Better Knowledge - Draft Action 10: Manage the re-use of buildings and spaces in a Circular Economy

  • William (Commun... profile
    William (Commun...
    18 July 2018 - updated 8 months ago
    Total votes: 0
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What is the specific problem?

How do existing EU policies/legislations/instruments contribute?

Which action is needed?

Which partners?

Which timeline?

More information

Join the Public Feedback on Draft Action 10


The Partnership will define a robust and comprehensive framework to develop and implement solutions for urban circular re-use of space and buildings as a part of a strategy for better urban management and a transition towards circular economy. There is an important potential to reduce the use of land in an urban context. Such actions will also contribute to enhance more attractive, healthy and sustainable urban environments.


What is the specific problem?

The urban re-use of buildings and spaces facilitates the protection of historic urban landscapes, cultural heritage and existing buildings in general. Most of the buildings that will be here in 2050 are already built, and they will need refurbishment and retrofitting in order to achieve carbon reduction targets. Improvements and continuous maintenance of existing buildings are necessary in order to allow circular management and to avoid the creation of waste. Adequate use of the existing building stock is also needed.

Economic crises, financial market instability, de-industrialization and political changes often lead to the collapse of the former intended use of a building and leave buildings and spaces in a city abandoned. Often, the process of redeveloping an abandoned space takes time, leaving central buildings and spaces in a city empty for several years. It could be the high cost of environmental remediation and redevelopment, political opposition and protests against unwanted projects  context, the lengthy processes of approving plans and restoration projects, or even due to poor economic interest in certain areas.

"Empty spaces" and abandoned or underused buildings could be: former factories and unused industrial buildings, construction sites, slaughterhouses; former schools and kindergartens, railway stations, monasteries; abandoned cinemas, theatres, shopping centres, hotels, offices; abandoned buildings owned by public or "public" bodies and companies; public works not completed, incomplete or terminated and never activated; property objects of bankruptcy; closed communal spaces (e.g. neighbourhood offices and other property spaces, etc.); former public housing, barracks; "ghost city", villages, etc.Temporary use of empty buildings/spaces is a practice in urbanism aiming to revitalize urban areas, especially abandoned and decaying buildings. This aims to protect the landscape and cultural heritage, applying criteria for the maintenance of the territory and restoration of historical and non-historical centres. It is a circular model that goes far beyond the simple enhancement of spaces but is based on knowledge and sustainability. Enabling temporary use of buildings/spaces requires securing the premises used, with “basic” interventions like the removal of debris, a minimum structural consolidation, the installation of fire protection systems, the equipment or the restoration of basic infrastructures. The new inserted functions could need the architectural support for their completion. The quality and cost of architectural interventions are commensurate with the type and duration of temporary reuse of the property and can therefore be divided into different levels.

The main barriers for local authorities for an increased re-use of vacant buildings and spaces are typically related to legislation and knowledge issues. It is a new model in which urban authorities must identify the abandoned / underutilised space or building and create the conditions for temporary reuse or permanent transformation.

Cities need to equip themselves with a real and concrete strategy of urban re-use management of abandoned buildings and spaces, which vary according to each of the types listed above. There are different levels of an urban authority which may set the stage for temporary reuse, such as:

  • “Level 0″ provides the insertion of interior, exterior and temporary exhibits, that are easy to remove, the use of recycled materials or fully recyclable, basic infrastructure and furniture;
  • “Level 1″ provides primary stable infrastructure plant (light, electricity, water, sanitation) in addition to the interior, exterior and temporary exhibits, that are easy to remove and the reuse of waste materials or completely recyclable;
  • “Level 2″ includes in addition to the provision of primary stable infrastructure plant (light, electricity, water, sanitation), the installation of architectural permanent light structures but always structurally independent from the building (Mural facade, site-specific public art projects, mezzanines, spaces “box in the box”, container) [1].

In this new circular vision of the city, an abandoned building needs to be seen as a resource, and demolishing should be avoided. In this sense innovative forms of urban management at local level are necessary to promote a transition towards a circular city and society, with a particular attention to boost employment, start-ups and new business models. 



MADE in MAGE, an incubator of fashion and sustainable design, is an experimental temporary reuse project. More information here.


What is the added value for cities to implement reconversion actions for buildings and empty spaces?

  1. Stopping the consumption of land and redevelop urban areas of the city otherwise degraded;
  2. To get out of the logic of large public works and enter a new "smart" logic with "low impact" works that re-use space without upsetting the local area, with a focus of investment more  on software than hardware;
  3. Developing a new model of urban management of a “circular city” in the logic of “urban re-use management”;
  4. Boosting employment and the emergence of new start-ups and business models focused on temporary reuse.

The problem of under managed spaces in the contemporary city is increasingly discussed, investigated and analysed, yet the term lacks conceptual clarity and definition. Furthermore, the functional aspects, the morphology and the opportunities of these spaces have not been clearly articulated. If lost spaces are voids within the urban fabric empty of meaning, lacking clear functions, where time seems to have stood still, they are spaces which lie in wait for something. So, they can be considered as opportunities waiting to happen, opportunities that urban planning has to recognise and develop in an urban regeneration point of view.

Instead of waiting with an empty space, which can also be taxed by the municipality, temporary use of space can offer several advantages. It allows various community members to obtain the space for their social, cultural, or other needs, under often more favourable terms. The property owner often has less requirements than in the case of a normal lease: they do not have to maintain the spaces and can cancel the use at a much shorter notice. Additionally, temporary users can use the space at no or symbolical cost, and often maintain the spaces themselves.

Such an approach is perceived as win-win for both property owners who get tax benefits and users and a wider city community who get new content and vitality in those spaces. Moreover, buildings are less prone to decay because they are in use. Furthermore, such use is intrinsically bottom-up driven with, for example, a co-creation process by citizens and can demonstrate needs in a city which would otherwise be left undiscovered.

Therefore, temporary use is a powerful tool to make our cities "future proof". Since the concept of temporary use is interacting with many other urban dynamics it creates the right environment for social innovation to develop. The concept of temporary use is conceived as the use of vacant buildings and land by urban pioneers, entrepreneurs and bottom-up initiatives, often resulting in facing various societal challenges and in creating possibilities for social innovation to develop in cities.

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How do existing EU policies/legislations/instruments contribute?

In the absence of a European regulation on temporary use, it is necessary to increase collaboration and strengthen knowledge. In this context, the UA Partnership on Sustainable Land Use is investigating regulatory and funding aspects of underutilised spaces/buildings and collaboration could be an opportunity for maximizing the potential of this action. In the context of the current Action Plan, the focus will therefore be on “Better Knowledge”.

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Which action is needed?

The real challenge for an urban authority is to move from “urban planning” to a new model of “urban re-use management”, where the city's planning moves towards city management: how the functional transition of the city is developed towards new, innovative functions at a social level.

In the above context of defining strategies for urban re-use of buildings and spaces, we believe there is a need for an Urban Agency acting as a facilitator in the functional transition of parts of the city, which can have the dual objective of:- Managing the public buildings included in the urban reuse program;- Connecting the potential demand for new functions with private property (private to private match), following diversified models for public and private buildings.

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How to implement the action?

The main output of this action will be to develop a handbook on Managing the re-use of buildings and spaces in a circular economy, in order to give an instrument and knowledge to implement better urban model strategy based on the principle of Urban Reuse Management. This handbook will also contain Terms of Reference for the above mentioned Urban Agency.

This approach, focused on urban circular reuse, is characterised by the definition of a shared vision, the strong commitments of city governors, the increase of knowledge, capacities and awareness among citizens.

1) Knowledge, capacities and awareness

Definition of a model for an urban authority on “Managing the re-use of buildings and spaces in a circular economy”. A shared vision is the precondition for ensuring the implementation of new policies and the creation of new designed urban context where an Urban Agency acting as facilitators in the functional transition of parts of the city.

2) Commitments of city governors

Governance and institutions provide the framework for urban authority and stakeholders to work together on solutions and strategies at the building, neighbourhood, metro and catchment scales, integrating reuse of in the city’s services and design. Policy makers and governors define master plans and provide incentives to unlock the synergies across sectors in order to define the rules that allow the temporary reuse of abandoned spaces and areas.

The handbook “Managing the re-use of buildings and spaces in a circular economy” will be set as follows:

  1. Premise
  2. The urban circular reuse mapping of spaces and buildings;
  3. The “Urban Agency” model for urban authority;
  4. Urban communication strategy at support of urban circular changing;
  5. Good practices at European level;
  6. Conclusions

Within the handbook it will be explained which project phases to go through when developing an urban reuse agency:

Phase 1: Verification of the stock of buildings and spaces not used at urban level in the different analyses: property (private, public, NGO, etc.) and building type (industrial, residential, school, military building, stations, etc.). In this phase an archive of unused buildings will be elaborated - inventory of empty buildings of the city (heritage map). In this analysis the criteria and a reusability score must be identified first. The elements for the formation of a database in the form of a due diligence on unused buildings must include these themes: geo-location, quantitative elements, graphs, images, properties, typology, reusability coefficient.

Phase 2: Definition of the Urban Agency model on the reuse that acts on the urban scale as a facilitation structure between the offer of existing public and private spaces and buildings ready for reuse and the demand for private / public space. The role of the Agency in relation to the application can be twofold:

  • on the one hand it can convey and collect the existing demand within the city;
  • on the other hand, the function of the Agency may be to create the demand for the use of empty spaces based on urban strategies for economic development, social cohesion and cultural policies.

Phase 3: Definition of diversified reuse strategies according to public or private property status:

Phase 4: Establishment and implementation of the urban reuse agency.

Phase 5: (transversal to all phases): Establishment of a communication office and activities.



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Which partners?

Action leader: Prato

Participants: ACR+, URBACT, EUROCITIES, DG ENV, DG REGIO, Slovenia, Oslo, Finland, OVAM, Porto, Poland, Greece.

The Partnership will also seek to involve the Partnership on Sustainable Land Use in the development and implementation of this action.

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Which timeline?


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Join the Public Feedback on Draft Action 10


See also

Better Regulation

Better Funding

Better Knowledge

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