The term Pop Up Democracy refers to the use of temporary, site-specific installations that provide opportunities for increased local political and civic participation (e.g. pop-up libraries and museums; activist spaces; pop up food stalls etc.). The aim is to provide new spaces and opportunities for local activism and participation right in the community.
The idea of Pop Up Democracy is based on recent trends in urban social design towards temporary and small-scale installations to provide spaces for interaction and civic discourses in local communities. Pop Up democracy can help offset the "threshold problem" or the challenge of getting people to participate, which government institutons often face when opening up engagement processes. Rather than expecting people to attend meetings in areas and building they might be unfamiliar or too far away from where they live, Pop Up Democracy aims to create participation spaces where people live. By using art and commerce projects most of these efforts aim to build social capital and civic skills. Temporary installations enable experimentation and encourage residents to reimagine spaces and challenge power structures and the different ways in which these manifest spatially.Pop-up democracy is an attempt to respond to a community's specific needs; when those needs have been met, the installation or project ceases to exist.
Pop-up democracy can take different forms.
- Inserted interventions can take place in vacant buildings, in which case projects tend to last longer.
- Modular interventions, such as mobile vans or other kinds of "pods", are flexible and usually located in the public realm, such as a square.
- Food as medium of exchange revolves around the idea of food as a means of building stronger community ties and encouraging cultural exchange, particularly within diverse communities. It can take the form of convivial events where people exchange food or commerce (e.g. 'food not bombs', temporary food stores).
- Pop Up shops provide temporary opportunities for targeted commerce, often related to a larger context of events (e.g. a festival or conference). They can be used to provide information or engage members of the public in debates over specific issues.
- Activist spaces (e.g. artist protest tents, the Occupy Wall Street library or Tent City University in Occupy the London Stock Exchange) are generally created within the environment of power that is being challenged (e.g. Wall Street; a prominent public square or a government building).
There is much space for experimentation as Pop Up democracy goes where the public is and has the advantage of matching the location with the topic. Areas for greater experimentation, particularly at the local level, could be :
Pop Up Scrutiny: An empty shop in the city centre could be open for a few weeks to the public for a scrutiny review. As well as consultation materials, scrutiny officers could be there on hand to answer questions and record ideas.
Pop Up Consultation: An empty shop / house could be used as an exhibition space using displays, e.g. or models for planning.
Pop Up Councillor Surgeries: Groups of councillors/ council commettees could meet somewhere unexpected for a day to deal with casework or other specific queries.
Pop Up surgeries might generate public interest just by appearing somewhere unexpected.
Pop Up surgeries can be used for a variety of activities to raise public awareness, gather public views and generate new ideas. To date Pop Up democracy has mainly be used to build social capital and community skills and to address identity-based issues, rather than for decision making. However, future practice could change this trend.
Food Not Bombs is a global movement that shares free vegan meals as a protest to war and poverty. Local chapters collect surplus food that would otherwise go to waste from grocery stores, bakeries and markets, as well as donations from local farmers, then prepares community meals which are served for free, often during protest events or during humanitarian emergencies. The movement was started in the 1980s by anti-nuclear protestors in the US.
Pop Up libraries (e.g. Occupy Wall Street Poeple's Library) can help challenge power structures, while mobile art vans can contribute to engaging children and adults in deprived areas.
Pop Up museums are set up in local communities and last only for one day. The museum is made up of all the things local residents bring with them. People write a label for their object, have a look at objects others have brought and talk with people about the things they have brought and the stories behind them. Visitors and contributors can stay as long as they wish and when they leave take their object with them. The aim is to start conversations with people.
Pop Up installations are set up in the community by government institutions (particularly local government), universities or civil society organisations and are open to everyone.
Cost varies depending on the scope and timeframe of the installations. Empty venues can be used creatively reducing costs. Costs for staff and props should be factored in.
Approximate time expense
Pop Up installations can last as little as one day and as long as the installation is needed to address the issue. When it is no longer needed it ceases to exists.
The main strength of Pop Up Democracy is that, setting up an installation within a particular community can help reach out to people that might not otherwise participate.
Pop Up democracy can use a range of tools to gather people's views and ideas to tackle specific issues and can potentially reinvigorate interest in political institutions by opening up different channels on their doorstep which are more tailored to people's needs and interests.
The most successful projects use the spatial and cultural context of the site to build the core of the project around it, responding to specific local needs and enhancing local assets.
A number of criticisms have been raised against Pop Up Democracy
- Many installations, although useful, tend to be essentially aesthetic in nature, rather than transformational.
- Many pop-up interventions lack a framework for measuring success. As a result there is limited emphasis on collecting or disseminating data about the project or feeding back to the comunity during and after the project.
- Some projects create a demarcation, rather than bridging, between practitioners or "creators" and “receivers” or participants. As a result these project might fail to capitalise on local assets and be truly transformative.
The idea of Pop Up Democracy is built on urban social design trends towards temporary, small-scale installations to open spaces of civic discourses within communities. Initially most pop up installations were based on arts or commercial projects.
Food Not Bombs is one of the first examples of Pop Up Democracy.
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Pexels CC0