Attempting to solve urban problems with a versatile yet-almost-surgical approach, "pop-up" urban interventions have been recently appearing in many cities, taking form as boutique restos, parklets to guerilla bike lanes.
In New York City's Lower East Side, gentrification has meant rising commercial rents, raising the entry barrier for small companies and community projects. Hoping to tackle this issue, interdisciplinary collective Made In the Lower East Side (miLES) launched an community initiative last year to revitalize the neighbourhood using the pop-up concept. They are now aiming to launch the Storefront Transformer, a prototype that "activates" underused properties with an adaptable design that allows multiple uses for the same space.
The miLES Storefront Transformer is a versatile set of furnishing and amenities to program any storefront - essentially a 6ft cube that can be easily transported and subdivided to roll through any storefront door. When unfolded, the Transformer provides functional elements such as shelving, partitions, tables, seats, stage, as well as infrastructure such as lighting, WIFI, power strips, speakers, projectors, and PA system so you have all the basic ingredients to create your own pop-up!
It's a multi-pronged stab at a local problem: MiLES notes that "despite the rapid gentrification of the neighborhood, there are still over 200 vacant storefronts in the Lower East Side." Their motivation is to establish a favourable situation for locals and landlords, essentially using the Storefront Transformer to convert these under-utilized spaces into affordable options for small business and organizations, creating economic opportunities for the neighbourhood, while also providing short-term rental income to landlords.
Since the initiative's debut last year, the miLES model has been used for dozens of pop-up boutiques, workshops, classes and events at various locations. Now miLES is aiming to transform a vacant storefront to "incubate" seven pop-up ideas ranging from Show, Learn, Eat, Play Make, Shop and Share, using a prototype of the Storefront Transformer. This innovative approach for collaborative consumption may not only be a boon to small start-ups everywhere, but could very well help build more diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods beyond New York City. Check out miLES' Kickstarter page and video below for details.