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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


An introduction to time-space planning: Re-thinking the role of planning in the making of cities in India

By Debayan Chatterjee, on 28 January 2021

Planning temporariness

“Given the overwhelming evidence that cities are a complex overlay of buildings and activities that are in one way or another, temporary, why have urbanists been so focused on permanence?” (Bishop et al., 2012: 3)

Indian cities today are changing physically slower than the rate demanded by the pace of activities within. And the emerging trend of ‘temporary urbanism’ signifies a shift from traditional physical city-making paradigm to one which interprets the city as a backdrop for activities. Therefore, the contemporary urban practitioners need to revisit their conceptual association with urban permanence and explore possibilities of de-constructing the current mainstream planning narrative which is grounded in a dichotomy where space stood for fixity and time for dynamism, novelty and becoming (Massey, 1999). In this context, the introduction of Time-Space planning as an alternative narrative cherishes ‘seductive flexibility’ and openness by re-conceptualizing urban time-spaces as ‘multiple, relational, and co-produced’ (Ferreri, 2015; May et al., 2001).

Mainstream planning and its dilemmas (Source: Author)


Historically, cities in India have always celebrated temporariness in various ways. Religious festivals, periodic cultural events, and street markets are a few examples of such ‘embedded’ practices that have been an integral part of people’s everyday lives for years. After independence, it was the modernist city planning that tried to separate the time and space aspects of everyday practices, generated the thrust for fixity across the country, and created binary distinctions such as permanent versus temporary. However, the deliberate practice of Time-Space planning (at the local level) allows planning professionals and communities to learn from deeply ‘embedded’ temporariness, experiments with ‘intentional’/’experiential’ temporariness (Madanipour, 2017) and therefore, helps in the new imagination of urban places/ societies. These contemporary urban practices reinstate Lefebvre’s understandings of time that is something inseparable from space (1992) and validate that cities are ‘four-dimensional’ (Bishop et al., 2012). Thus, the above-mentioned changes demonstrate a clear shift from ‘solid’ modernity to ‘fluid’ modernity (Bauman, 2000) where, the urban is “…understood as a living pulse, assembling and disassembling itself in a reversible manner according to needs and opportunities, market demands and supply of resources, restrictions, and aspirations of inhabitants” (Mehrotra, 2016).

In my viewpoint, Time-Space planning emphasizes on the alternative conceptualization of cities “…by questioning the very assumptions, norms, values, and ideals” (Miraftab, 2009) that shape mainstream planning practices in India. The new planning narrative refuses to picture permanent ‘destinations’ for people and therefore, unleashes the possibilities of imagining ever-transforming environments that can sustain through the processes of ‘improvisations’ and ‘indeterminacies’ (Simone, 2019). This is a major analytical shift because planning here is neither obsessed with finding out the ‘ultimate solution’ for a given urban context nor dependent on the long-term projecting and forecasting. Such refusals lead to the much-needed liberation of current planning imaginations by provoking enough willingness “…to risk, to try different things, without necessarily needing for the results to come, in some sense, right away” (Simone, 2019). Such ‘incompleteness’ embedded within the Time-Space planning narrative allows the planners and the people to collectively experiment with the moments of ‘provisionality’ (Simone, 2019) and to maneuver rooms for future improvisations in India.


Formal imaginaries v/s local possibilities (Source: Author)

Unpacking time-space planning & its principles

In my opinion, the conceptual formulation of the Time-Space approach stresses on a few urban trajectories as follows;

– The alternative planning practices challenge the foundations of modernist planning and its obsession with permanence and imposing order;

– New urban imaginaries celebrate flexibility and fluidity; deliberate planning for temporariness sits within a mix of time-scales;

– Active involvement of a range of actors and recognition of their power relations are necessary for inviting necessary improvisations in the urban-making process. The actors’ collective roles/ responsibilities change with the context. It liberates ‘planning’ from the ‘professional planners’;

– Transformative local practices use a palette of (time-based) strategies and tactics to fulfil the need of marginalized communities. Here, planning refuses its mainstream norms and discipline, follows unorthodox processes, and therefore celebrates incompleteness;


Conceptual framework for Time-Space Planning (Source: Author)


Thus, contours of Time-Space planning can be distilled into four key principles;

Principle 1: Liberating planning imagination

“Cities are subject to continuous change and restructuring. There arises, inter alia, a fundamental tension between the rigidity of the urban built environment and the relative fluidity of the socio-economic processes that produce and are accommodated by it” (Henneberry, 2017: 1). Unlike the top-down planning approaches, Time-Space planning improves the relations between the former and the latter and allows smooth urban transformations. The new adaptive planning practices enforce alternative imagination of cities by amplifying ‘reversibility’ and ‘openness’ in the space production processes. In short, these careful measures assert a new consciousness that “…aims at decolonizing the planning imagination by taking a fresh look at subaltern cities to understand them by their own rules of the game and values rather than by the planning prescriptions and fantasies of the West” (Miraftab, 2009: 45).

Principle 2: Embracing a hybrid/ in-between development approach

Temporary urban interventions “…may arise completely spontaneously or be supported wholly or partly by the state or established private actors” (Henneberry, 2017: 256). The long-term sustenance of these time-bound interventions neither solely dependent on the support from the state nor the communities. Rather, the collective efforts from both the government and the people decide the fate of alternative place-making practices. Time-Space planning goes beyond the binary of the state-led and citizen-led practices and develops a ‘third way’ of development that ensures active participation of all mainstream and marginalized actors in the urbanization process. Understanding the negotiations involved in the process is crucial to produce social innovations.

Principle 3: Amplifying socio-spatial justice

“Temporary activities can provide a vehicle for local consultation” (Lehtovuori et al., 2012: 35), and help to build a bridge among state, developers, and (marginalized) communities. Such collaborations are essential to enable the marginalized communities to actively take part in their city-making process. Time-Space planning protects these weak actors and facilitates them to address various forms of injustices by re-using available city structure; re-adjusting structural forces; and reinforcing strategic temporary-use regulations. Thus, temporary urban interventions are capable of producing socially just built-environments in cities (Klanten and Hübner, 2010; Oswalt et al.,2013). The new imagination of cities not only focuses on minimizing harm (/inequalities) but on doing measurable good.

Principle 4: Triggering experiment-driven planning practices

Time-Space planning is “…experiment driven development, not planning led” (Lehtovuori et al., 2012: 36), and therefore, it involves a range of decision-makers and users, and aims “…to foster change by producing alternative visions and projects whose aim is not to be sustained but to evolve with space and its users” (Andres n.d.). These practices follow the conceptual architecture of Insurgent Planning and hence, shift the theoretical objectives from ‘planner to planning’ (Miraftab, 2009). As a result, the alternative urban-making processes democratize planning practices and re-define the planning limits by allowing various community activists, professional planners, city councilors, employed/ unemployed residents, etc. to decide the necessary planning measures focusing on conditions and not on the action itself (Miraftab, 2009; Lehtovuori et al., 2012).

Liberating planning imaginations (Source: Author)

Mainstreaming time-space planning

It is important to understand that mainstreaming the Time-Space approach won’t be an easy task for the new-age urban planners. And failing to do so, the future will be “…less open and more predetermined as persistence and perpetuation of the present” (Miraftab, 2017: 284). So, they can ‘imagine’ the ‘unimaginable’ only when; (a) Place-making practices identify ‘impermanence’ as a ‘potential’ and not a ‘failure’; (b) Planning becomes reflexive and not prescriptive. Hence, the focus shifts from top-down forecasting, projections, and improvements to grassroots improvisations; (c) The interested communities/ planners/ government officials have the appropriate technical knowledge/skills related to time-bound planning, construction, maintenance, and demolition/ transferal of temporary urban interventions; (d) Government is willing to modify its rigid administrations and reduce bureaucratic obstacles that hinder ‘spontaneous’ and ‘unorthodox’ practices; (e) All the actors stress on just collaborations and the newly formed alliances have enough courage to experiment with ‘non-linearity’, ‘fuzziness’ and ‘openness’ in planning; Without satisfying these prerequisites, planning will be always afraid to celebrate its ‘incompleteness’ in true sense.

The purpose of this article is not to stress on replacing the long-term interventions with time-bound interventions. Rather, it celebrates the notion of adaptability and openness in planning, and discusses how embracing ‘temporariness’ in urban planning allows new-age urban planners to explore appropriate possibilities to ‘improvise’ urban lives in India.



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Mr. Debayan Chatterjee is a Commonwealth Scholar from India, who has finished his MSc in Urban Development Planning at University College London with distinction in 2020. He also earned a Master of Urban Design degree from SPA-Delhi and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He is an academician and artist too. Currently, he is working as an urban designer at Jacobs India.

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