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city planning

Posted June 25, 2012

Tactical Urbanism

Mumford & Sons 1
We at Rocville like to share cool ideas, especially regarding improving our urban cityscape. All over the country, there are genuine planner-activists. These are professional planners who approach urban change in an immediate, people-oriented manner. They encourage local populations to look at open, unused or underused space and apply their ideas to how the space might be changed to enhance their lives and neighborhoods. This process is known as “tactical urbanism.”

A recent article in The Atlantic Cities described it this way: “Guerilla gardening, Pavement To Parks, Open streets: These are all urban interventions of a sort – quick, often temporary, cheap projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable. These types of projects have grown in popularity in recent years, and they even have a new name: tactical urbanism, as in tactics used to improve the urban environment. These tactics tend to be replicable across cities, and in certain instances have become worldwide phenomena.”

These tactics tend to be replicable across cities, and in certain instances have become worldwide phenomena.

Tactical Urbanism is a hit (see it at work recently in Rochester with the Pedestrian Proximity Campaign.) The idea has caught the imagination and support of municipal planners. There is a tremendous opportunity to save money by allowing organic ideas and efforts to flourish. It permits a “test park” to be born in places where it would be difficult for a local government to designate. When the people in the neighborhood convert a dead end, unused parking lot, vacant lot, or excess parking space to a temporary use for an art show, local concert, farmers market, shared garden or simply a gathering spot like a regular park, the municipality is giving a free test drive of the idea. No Planning Board meetings, no environmental assessments or traffic reports needed. The space is simply converted and used. If it’s successful and stable then the municipality is in a far easier position for taking the necessary actions to make the improvement permanent.

In addition, these conversions are usually inexpensive. They may only require some seating, a kiosk and some landscaping. Often they require no more than simple traffic barriers, paint and signage. Viola! A new local green space and park!

This approach is working. Philadelphia has essentially institutionalized the process implementing an approach called, “Placemaking.” (RocVille featured both a news piece and a blog post a couple weeks ago about a placemaking project here in Rochester -- BoulevART in the Highland Park neighborhood.) A group named PlanPhilly reported on recent progress, “With a few more parklets promised for this summer, and a couple of pedestrian plazas designed to return slivers of wide streets to walkers, Philadelphia is making, er, inroads on its continued battle with cars. Those announcements, along with an avowed commitment to bringing bike share to the city, were the biggest takeaways from Monday night's ... presentation "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper"... the good news was delivered by Andrew Stober, chief of staff for the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities.”

The biggest news in Philly however is The Porch, a new pedestrian area outside of 30th Street Train Station. Unveiled in November 2011, The Porch is a 40-foot section of sidewalk between the station and Market St. outfitted with tables, chairs, new vegetation, and ... potential. It’s worth noting that this installation is in the middle of the second busiest train station stop in the COUNTRY, with an estimated average of 1800 people per hour walking by! The porch offers pedestrians a space to sit and relax for a moment, maybe eat their lunch. Future ideas include yoga sessions, public performances and farmers markets. In Philly they refer to tactical urbanization as "crowdsourcing" ideas.

Chicago has been very active in this kind of planning as well. A June 7 article in the Chicago Sun Times reported, “Designated Chicago streets, alleys, plazas and parking lanes may soon be painted blue with campy white footprints and filled with public seating, music, farmer’s markets and other seasonal activities. Determined to promote economic development and make Chicago streets safer for pedestrians, Mayor Rahm Emanuel got the ball rolling Wednesday on an innovative program he calls, “Make Way for People.” Make Way for People has four initiatives: “PEOPLE SPOTS: These are “temporary decks,” roughly 50 feet long and seven feet wide that remove parking spots and replace them with public seating during the spring, summer and early fall; PEOPLE STREETS: These are streets with ‘excess asphalt.’ These might be wide streets that are narrowed, converted dead end streets or a newly created cul-de-sac; PEOPLE PLAZAS: plazas and malls in various states of upkeep that could be ‘activated’ to create space for farmers markets and other retail opportunities: PEOPLE ALLEYS: During evening hours (when) Chicago alleys are not used tables and chairs could be put out for a few hours with live music or art exhibitions.

In San Francisco the city has initiated the “Pavement to Parks” program. According to the city planning website, “Many of our streets are excessively wide and contain large zones of wasted space, especially at intersections. San Francisco’s new “Pavement to Parks” projects seek to temporarily reclaim these unused swathes and quickly and inexpensively turn them into new public plazas and parks. During the temporary closure, the success of these plazas will be evaluated to understand what adjustments need to be made in the short term, and ultimately, whether the temporary closure should be a long term community investment.”

Cool. Tactical Urbanisation is here to stay. In fact, the handbook for it has just published its second volume!

These ideas and proposals are very exciting. They are grassroots in nature, explicit to the neighborhood, inexpensive and fast. We know there are lots of hip and wise people in the planning and activist community in Rochester and would love to hear more about these types of projects in our area so we can highlight them and help them succeed! Let us know if you are involved with a project either via comment or by contacting us directly.


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