What The New ‘Tactical Urbanism’ Design Guide Means for Cities

You may not know the term tactical urbanism, but you have probably seen evidence of this recent movement if you live in or near a city. Tactical urbanism can look like a parking space converted into a mini park; handmade pedestrian signs; manmade public spaces, reclaimed from the road; sidewalk gardens; and pop-up markets, to name a few examples. Tactical urbanism is essentially citizens taking city planning into their own hands through small-scale, transient projects meant to enhance their lives and their neighbors’ lives by improving their urban environment.

The movement fits into a pattern of citizen activism and limited civic funds, thanks to the recent economic downturn, while addressing the reality of aging infrastructure. City dwellers have responded by taking matters into their own hands, with the aim of improving matters short term, demonstrating proof of concept, and solidifying changes in the long term through official channels.

Tactical urbanism is iterative, like the agile development processes of many startups and tech companies. Projects are thrown up overnight (in some cases literally), and citizens see what sticks. The tactical urbanism handbook, published by the Street Plans Collaborative, is similarly adaptable. The first edition of the handbook Short-term Action for Long-term Change is credited with helping to popularize the movement by collecting and publishing tried-and-true techniques for other municipalities to replicate. The strategies outlined in the guide have been vetted on the ground, and this may be likelier to succeed long term. The tactics are also assessed through case studies focusing on different cities. While these reforms are scaleable in the sense that they can be replicated, they are by nature community-instigated, they don’t lose their grassroots.

The most recent edition of the DIY urban intervention manual focuses on materials. “The Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials and Design dives into the details of pop-up urbanism: when to use tape or paint or chalk, how to choose the right materials for temporary barriers, and more.” Temporary materials are usually cheaper, and also often the better choice for the job. Tactical urbanism sometimes runs up existing regulations, like traffic lanes, for example. The project might be reversed immediately, so wasting money and effort on expensive permanent materials serves no purpose. Often these projects illustrate a desired improvement to city planners and government officials, who would be responsible for making it permanent.

Although tactical urbanism cannot solve larger issues like infrastructure, it can make cities more livable and comfortable in the immediate future. It also creates an open channel of communication between citizens and government officials, encouraging dialogue with residents about neighborhoods improvements. Some have expressed concern that tactical urbanism can exacerbate inequality: that only the privileged can dedicate time to such projects, and that engaging in activities that skirt the law is riskier for some. In the spirit of tactical urbanism, projects intended to benefit the community must be conceived as inclusive and accessible to all.

New York City is a hotbed of engaged citizens with good ideas, useful skill sets, and activist tendencies, all living in a sprawling urban jungle, where pedestrians constantly wage war against cars. Unsurprisingly, tactical urbanism has already been deployed here to good effect, and sometimes initiated by the city itself. The oasis in Time Square that reclaims street space for pedestrians is an example of a temporary measure becoming permanent after it was well received. Sidewalk gardens, pop-up markets, and other creative city hacks are already a commonplace sight around the five boroughs. Tactical urbanism will undoubtedly continue and thrive here, deepening the dialogue between an engaged citizenry and their local government.

By |2018-10-31T18:10:45+00:00April 5th, 2017|Culture, Urban Planning|

How Does ‘Tactical Urbanism’ Add Value to a Community?

Addressing community change is starting to become much more revolutionary as neighborhood leaders are moving towards Tactical Urbanism. Tactical Urbanism is the implementation of intricate community fixes that address common problems for locals and many are in favor of this method’s host of positive, long term effects.

There are also a group of people describing this approach as “guerrilla urbanism” and an inconsiderate move that local governments use to appease residents and limit their own overhead costs.

Does Tactical Urbanism add meaningful parts to the whole and support a community’s greater good or does it instill changes that have little effect on the masses?


Community Benefits

As the term impacts communities directly, it results in different benefits for locals and local governments.

Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, two urban planners, co-authored the new book Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-Term Change which takes an interesting stance on this issue. Lydon and Garcia define tactical urbanism as, “an approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies.”

These fixes often fall into the realm of city streets, sidewalk renovations, signage additions, neighborhood park upgrades and a few other areas of interest. In terms of location, tactical urbanism campaigns often target empty lots, idle storefronts, highway underpasses, and other public spaces.

One of the more consistent tactical urbanism programs are “parklets,” where street pavement spaces are transformed into community parks by adding a sidewalk extension expand into the given area.

But most tactical urbanism efforts place a focus on involving people in the process who will be most affected by these changes. The most important factor of tactical urbanism is not just the small changes that are implemented but ultimately the participation of residents because it helps the community resonant with the neighborhood’s growth. In return, this community approach brings about a handful of benefits that challenges the results of other kinds of reformation.

Tactical urbanism is a collaborative effort but the plans for physical change often come from local ideas. Modeling the changes around the communities needs and ideas allows for efficient projects because the plans come straight from the source.

This type of urbanism also does not require a long term commitment from those involved and it is a low-risk activity. With such a relatively little contribution required, in terms of time and funding, there proves to be a high reward for participating communities. The most satisfying return from this tactic is that it emits realistic expectations.

Socially, organizations and individuals get to work together for on short term projects and it opens up their pathways of communication for continued coordination for future neighborhood activities. Creating a connected community is not only important during the times of urbanism activity but also for a healthy foundation for the neighborhood.


Government Benefits

Tactical urbanism benefits are beginning to become noticeable for not only community residents but local governments, nonprofits, and developers as well. As the tactic becomes more prominent nationwide rather than just New York City specific, more local governments realize how instrumental change can derive from the ground up.

This method of urbanism appeases locals and city organizations which are usually the government’s responsibility. Residents get an immediate redesign and restructuring of public space directed towards the community’s demands. Residential developers also get insight into what the community wants and they can better model new properties they plan to bring to that specific market.

As far as government benefit, there is much less of a burden expense wise. The changes taking effect usually require a small supply of items like paint, manual tools, gardening supplies, and other materials. There is also less of need for paid labor assistance as residents are generally encouraged to work together for the length of the project.

The government can focus larger-scale activities when communities spearhead local campaigns for change. Like developers and city planners, the government can learn about neighborhood needs as well from the community’s re-formatting of public space.

Tactical Urbanism seems to produce a happy community as it transforms residential input for the use of public spaces and coordinates a system of small fixes that amount in a display of benefits for locals and local government.


By |2018-10-31T15:42:12+00:00September 9th, 2015|Urban Planning|
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