The idea of creative reuse urbanism - The roles of local creativities in culturally sustainable place-making: Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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Gentrification is a part of the process of urban renewal which generates significant, and often negative, social impact on existing neighborhood structures, as it tends to be driven predominantly by simple rules of an economy and imperatives of a globalized, "free" market, insensitive to the subtleties of local culture and values. This idea of creative reuse urbanism questions the necessity of extreme, damaging impacts of gentrification. It argues for an urbanism which is culturally rooted, locally related and deeply contextualized. This chapter shows that such urbanism is not just another utopian concept, but a living reality. Examples from Tokyo, Bangkok and Singapore demonstrate a rich spectrum of possibilities, a kind of pregentrification which has the capacity to get involved in creative reuse and recycling of existing stocks and inheritances, thus becoming a positive contributor to sustainable urban regeneration. Presented reused buildings and introduced activities are active ingredients in larger process of place-making in the three cities. Tokyo, Bangkok and Singapore were observed through the lenses of sustainability and cultural difference, with main focus on intersections between the practices of reuse and local creativity. This chapter addresses three of many interconnected concepts which emerge at those intersections: 1. Resource approach to sustainable urban regeneration and cultural resilience, exposing the potential and the capacity (both in terms of occupation and broader practices) of existing urban structures to be reused and requalified (both physically and socially), in order to stimulate, accommodate and express local creativities. 2. Related urban activities and practices, identifying the roles and the capacity of local creativities to express themselves spatially through regeneration of the existing building stock. 3. Urban cultures, interrogating exemplary new urban environments which emerge as the result of creative reuse of the existing building stock, an inquiry into the ways in which they relate to, express, question and confirm already the established place of established cultures. Methodologically, the project builds upon five dialectically engaged sets of urban theory: i. Resource approach and urban regeneration theories, which see individual pieces of architecture as integrated urban artifacts,1 capable to store and to disseminate the collective memory of the city. Within that view, existing urban resources are seen as valuable, not only because of the significant embodied energy which they contain, but also for their capacity to embody memory. This recognition of architecture as a cultural resource should not restricted to officially sanctioned heritage, but embraces literally all types of buildings. ii. Theories which address reuse culture and related discourse on value. Practices of reuse recognize multiple meanings embedded in the second-hand objects.2 These stress on the symbolic and sign values, in addition to the commonly recognized economic and use values.3 The meanings in reuse come from appreciation of historical significance of artifacts, and from recognition of the potential of what those artifacts could become,4 where the latter, significantly, needs an involvement of creative minds. iii. Theories of value and creativity, which see creativity as an ability to produce new value, which is culturally rooted. To be considered creative, in addition to the expected novelty, an idea has to be contextually appropriate, recognized as socially valuable, in some way to some community.5 Such creativity can be identified by detecting the energies of synthesis, both in the process (of making) and in the product itself, and in the ways in which those energies translate (or get translated by creative agents) into the quality-designed objects or spaces.6 In that way, creativity captures the value of ordinary spaces, and adds value to them. iv. Theories, which dialectically relate creativity and consumption. Consumption is characterized as "using up," or destruction (consumere), simultaneously being a completion, a fulfilment and creation (consumare). 7 The consumare itself is necessary to support the flow of creativity (as a person, as situation, as process and as a product). Consumption can easily degenerate into banal consumerism, but on the other hand, there is positive consumption, responsive to creativity, as accepted by society. Creativity needs to be integrated in the everyday of any social system. To sustain the process of its perpetual emergence, it critically depends on creative consumers. Richard Florida8 sees creative consumers and creators as active members of a creative class. That view applies mainly to the "First World," where global economy sets the rules. Landry,9 more helpfully, goes beyond by proposing an inclusive "creative milieu," where hard and soft infrastructures combine to create place for a possible creative city. For Asian contexts, Lim10 specifies that creativity can be neither directly transferable from one place to another, nor imposed by the authority. He advocates bottom-up initiation, which capitalizes on urban spaces of indeterminacy, and which should not be consumption-driven. v. Finally, theories of place and place-making. The above ideas and concepts developed around reuse and creativity are all interdependent. Creativity sustains the process of reuse and recycling of existing urban resources, needed to make products truly culturally sustainable. That subtle process needs local initiatives to sense and to identify creative places, as their creative milieu. Local creativities of this kind flourish within their own, local contexts, thus getting embodied in urban artifacts and building upon an already established repository of collective memory. The chapter presents and discusses examples city by city. That format emphasizes critical importance of local contexts, in which local resources and place-making creativity flourish. I started my investigations with Tokyo, a city already known for its diverse practices in creative reuse of ordinary buildings, which make significant contribution to distinctiveness of a number of its neighborhoods. The same method of investigation was then applied to selected cases in Bangkok and Singapore.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFuture Asian Space
Subtitle of host publicationProjecting the Urban Space of New East Asia
PublisherNUS Press Pte Ltd
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9789971695965
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012

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    Boontharm, D. (2012). The idea of creative reuse urbanism - The roles of local creativities in culturally sustainable place-making: Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore. In Future Asian Space: Projecting the Urban Space of New East Asia (pp. 73-87). NUS Press Pte Ltd.