The inaugural competition took place in September 2010. Project briefs were issued to ten international teams, each of which had three days and three nights to create architectural interventions to improve the quality of specific public spaces. A neglected street was chosen as a placemaking target with briefs highlighting local needs for things such as sheltered seating areas and the renewal of a rubbish-filled plot of land. Teams not only faced tight deadlines, but also had to contend with limited budgets and space. Furthermore, they had to live and work on-site, depending on a local team member, and thus became rapidly immersed in the daily life of the local community. According to organizers, these difficult constraints are characteristic of grassroots initiatives (as opposed to well-funded top-down urban planning or redevelopment initiatives), and facilitate creative thinking and imagination closely aligned with a community’s self-perceived needs. Results of the Bat-Yam urban action include a transformed bus stop, a garden, a tower block for the elderly, and a new entrance to the business district.
The Stuttgart (Germany) urban action took place in July 2012, and once again consisted of ten competing international teams (of over 120 people) designing and constructing architectural interventions in public space in the Wagenhallen area and Nordbahnhof Street in the central city over the space of three days and three nights. The Terni (Italy) action took place in September 2012, this time involving five teams working within the same time constraints to transform a residential block. Annual urban actions have taken place each following year.
72HUA is an imaginative and pragmatic initiative that is proving to be internationally popular. Its popularity may be at least partially related to the sense of empowerment that the competition’s highly localized placemaking interventions engendered in participants, including members of the local communities at stake. The organizers correctly identified extreme temporal, spatial, and financial constraints as facilitators of collective creativity. On the other hand, such constraints can also act as inhibitors of creativity and barriers to collective action. What made the difference in the case of 72HUA actions is perhaps the adoption of an optimistic attitude towards limits in budget, time, and space, and briefs clearly identifying local needs. The project made possible collective experiments in public space, engaging those who would not otherwise normally be involved in urban design in critical and creative interventions in a variety of communities. As such, it is an exemplary model of grassroots placemaking that may be deployed (inside or outside the framework of a competition) by local communities facing different urban revitalization challenges.
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