The demolition of old buildings and construction of new buildings require vast quantities of heavy materials, and significant amounts of energy and water. Where possible, it is preferable to renovate and refurbish an existing building in a circular manner rather than demolishing it to build a new one. Additionally, underutilised and vacant buildings and spaces represent an enormous untapped value, which could be leveraged to finance investments in other areas and revitalise neighbourhoods. This could include ‘meanwhile use’ or ‘intermittent use’ of buildings, which involves making temporarily empty spaces, properties and land available for use as work spaces, pop-up cafes, shops, and more. Such projects help to rethink the design of the surrounding urban space, creating attractive, safe and user-friendly areas, thus revitalising neighbourhood economies and encouraging local retail networks.
Local governments—along with multidisciplinary teams of finance, human resources, technology, and corporate real estate stakeholders—can identify idle or underutilised spaces and determine their value, and then consider this in relation to current and future requirements of their citizens (for example, shortage of affordable housing or cultural spaces). Measures to address the underuse of buildings and spaces could include flexible zoning plans, economic disincentives for new greenfield developments in favour of refurbishing and manufacturing, as well as piloting projects with public vacant buildings.