By Rebecca Webb, Graduate Surveyor, Global Occupier Services
In a bipolar economy, one of the most valuable commodities one can possess is space. Yet, in a world with an ever increasing population where more than 50% have lived in urban areas for almost 10 years – space is underutilized.
The capitalization of space is inescapable, providing boundaries and limits to how and when we use it. But what if there was a way we could make use of the vacant space which lies empty?
That is where the newly coined term ‘Meanwhile Use’ comes in to play. The term relates to using space temporarily to provide an interim solution to vacant commercial space, providing social and/ or economic benefits. Meanwhile uses have grown to include a diverse range of pop-ups, affordable space for startups, guardianships, charities, teaching spaces, and artist studios, to name a few.
The conception of “meanwhile use”
For centuries, we have defined use limitations for space, leaving a growing proportion dormant when a use becomes redundant. The result and effect is producing pockets of disused and neglected spaces, in turn impacting the immediate environment. However,
advances in technology have made forgotten space, useful again. This has redefined perceptions of space, leading us to expect much more from it.
Often occupiers have vacant onerous space which has been ‘mothballed,’ often unlettable due to quality, location, the inability to subdivide, or an unmarketable term. We are also
evidencing more and more occupiers encountering exponential growth requirements which is often difficult to predict at the outset of projects.
As such, occupiers acquire additional space to allow for expansion or swing space, resulting in excessive initial day one costs. By introducing meanwhile uses, occupiers are provided with a refreshing and innovative option to mitigate costs and provide occupational agility.
A smaller group of occupiers which include startups, charities, and low-income initiatives often require affordable space while they develop their businesses. Meanwhile uses can provide them with flexibility, access to markets they would otherwise be priced out of, and the ability to experiment new business ideas with lower commitment, risk, and costs.
While corporations mull over how best to resolve this issue in the most cost effective and efficient way, innovative companies have sprung up across the globe. For instance, the
likes of Headbox and Peerspace operate as an Airbnb-type provider of commercial event spaces, Storefront facilitating retail pop-ups, and the Creative Space Agency promoting meanwhile use by creatives and artists. Not to mention government initiatives facilitating such uses, some of which offer grants to occupiers.
Why doesn’t “meanwhile use” work for all occupiers?
As ever, there are various hurdles when disruptive ideas come to the forefront. One of the first issues to overcome is the legal framework surrounding meanwhile uses.
Often, the real challenge is a change of mind-set. With disruption comes resistance; the real estate industry being a strong culprit of this. In an industry which constantly analyses risk and reward, how can you promote a new concept with many unknowns and potential risks:
- Cost exceeds value derived
- Disgruntled landlords or nearby tenants
- Wasted time and resources
- Increased reinstatement exposure
- Increased insurance premiums
- Damage to PR and brand
- Success is very location/building specific
Despite the risks, the success stories speak for themselves – with great risk, comes great reward.
Rebecca Webb is a Graduate Surveyor for the Global Occupier Services group Cushman & Wakefield, based out of the U.K.