There is no doubt that the ongoing financial crisis will have a negative impact on spending on urban research. Alternatively, the current impasse of real-estate may present an opportunity for urbanists (scholars as well as practitioners) to contemplate and develop new practices that would enrich urban studies and empower local communities. In this article we present the examples of two Urban Art Interventions (UAIs) that were part of two different research projects carried out in the Helsinki-Tallinn region over the past four years.
In 2005 Michail Galanakis created “Olohuone”, an urban intervention discussed in his doctoral dissertation Space Unjust . Olohuone was the symbolic representation of a private living-room, brought out of context and given to the public. For a week, it re-signed different meanings within the particular few square meters of floor space in the West Hall of Helsinki Railway Station.
There were aspirations, hopes and desires concerning Olohuone; it was meant to be inclusive of the ‘Other’ of Helsinki, of the city-centre, and of the Station in particular. Despite Galanakis' aspirations, fears, and intentions, Olohuone turned out to have a life of its own through peoples’ micro-appropriations. To think of something as one’s own without an explicit permission, that is the kind of appropriation we are talking about. This is not a clear-cut process; it has nuances and engenders fears and negotiations about these fears. In a setting, such as Olohuone, the appropriator exposes her/himself; it is both a weakening and empowering situation.
In 2007/2008 the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation (Germany) brought together an international group to explore the complex dynamics of trans-national urbanism in the Baltic Sea Region. Within this framework Agatino Rizzo developed the Helsinki-Tallinn Region as case of study .
A double layer dynamic produced in Tallinn’s urban landscape an “Archipelago of islands”, each having different economic, social, and cultural milieus. These latter hypotheses were tested in Tallinn through a series of public interventions in May 2008. The UAIs in Tallinn were conceived to be highly interactive and intuitive, suggesting and collecting social-local feedbacks: “Porta de Viru” was a performance aimed to visualize the possible boarders of those urban “islands” with stripes, banners, and gates; “Tallinn Re-told” aimed to build a more intimate relation between research group and inhabitants; “Wind-up” helped to explore potentials in the urban space between those islands (Inverspace).
Olohuone as Tallinn’s interventions were research performances open for public use and abuse (the latter although expected didn't happen). Both practices constituted a soft urban design approach that paid off, especially considering that fact that they all took place on a really little budget.
The empirical data retrieved during Olohuone as well as Tallinn’s interventions was the biggest return, along with the trust which both researchers gained concerning the unknown public. In these financially gloomy times UAIs could help us do research while livening up the city on low budget.
Insofar, we believe that in Helsinki as in Tallinn a new methodological horizon has been traced in the field of Urban Planning .We tried to label it as Urbanism 3.0 . Urbanism 3.0 is an evolution of Mark Gottdiener’s socio-spatial approach in the sense that a more attention is paid on social interaction. In Urbanism 3.0, UAIs and Peer to Peer (P2P) projects are conceived to simulate alternative urban scenarios in public space capable to affect region making as well urban planning.
P2P processes are activated by the direct participation of local stakeholders. In other words the P2P philosophy aims to create streams of open-share knowledge available for the whole community. In this frame, urbanists, social workers, NGOs, environmental artists, graphic designers, minorities, and inhabitants work together in open-share projects related to urban issues such as atlas, courses, digital platform to collect social feedbacks, spatial strategies as well as formats for new social policies. This active form of participation is inspired to trans-disciplinary research and it is aimed to address local urban issues. It constitutes, insofar, a challenge to bring in the material world the energies of the virtual communities which have created, step by step, the P2P phenomenon . A layout for this approach has been drawn up last July at Bauhaus Dessau Foundation .
Urban Art Interventions, on the other hand, are conceived to simulate and put in practice alternative urban scenarios. Through the direct participation of local stakeholders in P2P workshops, UAIs aim to collect indirect social feedbacks from the local milieu made of inhabitants, commuter, and city users. Since performance are addressed in public space, anyone can interact and leave her/his personal trace. Those feedbacks are then re-analyzed by the P2P workshops to refine strategies and projects.
We believe that this new methodology can seriously improve the quality and the quantity of urban research. Therefore, we are collecting researchers, friends, public institutions, architects, artists, and so forth in the working platform Cityleft .altervista.org to implement Urbanism 3.0-oriented projects.
 Michail Galanakis (2008) Space Unjust, Helsinki: Taik
 Agatino Rizzo et Al. (2008) Helsinki-Tallinn Region. Tracing networks in an archipelago of islands, Dessau: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
 Agatino Rizzo (2009) “The Multiple City. Tallinn as a possible project for the global cities of tomorrow”, in the C-series of the CURS, Helsinki University of Technology – YTK
 see Michel Bauwens and the P2P foundation http://blog.p2pfoundation.net
 see http://www.cityleft.altervista.org/neworld/plug.htm