Reactivating Vacant Buildings – A Cross-Atlantic Pilot Study (2018)


Temporary activation and longer-lasting adaptive reuse of derelict buildings and spaces has become a commonplace tool for urban reinvention, in particular in larger cities with high real estate market pressure. These methods and strategies reframe and reuse derelict spaces, often in the context of creating modern spaces for creative industries in inner cities or lofts for high-income groups.

However, not every city which has derelict buildings or land is lucky enough to have an immediate reuse concept or an investor waiting to develop that concept. In fact, many 21st century cities, particularly those whose economic engines were driven by industries that have since become obsolete, are struggling to find new purpose for the vacant buildings that remain after industry leaves, taking large groups of the population with it. This is a challenge shared by post-industrial cities around the world, from the Rust Belt to the Ruhrgebiet. Many cities have developed effective, locally-anchored approaches to reactivating vacant properties; this project seeks to promote Euro-American knowledge transfer of successful innovative practices about the temporary and partial adaptive reuse of vacant buildings. The main goal of this pilot project is to produce an English-language publication and online database of good practices with information about their transferability.

The impulse for this project comes from an innovative approach called Tactical Preservation currently being piloted in Detroit. Tactical Preservation attempts to revive vacant buildings at reduced cost, while amplifying efficiency by targeting space with the potential for rapid reuse. In lieu of rehabilitating the entire building, which due to size or specialized features may be overly costly, Tactical Preservation adopts a phased, incremental approach, focusing on one particular space. On the European side of the equation, projects such as the ZwischenZeitZentrale in Bremen, the StadtWohnen Agentur in Chemnitz, or the good practices gathered by the URBACT project 2nd Chance have tested new forms of cooperation between sectors in order to reactivate vacant buildings. These represent just a few of the many good practices worthy of further scrutiny and inclusion in a transatlantic database and publication.

The pilot study proposed here represents an initial step intended to launch the transatlantic exchange of best practices. The pilot will use Detroit/the Rust Belt and examples from the New German States as a starting point, and later expand to other cities in Europe including further post-industrial cities in Germany, Poland, Italy, and the UK.

This initial research will be a springboard for the creation of a more comprehensive, transatlantic database of and publication about methods and strategies that American and European cities of various sizes have used to address adaptive reuse, in particular partial adaptive reuse and innovative forms of cross-sectoral cooperation.

This project was made possible by a grant from the German Marshall Fund of the United States and took place from May 2018 until January 2019.

Read the resulting articles here:

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