Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change

Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change


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In the twenty-first century, cities worldwide must respond to a growing and diverse population, ever-shifting economic conditions, new technologies, and a changing climate. Short-term, community-based projects—from pop-up parks to open streets initiatives—have become a powerful and adaptable new tool of urban activists, planners, and policy-makers seeking to drive lasting improvements in their cities and beyond. These quick, often low-cost, and creative projects are the essence of the Tactical Urbanism movement. Whether creating vibrant plazas seemingly overnight or re-imagining parking spaces as neighborhood gathering places, they offer a way to gain public and government support for investing in permanent projects, inspiring residents and civic leaders to experience and shape urban spaces in a new way.
Tactical Urbanism, written by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, two founders of the movement, promises to be the foundational guide for urban transformation. The authors begin with an in-depth history of the Tactical Urbanism movement and its place among other social, political, and urban planning trends. A detailed set of case studies, from guerilla wayfinding signs in Raleigh, to pavement transformed into parks in San Francisco, to a street art campaign leading to a new streetcar line in El Paso, demonstrate the breadth and scalability of tactical urbanism interventions. Finally, the book provides a detailed toolkit for conceiving, planning, and carrying out projects, including how to adapt them based on local needs and challenges.
Tactical Urbanism will inspire and empower a new generation of engaged citizens, urban designers, land use planners, architects, and policymakers to become key actors in the transformation of their communities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610915267
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 03/17/2015
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 849,460
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Mike Lydon is Principal of The Street Plans Collaborative. An internationally recognized planner, he was a co-author of The Smart Growth Manual and the creator and primary author of the reports “The Open Streets Project” and “Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action, Long-Term Change” Vol.1 and Vol. 2. He serves as a Board Member for Center for a New American Dream and CNU New York, and is an advisor for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. He works and speaks globally on smart growth, livable cities, active transportation, and tactical urbanism.
Anthony Garcia is Principal of The Street Plans Collaborative. A leader in civic advocacy in South Florida, he was Managing Editor and Publisher of TransitMiami.com, an award-winning blog dedicated to planning and transportation in South Florida. He was also Project Director for six years at the firm of Chael Cooper & Associates Architects. He serves as part-time faculty at the University of Miami School of Architecture and is a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Read an Excerpt

Tactical Urbanism

Short-term Action for Long-term Change

By Mike Lydon, Anthony Garcia


Copyright © 2015 The Streets Plans Collaborative, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-526-7



The lack of resources is no longer an excuse not to act. The idea that action should only be taken after all of the answers and the resources have been found is a sure recipe for paralysis. The planning of a city is a process that allows for corrections; it is supremely arrogant to believe that planning can be done only after every variable has been controlled.


Architect, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil

If you visited Times Square on the Friday before Memorial Day in 2009, you, along with approximately 350,000 others, would have found a hostile urban environment. Walking into the district, you'd find the famed public space dominated by trucks spewing noxious fumes, impatient taxis blaring horns, and cars turning across your feet despite a pedestrian signal in your favor. You'd lament the false advertising: Times Square is not a square at all but a traffic-clogged bowtie wound tightly around midtown Manhattan's bulging neck. It's likely you never would have found a momentary reprieve from the chaos to observe what draws so many tourists there in the first place: the energy, the bright lights of Broadway, the spectacle of it all.

Yet if you returned after the same Memorial Day weekend, you would have experienced a very different place. The sidewalks, still full of life, would be noticeably less congested. The noise from the street would no longer seem as deafening. And to your astonishment, you would discover hundreds of people smiling, chatting, and taking photographs while they sat in foldable lawn chairs placed in the middle of the street. With space to look up and around to admire the lights you would realize that the new and somewhat makeshift public space is where, just days before, cars and trucks battered all senses. Even if you didn't know the term, you would have just discovered the power and potential of Tactical Urbanism.

What Is Tactical Urbanism?

Merriam-Webster's defines tactical as "of or relating to small-scale actions serving a larger purpose" or "adroit in planning or maneuvering to accomplish a purpose." Translated to cities, Tactical Urbanism is an approach to neighborhood building and activation using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies. Tactical Urbanism is used by a range of actors, including governments, business and nonprofits, citizen groups, and individuals. It makes use of open and iterative development processes, the efficient use of resources, and the creative potential unleashed by social interaction. It is what Professor Nabeel Hamdi calls making plans without the usual preponderance of planning. In many ways, Tactical Urbanism is a learned response to the slow and siloed conventional city building process. For citizens, it allows the immediate reclamation, redesign, or reprogramming of public space. For developers or entrepreneurs, it provides a means of collecting design intelligence from the market they intend to serve. For advocacy organizations, it is a way to show what is possible to garner public and political support. And for government, it's a way to put best practices into, well, practice—and quickly!

Because the places people inhabit are never static, Tactical Urbanism doesn't propose one-size-fits-all solutions but intentional and flexible responses. The former remains the fixation of numerous and overlapping disciplines in the urban development fields, which assume that most variables affecting cities can be controlled now and into the distant future. The latter rejects this notion and embraces the dynamism of cities. This reframing invites a new conversation about local resiliency and helps cities and citizens together explore a more nuanced and nimble approach to citymaking, one that can envision long-term transformation but also adjust as conditions inevitably change. How this is done effectively is a focus of this book.

Of course we recognize that not all city-building efforts lend themselves to the tactical approaches we outline in this book; we don't advocate using temporary materials to pilot-test bridges or prototype skyscrapers. When done well, large-scale projects can be catalytic, if not iconic. The value of Tactical Urbanism is in breaking through the gridlock of what we call the Big Planning process (a nod to author Nicco Mele's End of Big thesis, which we'll explore further in chapter 3) with incremental projects and policies that can be adjusted on the fly while never losing sight of long-term and large-scale goals.

Tactical Urbanism can be used to initiate new places or help repair existing ones. For example, when Boston's $22 billion "Big Dig" buried the Central Artery expressway and made room for the 15-acre Rose Kennedy Greenway, the new public green space needed to be activated. In a 2010 editorial, the Boston Globe asserted, "What could be a monument to Boston's collective spirit is instead a victim of the region's parochial rhythms." Architecture critic Robert Campbell put it this way: "There are things to look at but nothing to do." In response to his critique, and many others, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy began activating the forlorn spaces; demonstration gardens, street art, food trucks, and low-cost movable tables and chairs have breathed new life into the greenway. These low-cost modifications were never part of the master plan per se but demonstrate that improving otherwise lifeless public spaces need not cost millions of dollars.

Tactical Urbanism is not alone in its use of lower-cost, iterative development processes. The manufacturing industry, for example, often holds up the famed Toyota Way, which uses a continuous improvement process to achieve long-term goals. Similarly, tech entrepreneurs look to the tenets of The Lean Start-Up, which is a product development method advocating rapid prototyping as the inception of the deliberately agile "Build—Measure—Learn" product development cycle. The idea is that each revolution quickly improves on the last until a product is ready for the market, if only in beta form. These concepts have gained currency in other professional disciplines including urban planning. We'll explore how these ideas relate to the development of neighborhoods in chapters 2 and 5.

Through our research and work, we have identified a burgeoning catalogue of Tactical Urbanism projects that respond to outdated policies and planning processes with innovative transportation, open space, and small-scale building initiatives. These projects often result from the direct participation of citizens in the creation and activation of their neighborhood, or the creative work of formal entities, such as nonprofits, developers, and government. Collectively, they demonstrate time and again that short-term action can create long-term change.

Tactical Urbanism is frequently applied to what urban sociologist William "Holly" Whyte called the "huge reservoir of space yet untapped by imagination." Today's reservoirs—vacant lots, empty storefronts, overly wide streets, highway underpasses, surface parking lots, and other underused public spaces—remain prominent in our towns and cities and have become the targets of entrepreneurs, artists, forward-thinking government officials, and civic-minded "hacktivists." Such groups increasingly view the city as a laboratory for testing ideas in real time, and their actions have led to a variety of creative and entrepreneurial initiatives realized in the rise of food trucks, pop-up stores, better block initiatives, chair bombing, parklets, shipping container markets, do-it-yourself (DIY) bike lanes, guerrilla gardens, and other hallmarks of the Tactical Urbanism movement. These interventions were never anticipated by a master plan but provide a needed dose of whimsy and also help users and passersby not only envision a different future but experience it too. And therein lies the seductive power of Tactical Urbanism: It creates tactile proposals for change instead of plans or computer-generated renderings that remain abstract.

DIY Urbanism Versus Tactical Urbanism

Life hacking. Making. The End of Expertise. The Pinterest or Ikea effect. Whatever you want to call it, the resurgence of DIY culture is a well-documented phenomenon with analogues in the built environment. DIY urbanism includes pop-up urbanism, user-generated urbanism, insurgent urbanism, guerrilla urbanism, and urban hacking. DIY urbanism blends a spirit of entrepreneurial activism with public art, design, architecture, engineering, technology, and notions of progressive urbanism.

So how do all these urbanisms relate to the one that is the subject of this book? It's simple: Not all DIY urbanism efforts are tactical, and not all Tactical Urbanism initiatives are DIY. For example, the international practice of yarnbombing (the crocheting of street signs, bike racks, statues, and so on) is a colorful DIY act bringing creativity (and possibly mildew) to any streetscape, yet it is not usually intended to instigate long-term change, such as revising an outdated policy or responding to a deficiency of infrastructure. We might describe it as a type of street art or opportunistic placemaking but not Tactical Urbanism.

DIY Urbanism is the expression of the individual, or at most a small group of actors, which can also describe Tactical Urbanism. However, we cannot ignore that Tactical Urbanism may also be initiated by municipal departments, government, developers, and nonprofit organizations to test ideas or enact change without delay. Although these initiatives often begin with smaller citizen advocacy efforts, the benefits of Tactical Urbanism become clearer as they are integrated into the municipal project delivery process and capably brought to neighborhoods across the city.

Contrary to its occasional portrayal as a youthful and somewhat renegade movement, Tactical Urbanism does not consist solely of unsanctioned activity carried out under the cloak of night. Although there are compelling examples of "do tanks" (as opposed to think tanks) and "urban repair squads" brandishing cans of spray paint and repurposed shipping pallets to subvert sluggish bureaucracies, Tactical Urbanism projects exist along a spectrum of legality. For example, the painting of "guerrilla crosswalks" by neighborhood residents belongs on the unsanctioned side of the spectrum and the New York City Department of Transportation's placement of lawn chairs in a car-free Times Square on the sanctioned side. No matter the instigator, the appeal of Tactical Urbanism is that people often can't tell the difference between the sanctioned and unsanctioned projects and simply appreciate the human-centered approach at the heart of this burgeoning movement.

Strategies Versus Tactics

Commonly associated with military operations, strategies and tactics are valuable terms for city building. In urban planning, strategy is developed through master planning key policy or infrastructure advancements to obtain social, environmental, and/or economic goals. Accomplishing the goal of reduced car dependency, for example, requires a strategy that may include a range of policy changes, like allowing density to increase near transit stations. The strategy is made clear through the planning process, adopted by city leaders, and then ideally moved to implementation through achieving key objectives such as zoning changes allowing for more density.

Although this approach does work in certain contexts, entrenched interests remain recalcitrant, outdated policy barriers stymie progress, and leadership voids leave well-considered plans, and their strategies, on the shelf. This is why strategy formulation is only half the battle. Planners, developers, and advocates alike need tactics that help grease the wheels for implementation from the inside out and the outside in. In this way, our understanding of tactics departs from the observations of oft-cited urbanist and French philosopher Michel de Certeau.

In his seminal The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau argues that strategies are the formal tool of the powerful (government), and tactics serve as the response of the weak (citizens). Those wielding the former are constantly in competition with those advancing the latter. The dialectic is relevant to anyone interested in observing how ordinary people alter the form or use of the built environment to serve their ever-changing needs. Sometimes referred to as bricolage, this informal process of small-scale citymaking gives neighborhoods character and is the subject of inquiry by academics interested in what's called "Everyday Urbanism."

Our view is that governments can—and should—work more tactically, just as citizens can learn to work more strategically. Strategies and tactics are therefore of equal value and should be used in concert with each other. Sure, the two are often found to be pursuing different goals, but we're more interested in how they can be used together to move our cities forward. We believe Tactical Urbanism is one tool to do so and can proactively address the tension between bottom-up and top-down processes by creating a better and more responsive environment for all. How this may be done is outlined in chapter 5.

How to Reach More People and How More People Can Reach You

Whether trying to achieve more transportation options, increase access to public space, or provide a more comfortable public realm for all, the pursuit of equity is often a focus for Tactical Urbanism projects. Of course, equity is contextual and broad and can be difficult to define; what might be considered fair and equal for one group may not be considered as such for another.

Still, when it comes to providing equal opportunities for a wider range of people to participate in public decision making, many well-intentioned and functionally open urban planning processes tend to appeal to a particular demographic of people: those who are educated, maintain an interest in civic issues, and, most importantly, have spare time. Finding ways to engage the young, old, disenfranchised, and uninterested is not as easy. We've certainly struggled with it in our consulting projects.

Although public planning initiatives will never come close to obtaining 100 percent participation, well-executed Tactical Urbanism projects are one way to bring planning proposals and concepts to a wider audience (see Davis Square example later in this chapter). Rather than ask people to come to City Hall on a Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m., proposals developed at City Hall should be brought to where people already are and tested for viability. In chapter 3, we discuss further the limitations of public involvement processes and the role Tactical Urbanism can play in widening the scope.


We have already mentioned a variety of actors who may use Tactical Urbanism and a wide range of goals that interventions may help these actors reach. The following three applications are the ones that we have found to be the most common.

• Initiated by citizens to bypass the conventional project delivery process and cut through municipal bureaucracy by protesting, prototyping, or visually demonstrating the possibility of change. This activity represents citizens exercising their "right to the city."

• As a tool for city government, developers or nonprofits to more broadly engage the public during project planning, delivery, and development processes.

• As a "phase 0" early implementation tool used by cities or developers to test projects before a long-term investment is made.


Excerpted from Tactical Urbanism by Mike Lydon, Anthony Garcia. Copyright © 2015 The Streets Plans Collaborative, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Andrés Duany

Chapter 1: Disturbing the Order of Things
Chapter 2: Inspirations and Antecedents of Tactical Urbanism
Chapter 3: The Next American City and the Rise of Tactical Urbanism
Chapter 4: Of Cities and Citizens: Five Tactical Urbanism Stories
Chapter 5:  A Tactical Urbanism How-To

Conclusion: Go Out and Use This Book!

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