Smart Growth World Blog


Talking Tactical Urbanism at Brownfields 2015

By Cristina Davia

PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks, like pictured above

PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where tactical urbanists transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

Tactical urbanism is a low-cost, community-led approach to create immediate change in a community, whether to enliven a particular location or address another pressing need. Tactical urbanism is an umbrella term that refers to changes to the built environment to improve neighborhoods and public gathering spaces. Oftentimes, instances of tactical urbanism begin as a temporary modification but lead to more permanent improvements and spur economic development.

At the 2015 Brownfields Training Conference, Isaac Kremer, the Executive Director of Discover Downtown Middlesboro, Inc.; Sharon Yazowski, the Executive Director of Levitt Pavilions; and Della Rucker, the Managing Editor of EngagingCities and Principal of the Wise Economy Workshop, explained how tactical urbanism can be an important driving force for building a community’s economy, and provided information on resources that can help get communities started on a project.

“How do you increase the odds of businesses opening up in disinvested urban areas?” Rucker asked. “Tactical urbanism can be the answer,” she said.

Tactical urbanism has a ripple effect across a community. When you take an under-utilized space like a vacant lot and you turn it into a pop-up park or a farmers market, it brings people to that space and helps people see the benefits of the improvements.

Temporary enhancements can inspire permanent change and spur the development of new restaurants and stores, and create higher foot traffic, Yazowski said.

Yazowski directs Levitt Pavilions, a nonprofit organization that strengthens communities by using the power of free, live music.

The Carroll Creek Park Ampitheater in Frederick, Maryland, was supported by Levitt AMP

The Carroll Creek Park Amphitheater in Frederick, Maryland, was supported by Levitt AMP

The Levitt AMP matching grant program demonstrates the power of placemaking by creating permanent outdoor concert pavilions, each of which presents over 50 concerts annually.

This approach to reinvigorating vacant spaces encourages social gathering and interacting in vibrant public spaces. Free concerts bring foot traffic to downtown areas and attract people to local businesses.

Tactical urbanism requires a shift in the way people think about urban planning.

“Rather than wait for community leaders and government to make improvements to a community, tactical urbanists ask, ‘What do we want for our community?’,” Kremer said. “It’s about bringing planning to the people, it’s working from the inside out.”

Attendees at the conference session cited examples of tactical urbanism in their communities like turning bus shelters into works of art, using their own white paint to make crosswalks where necessary, creating popup parks and recycling pallets to turn them into chairs for the public.

The possibilities are limitless, and the movement is leaderless. The basic concept of tactical urbanism is a low-cost, grassroots approach to community improvement.

NEA's Our Town Grant supported this project to activate vacant space in Dallas, Texas

NEA’s Our Town Grant supported this project to activate vacant space in Dallas, Texas

To learn more about tactical urbanism, Kremer suggested reading Mike Lydon’s book “Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change.”

Other grants that support tactical urbanism projects are the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town Grant, and the Project for Public Spaces and Southwest Airlines’ Heart of the Community Grant Program.