Similar in concept and purpose to urban acupuncture, a planning term which we described in a previous edition of Explainer, 'tactical urbanism' aims to visually and socially improve neighbourhoods and gathering places through the implementation of inexpensive and temporary changes to the built environment. Also known as guerrilla urbanism, pop-up urbanism, and D.I.Y. urbanism, these deliberate physical interventions have the power to transform perceptions and reveal the potential of public spaces.

Toronto's Open Streets festival celebrates pedestrians and cyclists, image by Marcus Mitanis

Like the term sneckdown, tactical urbanism developed its formal name in the last decade. Attributed to New York-based urban planner Mike Lydon, tactical urbanism is an umbrella term used to describe a host of both government-driven and government-defying improvements to the city fabric. Several cities in North America, including Toronto, Edmonton and Denver, have seen renegade bicycle lanes introduced to their streets as a form of activism. In several cases, these rogue installations have erupted as a means to promote road safety following cyclist injuries or deaths. 

A guerrilla bike lane appears in Toronto, image by Flickr user James Schwartz via Creative Commons

Temporary interventions can showcase the possible future of each space. In New York City, a 2009 pilot project introduced an assemblage of lawn chairs to the notoriously congested Times Square under the advocacy of Janette Sadik-Khan, then Commissioner of the Department of Transportation. The project proved to be a hit, with city-wide polls supporting a permanent reconfiguration of the space. Today, pedestrians own a swath of busy Manhattan between Broadway and 7th Avenue and 42nd and 47th Streets, and a slew of other urban implants by Sadik-Khan have brought additional pedestrian malls, plazas, and bicycle lanes to the city.

Times Square now boasts a large pedestrian zone, image by Flickr user 红岗 郑 via Creative Commons

Tactical urbanism projects, which usually begin as grassroots installations, drastically vary in size, scope, and budget. Introducing seating, gardening, and food carts to under-utilized spaces helps beautify neglected areas of the city. Some tactical urbanists will even take steps to remove unsightly barriers to the public enjoyment of spaces by cutting down fences and transforming pavement into green space. With the world population increasingly congregating in cities, planners and elected officials will need to respond to the growing needs of their residents, who are demanding parks and vibrant gathering places. These small-scale projects, even if unsanctioned by the government, can catalyze the type of change needed to bring animation and vigour to overlooked neighbourhoods.

Portlanders enjoy an urban living room on the street, image by Flickr user kai.bates via Creative Commons

Have any other construction and development terms that you would like to see featured on Explainer? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.