You may already be familiar with pockets of streets and local courtyards converted into farmer’s markets, festivals and vendor fairs. The graduate students at Ohio’s Kent State University urban design program, however, have a different idea. As part of The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), they’ve invested the past few years fusing creativity and functionality into local urban spacing, transforming mundane and under-utilized sections of the city into “pop-up” works of art that serve diverse purposes.
Civic changes usually come with string of complaints and reservations, but not in Cleveland where everyone from local merchants, to residents and even law enforcement officials are welcoming the temporary changes that offer a new perspective and a glimpse at possibility.
At Rockwell Street, CUDC along with a chain of local and progressively-minded supporters revamped a half-deserted street allotted for vehicle use into one that also accommodated bicyclists and pedestrians. The week-long experiment also incorporated design elements that boosted green initiatives. While this pop-up experience demonstrated urban potential, others serve to repaint the landscape even if just for an evening, as was done with “A Night Under the Stars.” The evening brought together local artisans, vendors, performers and residents on a forgotten pedestrian bridge that reinterpreted the space into an ethereal experience.
Expect “Pop-Up City” initiatives to gain increased momentum and visibility. They’re the natural result of a commercial shift in design, an increase in ecological awareness, advances in technology and an emphasis on user experience premised on the social web.
Business owners can gain from this experience and apply it to their own businesses. Keep a look out to see if your city is doing this and get in on the chance to be a vendor or sponsor. If they’re not, take the initiative to propose and organize it. The exposure and connections are priceless and give your business the chance to be a civic leader while associating itself with innovation and creativity. If it seems like too big a task, scale it down by teaming up with one or two local vendors to temporarily transform your own venue – then offer that space to the public for one evening or a weekend. Just make sure you take full advantage of the press circuit. Scale it down one step further and re-innovate your own business based on your industry. Chiropractors could turn their office into a “dinosaur dig” expedition free to local kids for one weekend, where kids can have turn excavating ruins and digging for fossils and bones.
The pop-up trend touches on what you may already be familiar with – pop-up food trucks that have taken urbanites by storm. They’re proving to be successful with more than just locals. Owners themselves are realizing the benefit in using pop-up systems to “test drive” potential restaurant investments. Launching a pop-up lets you create buzz, get customer feedback, test out menu choices and determine which neighborhoods would yield higher profits. Social tools like Twitter, where businesses tweet daily locations and deals, have almost turned finding the pop-up into a scavenger hunt, with a tasty treasure at the end of your search.
If you’re looking for a golden rule on why pop-ups are so successful no matter what their purpose, you’ll find it’s because of their exclusivity. They’re transient setups and their unique temporary structures fascinate consumers. Take a wildly successful pop-up cart in Ichigaya, Tokyo. Literally, a rickety kiosk roll-along was wildly popular among business owners who set a stark contrast with their crisp suits seated awkwardly on upside-down milk crate “seats.” One day it would be there, and the next day it wouldn’t – popping up again randomly a few days later. That alone created a rush among customers to “get it while they could.”
The other rule of pop-ups is the idea of cultivation. Pop-ups spark the imagination. They’re something consumers haven’t really seen and they certainly set themselves apart from the obsession with perfection, establishment and even branding – which is why the most broken down pop-up also tends to be a hit. Pop-ups are different. They excite us because they present a break in the landscape, both the urban landscape and the business landscape.