Europe's City Beaches as Post-Fordist Placemaking

Quentin Stevens & Mhairi Ambler

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Stevens, Q. & Ambler, M. (1). Europe's City Beaches as Post-Fordist Placemaking. Journal of Urban Design, 15(4), 515–537.

City beaches are produced by spreading sand, deckchairs and umbrellas onto industrial brownfields, parking lots, rights-of-way or other under-utilized open spaces. Where major reinvestment projects are lacking, these informal developments offer great amenity. This approach to placemaking is post-Fordist. It is highly flexible, even mobile. It involves complex, temporary networks of people and resources. It focuses on ‘soft’ content—services, programmes, themes, atmosphere—rather than inflexible built form. This enables rapid innovation. Through four case studies, the paper explores the roles and relationships among diverse actors—city mayors, entrepreneurs, property developers, grass-roots organizations, think-tanks and planners—in the production of city beaches, and identifies what new policies, tools and management approaches they require.

Main finding
The study finds that city beaches can help provide amenity and sense of place for a very broad public. Most city beaches supplement existing open space offerings and are privately-financed developments on under-utilized privately-owned spaces on urban waterfronts offering new types of accessibility and a free amenity to the general public. Entrepreneurs have been able to construct and operate beaches in former industrial areas because no existing residents or higher-and-better users are displaced or disadvantaged. Additionally city beaches only receive temporary approvals, which can be revoked or amended according to public needs.

Description of method used in the article
The case study material was primarily obtained from semi-structured interviews and correspondence with the sites’ initiators and managers, investigating the production process for the city beach and their role within it. Interviews were also conducted with other formal stakeholders, such as local government officers, to understand the political and administrative context.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Case Study Interviews
Urban Design
Physical types