Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Grassroots Placemaking: Tactical Urbanism Offers Short-Term Solutions to Longstanding Challenges in the Built Environment

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Grassroots Placemaking: Tactical Urbanism Offers Short-Term Solutions to Longstanding Challenges in the Built Environment

Article excerpt

If there's one thing human beings know how to do, it's innovate. From the first roughly chiseled stone wheel to the Internet, humanity has shown boundless capacity to imagine and implement creative ideas to make our world safer, healthier and, simply, better. Tactical urbanism, a not-so-new idea that's enjoying resurgence of late, is an excellent example of motivated groups and individuals taking the initiative to reimagine underused or dilapidated city spaces as spots for community congregation.

From Booksellers to Food Trucks

Documentation of perhaps the first tactical urbanists dates back to the 1500s, when les bouquinistes would set up unsanctioned stalls to sell books along the banks of the Seine River in France. These were banned in the mid-1600s then reinstated after popular outcry. In 2007, UNESCO recognized the original area occupied by les bouquinistes as a World Heritage site, and in 2012, 240 sellers boasting more than 300,000 titles, could be found selling their wares along the river. It took 500 years or so, but les bouquinistes did exactly what promoters of tactical urbanism hope their projects will do--encourage lasting, alternative uses for urban spaces.

Urban planner Mike Lydon and his team at Street Plans Collaborative literally wrote the manual on tactical urbanism. "Tactical Urbanism: Short Term Action--Long Term Change, Volume 1," published in 2011, followed just a year later by Volume 2, details several projects taken on by galvanized community members who are willing to get creative for the betterment of their neighborhoods.

Street Plans Collective identifies five characteristics of a tactical urbanism effort:

* A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;

* The offering of local solutions for local planning challenges;

* Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;

* Low risks, with a possibility of high reward; and

* The development of social capital between citizens and the building of organizational capacity between public-private institutions, nonprofits and their constituents.

Today's Tactical Urbanism

Lydon became fascinated by the idea of tactical urbanism while advocating for a ciclovia-type event in Miami-Dade County, where streets are shut down weekly to allow for cyclists, runners, walkers or anyone else to meander in a safe, car-free environment (www.parksandrecreation.org/2013/February / Car-Free,Carefree-Streets). A festive community atmosphere is thus created that integrates so-called "hard infrastructure" in new ways that benefit residents--a perfect example of tactical urbanism.

Street Plans Collaborative calls out several other examples, including Open Streets, Park(ing) Day, guerilla gardening, pop-up retail, food carts/trucks, chair bombing and still others. Many have gained popularity during the past decade or so, as residents, community leaders, planners and business owners realize the potential of practically any urban area as a space for fun, fitness, commerce and unity.

"[With tactical urbanism] you get more public exposure, visibility and participation in demonstration projects," Lydon says. …

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