Tactical urbanism: Why bigger isn’t always better in urban revitalization

A budding urban planning movement that is sprouting in cities across the globe proves that low-cost, small-scale, community-driven projects have the power to effect positive change.

May 27, 2015 |
David Barista
Tactical urbanism: Why bigger isn’t always better in urban revitalization

Each September, as part of Park(ing) Day, citizens, artists, and activists in more than 160 cities collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into micro parks, gardens, and art exhibits. Photo: my.parkingday.org

Anyone who’s walked Chicago’s Millennium Park or New York’s High Line knows the awe-inspiring beauty of these celebrated public spaces is due not to their grand scale, but rather to their tiniest details and charming character—the manicured landscaping, quaint places of respite, tasteful art installations, lush gardens.

The lesson, say city planners, is that it doesn’t take vast acreage or hundreds of millions of dollars to create vibrant, modern public spaces that strengthen the social fabric of a city. In fact, a budding urban planning movement that is sprouting in cities across the globe proves that low-cost, small-scale, community-driven projects have the power to effect positive change.

There are a number of terms used to describe the movement—tactical urbanism, DIY urbanism, urban hacking, guerilla urbanism—and there are countless examples of successful projects and strategies, from street makeovers to pop-up parks to gardening initiatives to public art exhibits.

On the extreme side of the spectrum are projects like the 300-foot-long water slide installed down the middle of a street in Bristol, England, in May 2014 (www.BDCnetwork.com/WaterSlide). Then there’s Park(ing) Day, where citizens, artists, and activists in more than 160 cities collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into micro parks, gardens, and art exhibits.

San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program teams city agencies with community groups to “hack” the city’s streets and public rights-of-way for community uses: sidewalk extensions, parklets, mini plazas, gardens, art walls, bike corrals, alleyway upgrades. The projects may be small, but their collective impact can be significant. Consider this: San Francisco’s streets and public rights-of-way make up 25% of the total land area and represent more space than all the public parks combined.

But not all micro urban remakes are created equal, as urban planner Mike Lydon writes in his four-volume guide to tactical urbanism (http://tacticalurbanismguide.com). For initiatives to serve as true change agents, they must: offer local solutions to local planning problems; develop social capital between citizens, community groups, and government; apply a deliberate, phased approach to instigating change; and offer a short-term, low-risk commitment, with the possibility for high reward. The goal, writes Lydon, is to foster long-term change through high-impact, temporary measures. “Long-term change often starts with the process of trying something small,” he writes.

Speaking of tactical urbanism, BD+C is proud to be partnering this year with Baltimore nonprofit Parks & People Foundation and USGBC National—along with building product manufacturers and a team of architects and contractors from Ziger/Snead Architects and Modular Genius—to build an uber-green training center for Parks & People. Located steps from the organization’s shiny, new LEED Platinum-registered headquarters in Baltimore’s historic Druid Hill Park, the 630-sf Growing Green Center will serve a critical role in Parks & People’s efforts to connect with and train local residents, students, and community groups on how to remake their streets and neighborhoods through landscaping, gardening, and urban infrastructure projects.

The Growing Green Center will be on display at Greenbuild 2015, Washington, D.C., Nov. 18-20, as part of BD+C’s GreenZone exhibit. At the conclusion of the conference, the structure will be trucked 39 miles to Baltimore, where it will become a permanent fixture at Druid Hill Park.

David Barista | BD+C Editors
Building Design+Construction
Editorial Director

David Barista is Editorial Director of Building Design+Construction and BDCnetwork.com, properties that combined reach more than 100,000 commercial building professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners. David has covered the U.S. construction industry for more than a decade, previously serving as Editor-in-Chief of BD+C, Professional Builder, Custom Builder, and HousingZone.com. He has won numerous editorial awards, including six Jesse H. Neal Awards and multiple honors from the Construction Writers Association and the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

Email: dbarista@sgcmail.com

Related Blogs

Illustration: Pixabay

December 30, 2016 | Building Team | BD+C Editors

Women AEC professionals need you to take action. 

Lissette Méndez-Boyer (left) and Natalya Shimanovskaya work on their FABRICation project at Beyer Blinder Belle’s New York office. Photo courtesy BBB

September 06, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

AEC firms are taking a page from the tech industry, by infusing a deep commitment to innovation and disrupt...

Intel Co-founders (l. to r.): Andrew Grove, Robert Noyce, and Gordon Moore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons   

June 27, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

“Sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change.” The late Andrew Grove (1936-20...

Photo: Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis , U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons; photo filter via BeFunky.com

May 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

As buildings become increasingly connected, opportunistic hackers have countless avenues into a building’s...

Lexus RX 450h self-driving car. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

May 09, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

Despite popular belief, the country is not in a great age of technological and digital innovation, at least...

Deep Learning + AI: How machines are becoming master problem solvers

The world’s top Go player Lee Sedol puts the first stone against Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo during the third match of the Google DeepMind Challenge match in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Reuters/Google/Yonhap

March 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

Besides revolutionary changes to the world’s workforce, artificial intelligence could have a profound impac...

Yotel, New York City. Photo: JasonParis, flickr creative commons

March 09, 2016 | Hotel Facilities | BD+C EditorsRobert Cassidy, Executive Editor

Hotels are going for a new minimalist look to attract younger guests, but some older business travelers don...

Is the booming freelance economy a threat to AEC firms?

Photo: Pixabay

February 24, 2016 | Architects | BD+C Editors

By shifting the work (and revenue) to freelancers, “platform capitalism” startups have taken considerable m...

How the Fourth Industrial Revolution will alter the globe’s workforce

Photo: Pixabay

January 26, 2016 | BIM and Information Technology | BD+C Editors

The next great technological metamorphosis will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before, due to...

Potential vs. credential: How men and women differ in career progress

Courtesy Pixabay

January 05, 2016 | Architects | BD+C EditorsDavid Barista, Editorial Director

Recent research suggests that women face yet another career impediment: the confidence gap.

Overlay Init