Book Review

Cities in Time

Temporary Urbanism and the Future of the City
Ali Madanipour

Discussions about temporary urbanism have been increasingly prominent in recent years, both in the academic literature and in practice, with an accompanying jargon to match: meanwhile, guerrilla, tactical, DIY, pop-ups, and, of course, temporary. Whilst these terms and others refer to a range of different activities (most of which are far from new), what they all have in common is that they are impermanent or ephemeral in nature and are often designed to challenge our perceptions of place, and how we use it.

Reflecting this upsurge in attention, Cities in Time focuses on placing these movements (or more specifically their characteristic and constituent qualities) within a theoretical setting. Given the increasing complexity of these trends and the debates that follow them, this is a contribution to the literature that is both sorely needed and very welcome.

The theoretical framework that Ali Madanipour chooses for the range of temporary urbanisms is deceptively simple, but in turn hides a depth of analysis that is characteristic of the author’s work. In doing so it draws on philosophical discussions, a political economy perspective and the cultural analysis of the constituent processes, all boiled down into a three part framework reflecting different forms of temporality:

  1. Instrumental: ‘characterized by a utilitarian approach to time, accelerating quantified time for higher productivity and profitability’
  2. Existential: reflecting an ‘intuitive understanding of temporality, the materiality of the city which mediates this temporality, and the vulnerability and precariousness of the social and natural worlds in the face of globalisation’, and
  3. Experimental: ‘drawing on events as spaces of questioning, experimenting and innovating’ to give a view of the future.

In each section of two chapters, the meaning given to time is quite different, and how this manifests itself spatially in the temporary city is explored. Fundamentally, however, whilst much of the resulting temporary urbanism may be impermanent, this is not necessarily the case as regards its impact and ambition, which may instead be longer term and more ambitious; for example, to build social capacity within a particular setting.

Moreover, whilst we may often associate the temporariness with fashionable and fun trends, such as pop-up shops and guerrilla gardening, not all such matters are quite so fun. Madanipour reminds us that we need also to consider the sorts of precarious temporary impacts that stem from natural disasters, homelessness, wars, informal housing and so on. For Madanipour, this ‘ambivalence… reveals the necessity of context- specific understanding and evaluation of any [temporary] event’. This book is not an easy read, but for those who persevere, it reveals a wealth of new and important insights into a significant global trend. If you like a bit of theory with your urbanism, this is the book for you.

URBAN DESIGN 146 Spring 2018 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 146 Spring 2018

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Cities in Time Publication Urban Design Group
Reviewed By
Matthew Carmona, Professor of Planning and Urban Design and Head of the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL