Pop-up Cities

Pop-up, Guerrilla, DIY or Tactical Urbanism; whatever the name, temporary urban interventions are increasingly popular in contemporary cities.


From community gardens and pop-up cinemas to outdoor art installations and mobile libraries, pop-up urbanism can take many forms. Much of the discussion about pop-up urbanism is celebratory in tone, highlighting the ways in which these transient practices are putting on display alternative lifestyles, reoccupying urban space with new uses, or reinventing daily life from the bottom up. Many claim that pop-up urbanism is a political activity that can be undertaken in pursuit of a more just or sustainable city.

Various levels of government are latching on to the idea of pop-up urbanism, and even borrowing some of the ideas that are associated with the more radical notion of tactical urbanism as they design and plan the city. Some governments even think that pop-up urbanism might be a quick, and cheap, solution to fostering participatory, bottom-up city-making. And the private sector has moved into this space too. But as these perviously guerrilla activities becoming more mainstream and corporate are they losing their way as political projects that seek more socially justice and sustainable cities?

Amelia Thorpe and Lee Stickells move us beyond the celebratory notion of the pop-up city. Lee takes us back to the 60s counter-culture to show that DYI urbanism has a long history. He talks about experimental architecture and his NSW State Library Nancy Keesing Fellowship research, titled Aquarian Green: Building new ways of living in the 1970s counterculture. Amelia discusses the different people, places and relationships that are involved in temporary urban interventions. Taken together, they consider the actual ways in which various pop-up practices might connect to questions of justice and sustainability in the city.

Amelia Thorpe is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Environmental Law Programs at UNSW. Her research is at the intersection of law, urban planning and geography, drawing on degrees in Architecture and City Policy as well as professional experience in the planning, transport and housing departments in Western Australia. Amelia’s current research examines the ways in which understandings of law, ownership and belonging shape – and are in turn shaped by – practices of participation in planning. Prior to joining UNSW in 2012, Amelia was a director at the Environmental Defenders Office, Australia’s largest and oldest public interest environmental law organisation. Amelia studied law at the University of Oxford and at Harvard Law School, and is a member of the New York Bar.

Photo: Adrian Wiggins

Lee Stickells is Associate Professor in Architecture at the University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning. Lee’s research is characterised by an interest in the potential for architecture to shape other ways of living, particularly its projection as a means to reconsider the terms of social life – of how we live together. It is focused on developing histories that connect experimental architectural and design strategies with environmental, political, technological and social transformations. Lee co-edited The Right to the City (2011) and has contributed to anthologies including The Handbook of Interior Architecture and Design (2013), Beyond Utopia (2012),Trash Culture (2010), and Heterotopia and the City (2009). His essays have appeared in journals such as ARQ: Architectural Research Quarterly and Fabrications. Lee is currently an editorial committee member of the journal Architectural Theory Review and a SAHANZ Editorial Board member.

Read more about their work: “Pop-up Justice? Reflecting on Relationships in the Temporary City”, in John Henneberry (Ed), Transience and Permanence in Urban Development (London, Wiley-Blackwell: 2017)
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