Community Building through Temporary-Use Spaces

Author:  Meiing Sproger

Contributor:  Alex Campbell, AICP


Humans have an innate desire to connect with each other and their environment. Whether through neighborhood gatherings, festivals, or just spending time with friends and family, people have always sought to build communities. Evidence of this desire for community building is apparent through publicly led creation of temporal public spaces like Park(ing) Day, an annual event since 2005, where individuals and organizations temporarily convert parking spaces into public parks. The utilization of temporary-use public spaces saw a dramatic rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in more urbanized environments. These actions are symbols of urban revitalization, community-building, and community-led design.


What are temporary-use spaces?
Temporary-use spaces include the creation of pop-up parks and public spaces within areas that typically have established uses other than open space or community gatherings. They tend to have a limited time horizon for use of the space and are meant to activate public interest and engagement with a particular site. Temporary-use spaces saw a dramatic increase in popularity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when the public needed additional open spaces to alleviate/accommodate social distancing concerns. With the need for social distancing and the desire for outdoor spaces to gather, many cities have created temporary parklets, street closures, and other public spaces to provide much-needed community gathering places. 


As a planner, what impact has there been on municipal code and how does it affect planning? 
The creation of temporary-use spaces has had an impact on municipal codes in various ways. Cities have had to adapt and adjust their zoning codes to accommodate these new forms of public spaces. This has often involved rethinking how public spaces are used, clarifying the types of activities that are allowed, and establishing rules and regulations governing these spaces. Outside of the regulatory standpoint, the temporary nature of these types of spaces also requires gathering public input to ensure the programming is reflective of the community’s desires and needs at that time.  


How can land use planners support the creation of community-building spaces? 

As land use planners, there are several ways we can support the development of temporary-use spaces and strengthen communities. 

First, we can work with cities and businesses to streamline the approval process for temporary-use spaces, making it easier for communities to create and maintain these spaces. This may involve updating zoning codes, creating new permits, or finding ways to make the approval process more expedient and flexible. 

Second, we can work with communities to identify areas where temporary-use spaces are needed and assist in the design and development of these spaces. This may involve conducting community engagement activities, providing technical assistance, assessing the amount of existing public space near a particular area, or working with local organizations to bring these spaces to life. 

Finally, we can support the ongoing maintenance and operation of temporary-use spaces by working with local governments, businesses, and community organizations to ensure that these spaces are accessible and safe for everyone. 


The creation of temporary-use spaces has been a growing trend in recent years and has had a significant impact on the way communities build and connect. At AHBL, we are proud to have the unique opportunity to work with communities in designing and developing these spaces. Our Core Values include strengthening the communities that we work with, and creating these types of projects that bring people together helps us ensure that we are fulfilling our mission at the community level. 

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