I agree with Anne-Sophie on the issue of deadlines and administrative procedures. We work on relatively short-term projects, but the time required to obtain authorizations is long, and this can delay project schedules enormously. To take the example of Bercy Beaucoup, a place where I am involved, we are subject to the rules of classic urban planning, while knowing that we are working on much shorter timescales, with light developments.

Can certain developments encourage transitional urbanism?

Joanna Haddad: Transitional urbanism is a relatively new, innovative approach, which is not yet known by all organizations and for which few exemptions to standards have been established to date. Making professionals aware of the transitional urbanism approach, applying principles to it, as the City of Paris has done through the establishment of a Transitional Urbanism Charter or as the Ile de France Region has initiated by creating its Transitional Urbanism Meetings, are initiatives that serve the interests of the actors in the sector.

Anne-Sophie Bonin-Ziadi: Indeed, it is necessary to continue to make this approach known to owners, to offer them services so that they can use it naturally and thus systematize the approach, which will reduce their fears about the timely return of their assets. But it is also necessary that there be more operators such as Yes We Camp to operate these places on a territory-wide scale. The entire industry needs to develop in parallel, to identify more vacant buildings and operate them efficiently.

What are your development objectives for the coming year?

Anne-Sophie Bonin-Ziadi: Tempo’s ambition is to open, by the end of the year, a first mixed site of temporary accommodation and offices to validate its business model, before being able to expand. The ambition is to open three or four sites next year, focusing on major cities.

Joanna Haddad: For Bercy Beaucoup, our ambition is to open two covered facilities in the spring of 2023 to enable continuous operation of the site and make it less dependent on weather conditions. The first facility, a plant and material recycling center dedicated to gardening, is being supported by the Coup de Pousses association. The second, a 150m2 Rotunda built by Yes We Camp, will host seminars, general meetings and company days, but also events dedicated to the site’s project leaders: screenings, conferences, round tables, concerts, dances…

Contacts :

Anne-Sophie Bonin-Ziadi : anne-sophie.bonin@weareleonard.com

Joanna Haddad : joanna.h@yeswecamp.org

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