Open! Community Utilisation of Vacant Retail Space

Mariann Majorné Venn

By Mariann Majorné Venn, on November 7th, 2014

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The signs of the 2008 crisis became visible within few months after its outbreak on the Grand Boulevard of Budapest, which was one of the most important retail locations of the city, and on many other streets as well: closed shops, business premises with lowered blinds to let. Like in many major European cities, the problem of vacant, unused properties is growing and causing an increasing social tension.

The closed shops produce loss to the owner. Deteriorating condition of the properties and the loss of business traffic adversely affect the area’s real estate market and business environment. The scope of local community services are narrowing and ultimately the public security shows negative tendencies in these neighbourhoods in a downward spiral.
Following the foreign examples many initiatives were born in Budapest nearly simultaneously and started to cooperate in order to find solution to this situation. This issue motivated the young, trend-sensitive professional organizations to contribute with different actions and thus creating a rich package of programs.

Linking the owners and the users

In 2012 the Contemporary Architecture Centre Foundation  (KÉK) launched the Deserted Program, which aimed at reutilising private and municipality owed buildings for community purposes. All elements of this program are community based: it explores the urban vacancy problem though community discussions as well as analysing and learning from foreign examples; it does community mapping,  which means everyone can upload the data of empty properties in Budapest; on the Upload again! homepage   moreover they link the ones looking for place with the property owners and provide advisory services for the district municipalities in order to have more empty places  and buildings finding new owners.
KÉK organised an exhibition called Adaptive City, which summarises the results of the 1,5 year research carried out within the ’Deserted’ project. In the I am right back! Project Gallery  (described later in this article), a fast-growing mini library is accessible to everyone, and besides, KÉK organises series of professional lectures and workshops related to the issue. Within the Adaptive City lecture series, solutions from Paris were studied as well with the help of e.g. Magali Vergnet-Covo, advisor of Semaest  , which is a joint owed company of the municipality of Paris concentrating on local economic rehabilitation. The Semaest has launched the Vital’Quartier  project in 2004 which provides answers to the problems of empty shops and monofunctional commerce.
The Deserted Program of KÉK is a professional partner of the URBACT “Temporary Use as a Tool for Urban Regeneration” (TUTUR) knowledge transfer project.

Database of municipal properties and their secondary utilisation

In partnership with the Deserted Project, Budapest Municipality initiated the I am right back! program aiming at promoting the reutilisation of its long-vacant ground floor retail spaces through a unified application framework. For this purpose the municipality in collaboration with the Budapest Chamber of Commerce and Industry developed a map-based inventory system.
With the professional partnership of KÉK the already mentioned I am right back! Project Gallery was opened – which is a reuse of an empty shop itself. With community events it assists the research and the takeover of the practices for a temporary utilization strategy. The winners of the ‘I am right back!’ idea contest were presented here as well. As part of the competition they made proposals for the “innovative urban visual management” of the empty shop windows, more concretely they created design installations for covering the shop windows. Closely related to this the „Your space, your sucess!” shopwindows campaign  was implemented with the partnership of Design Terminal  and Bridge Budapest.  In this program element, empty shop windows were covered with installations displaying success stories of young entrepreneurs.

Open! One-month “trial operation”

The latest and maybe the most successful effort for the utilization of empty retail spaces is the Open! Shops for Rent Festival,  which took place between 19th September to 19th October 2014, and was organized by KÉK, with support from the Municipality of Budapest. Within the framework of the Open! Festival, empty retail spaces were opened for one month. From the 150 incoming applicants answering the call for temporary utilization, those that supposedly would affect the given neighbourhood socially and culturally the most, and those that have the potential for a long term operation were chosen.

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