What is “meanwhile use”?

“Meanwhile use” of a space refers to the short-term use of temporarily empty buildings or public realm, often during a redevelopment. Meanwhile use takes a potential problem and turns it into an opportunity, by testing possible long-term uses of the site. Implemented correctly it can have the following benefits:

  • Helps keep an area vibrant and active
  • Gives the chance to trial uses of the space, some of which may be taken forward into the final development. Often used in tandem with local community engagement.
  • Brings together diverse stakeholders to help generate solutions and a collective vision
  • Changes perceptions of the site, its opportunities, and its future role, as well as breaking down resistance to change.
  • Fosters a community’s sense of pride in, and ownership of, their public spaces
  • Generates the interest of potential investors, both public and private
  • Creates local short and medium-term job opportunities as well as the chance for start-up businesses to “test the waters” with their product.

We’ve worked on a number of sites and developments where the activation of the right meanwhile use has had a really positive effect. Little Feast was a temporary food market introduced at Shepherd’s Bush Market, London where a run-down area behind the railway arches was transformed overnight into a brand-new temporary space for pop-up food traders. As well as regularly attracting queues around the block, Little Feast challenged the idea of the market as being just a place to buy fabric and household items.

Meanwhile use takes a potential problem and turns it into an opportunity

Another good example is Granby Winter Garden – a “secret indoor garden” within two houses in Liverpool, which was created within two dilapidated Victorian buildings as part of the Granby Four Streets rejuvenation project. The space contains a communal seasonal garden, events space and artist residence, intended to “nurture creative practice in the area”.

Just as with wider placemaking activities, it is vital when creating a meanwhile use strategy that it is relevant to the current and potential future local community. It is also important to understand the connection between the temporary and proposed permanent use of the site so that one feeds the other and the opportunity is not wasted. Finally, consider carefully how the short-term nature of the meanwhile use is communicated locally to prevent a negative local reaction if it is eventually removed.

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