Are pop-ups powerful?


Inflato Dumpster, a popup to increase public space by the Department of Urban Betterment

In the last few months some interesting Pop-Up news has come across the desk. For example this proposal by Department of Urban Betterment to use inflatables on dumpsters to increase public space in NYC–the Inflato Dumpster. While this article on Treehugger wonders about the renaissance of dumpsters, here I want to wonder about the capacity of short term or mobile structures and facilities to be powerful in bringing about change.

In the book Architecture & Design versus Consumerism I look at how pop-ups can shift power by enabling people to make more decentralized, distributed decisions. Examples included a pop-up prayer space, park or library. But what is the endgame of pop-ups?

One key endpoint that I saw in my research is demonstrating alternatives (for example alternative land use or alternative infrastructure/structure) in a compelling way that allowed people to bargain for this type of change more broadly. That’s what happened when San Francisco-based Rebar created temporary parks in metered parking spaces. Based on this successful intervention that spread to other cities, local governments eventually changed their urban park policies to “take back” more street space for parks.


parasite book share–repurposing phone booths into urban libraries, also by John Locke and the Department of Urban Betterment

Another endpoint is to improve fairness or access, in the case of things like recreational facilities (barge-mounted swimming pool) or functional amenties like performance spaces and urban farms.

Here in England, London Pup-ups tracks pop-up activity across the city, and this points to a central challenge of the pop-up scene: knowing what is going on where. Many of the popups in London are, understandably, about increasing commerce rather than empowering neighborhoods, although even there, we could make arguments that popus provide an opportunity for creating more social fabric.

Where do you think the popup scene is leading us in terms of building power to make change?

If you find this post useful please pass it on. Also check out the current Thursday Inspiration post profiling two great research projects, on cycling in later life and on sustainable household consumption in Ireland.


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