5 Reasons Your City Should Try Pop-Ups to “Try Before You Buy”

Sep 22, 2022 | News, Newsletter

Ebrahim Varachia


“Try-it before you buy-it” concept has been disrupting the decision process. A pop-up community project allows you to “test drive” placemaking concepts and get community feedback and buy-in before spending a lot on a permanent installation.


    Publics space improvement projects come with a lot of questions. How will the space be used by the community? Will it disrupt other ongoing uses of the space? How sustainable will its upkeep be? Surveys, studies, and research will answer some questions but nothing is better than just testing it out.
    Pop-ups cost a fraction of the actual price of a full-scale installation. Pop-ups are becoming an increasingly popular way to test how public space improvements will work. As a test case, communities can evaluate the impact, local demand and practicality of the change. Small parklets which transform vacant or under-utilized spaces on the roadside into community hubs are a perfect example of a low-cost mechanism to see how necessary public space may be.
    A tactical urbanist approach, such as painted bike lanes without government approval to push for safer streets, have even allowed cities to recognize the value and impact on traffic flow and transportation. This pop-up bike lane approach is a way to test the value and simplicity of a bike lane, faster than waiting for city council and Department of Transportation discussions and approvals, which are slow to even get started on evaluating the idea. This concept showcases the seriousness and demand from the local cyclist community, and has spurred the cities to take into consideration the demands of their residents with a working example on how bike lanes could work.
    We’ve seen community members help fund The Corner Spot, a pop-up retail space in the Town of Ashland, Massachusetts. What is now a permanent public space, the Corner Spot brought new life to downtown and created a new destination for community members. The town was looking for new businesses, but also an idea for how to transform a vacant lot and was overwhelmed by the positive response local resident shared on the space.
    Pop-ups aren’t just for testing ideas, sometimes they are useful for temporarily-permanent ideas to have a lasting impact. For example, in Tecumseh, MI, the city wanted to host a summer-long Movies-in-the-Parkseries, and crowdfunded on Patronicity to purchase the equipment. Once they had the equipment, they were able to host movie weekly in a neighborhood park, all summer long and for years to come.

Pop-ups are an easy way for communities to test new ideas and where temporary installations can become permanent destinations which build vibrant communities. Local residents and the city government can try out new public spaces before investing more funding to buy or enhance it for the community long-term.

Note – This piece was updated and modified in September 2022 from this blog post.

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