Pop-up Urbanism within public spaces has become the source of much debate in our society. Some have labelled these spaces as “architecture scrabbling around with leftover materials in the leftover gaps between leftover buildings”1 whilst alternative views suggest the spaces act as “a kind of sketchbook for the city, a form of R&D for civic space and for architecture itself.”2
Pop-up Urbanism can be defined as low cost temporary changes to an urban environment. This approach refers to a city, organizational, and/or citizen-led approach to building short-term, low-cost public interventions.
One such event which utilises Pop-up Urbanism is The Fringe World Festival. It is the largest annual event in Western Australia. The event takes place in 147 venues with a total of 700 events over the course of a month. Fringe World Festival has government partners including the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority (MRA). Although the organisation is not-for-profit, many events and venues which take part in the festival are sponsored by independent promoters or event companies such as Bar Pop, or global brands like Red Bull and Corona.
A thought-provoking aspect of the Festival is the MRA’s role in supporting these pop-up events throughout Perth. The overall purpose of the MRA is to be an organisation which instigates the urban renewal of Perth. The MRA state their primary vision as “everyone has the right to live in a great place. More importantly, everyone has the right to contribute to making the place where they already live great.”3
This responsibility seems to conflict with their support of a mostly commercially driven temporary Pop-up urbanism, in the form of the Fringe World Festival, which fills public spaces for a month of the year and then leaves them vacant.
Should the MRA be supporting this temporary commercial approach towards Perth’s underused public spaces?
There is no doubt that the Fringe World Festival is a success and does attract many people to underutilised public spaces. The Pleasure Gardens of the Fringe Festival located in Northbridge’s Russell Square is one such example. Despite the success of the transformation of Russel Square into the Pleasure Gardens for a month, there has been little done to change the underused public space on a more permanent basis.
These commercially driven Pop-up spaces have even been accused of having a negative impact on the community especially the surrounding brick and mortar tenants. Mr Keiller, the co-owner of the Northbridge Brewing Co. said, “it’s not an even playing field.”4 Australian Hotels Association WA’s Bradley Woods said, “It’s concerning when the MRA is using that tactic (pop-up activation) when at the same time they’re trying to attract full-time tenants into those spaces.”5
The MRA’s own vision of everyone having the right to contribute to the place where they live is hard to find in this commercialised pop-up ideology. Perhaps a community driven approach to pop-up culture rather than independent commercial brands could be a viable option in activating these underused spaces year-round. It could potentially allow for pop-ups to function more like “a form of R&D”6 to help educate the MRA on what the community wants in their public spaces and create a platform where “everyone has the right to contribute to making the place where they already live great.”7
1 van Schaik, Leon. Pavilions. Pop Ups and Parasols: The Impact of Real and Virtual Meeting on Physical Space. USA, John Wiley and Sons,2015.
3 Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority “About us” Accessed May 3, 2018. https://www.mra.wa.gov.au/about-us
4 “Perth pop-ups drawing patrons away from bars and restaurants, Perth traders say.” ABC News. Accessed May 3, 2018. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-21/perth-traders-battle-pop-ups-and-food-vans/7531284
6 van Schaik, Leon. Pavilions. Pop Ups and Parasols: The Impact of Real and Virtual Meeting on Physical Space. USA, John Wiley and Sons,2015.
7 Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority “About us” Accessed May 3, 2018. https://www.mra.wa.gov.au/about-us