Encourage Temporary Uses in Vacant Buildings and Sites

Local governments can create policies or programs to direct or fund temporary programming in privately or publicly owned vacant buildings or lots in order to create safer, more dynamic streets and sidewalks. Temporary uses can range from pop-up retail and art exhibitions to urban farms and community gardens.

  • Create a working group with property owners; artist organizations; representatives from municipal, cultural, equity, food-security, planning, and permitting departments; and regulatory agencies to investigate barriers to temporary uses and recommend solutions for:
    • Permitting processes
    • Code variances
    • Real estate negotiation and lease templates
    • Insurance coverage
    • Connecting temporary space to tenants
  • Build an online database of available spaces for artists, studios, entrepreneurs, urbangardening groups, or farms
  • Design a selection mechanism like a request for proposal (RFP) for distributing seed funding to spur temporary uses of vacant spaces
  • Select a project manager to spearhead community collaborations and schedule programming for the temporary space
  • Determine and measure appropriate data measurements to evaluate the impact of the temporary use, whether through foot traffic, number of visitors, real estate availability or values, local perceptions of safety or vibrancy of streetscape, etc.
  • Establishes a standard how-to process for community groups organizing temporary uses in vacant spaces and/or lots
  • Provides funding streams for temporary uses in vacant structures or lots • Directs temporary programming to meet governmental goals
  • Governmental backing can give temporary programs and programmers a greater sense of legitimacy with property owners
  • Provides city-owned land and buildings as potential locations
  • Temporary uses in vacant buildings and lots:
    • Attracts people to the site, creating a more dynamic, walkable, and safer street
    • Creates new economic development and cultural opportunities
    • Helps establish a community hub
    • Discourages vandalism and illegal occupation of a vacant space
    • Improves appearance of the vacant space, improving residents’ quality of life
    • Potentially attracts investors to the site
    • Creates a potential incubator for start-up businesses, new community organizations, and nonprofit groups
    • Potentially increases residents’ access to support services
    • Potentially increases access to fresh food
  • Existing codes and permitting processes are geared toward long-term use and permanent tenants, unsuited to temporary uses
  • Lack of landlord-tenant lease templates for flexible time frames
  • Cost of general liability coverage, potentially offset by existing coverage of participating community or nonprofit organizations
  • Logistics and costs of utilities
Where to Use It
  • Neighborhoods that have been identified for redevelopment in local master plans
  • Underutilized spaces, such as empty stores, vacant lots, unrented offices, and abandoned warehouses or factories
  • Neighborhoods with access to transit
Professional Consensus
  • In the absence of endorsements from national associations or governmental departments, cities are turning to best practices employed by other municipalities
  • Urban-farming uses endorsed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program

This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.