Washington, DC: Temporary Urbanism Program

The Washington, DC, Office of Planning (OP) launched its Temporary Urbanism initiative in 2010 to help transform vacant spaces into dynamic destinations. The initiative emerged out of a 2009 OP forum that brainstormed ways to “catalyze collaborative action across the creative, green, technology, nonprofit, education, and technology sectors.” The OP’s current Temporary Urbanism program is the ArtPlace grant program, which provides $75,000 for each of four Art and Culture “Temporiums” that would open for three to six months in the neighborhoods of Anacostia, Brookland, Central 14th Street, and Deenwood. The funding for the program comes from a national private-public partnership that aims to revitalize neighborhoods across the country by using the arts as an economic-development tool.

The OP requires applicants to partner with other, ideally DC-based, organizations; line up three to five potential vacant sites with written approval from the property owners; draft a proposal and budget for the future programming; and possess relevant past experience. The current program builds on three previous OP-organized retail Temporiums. The first took place in a vacant city library kiosk on H Street in 2010; the latter two opened in vacant storefronts in the neighborhoods of Mt. Pleasant and Shaw.

While the ArtPlace program provides funding and direction for temporary uses, the OP clarifies that applicants are responsible for obtaining their own permits, leases, and liability insurance for these spaces. DC’s zoning and building-code regulations, however, aren’t suited to the needs and time frames of temporary tenants. The OP points to a need for new short-term lease templates and regulations better suited to temporary uses. It sees a business opportunity for brokers who help connect short-term tenants with short-term real estate availability. It also is looking into adapting its regulations to provide zoning and regulatory exceptions for short-term uses.

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