Tactical Urbanism


First, let me be clear. I am in no way condoning mischief. I am not hinting at, suggesting, nodding to, supporting, begging for, telling, postulating, hypothesizing or making general outlines of shadow puppets that preach doing anything remotely illegal here. I just want to share information about a movement in American small towns called “Tactical Urbanism.”

In a nutshell, it’s a movement focused on the small stuff. Whereas city planners and developers try to make sweeping, impactful changes through large-scale design and construction, Tactical Urbanism seeks to make changes one sidewalk, one street corner, one block at a time. And the results can be exciting and witty. Take, for instance, the covert action of “Chairbombing” – sounds drastic, no?

“Chairbombing” is an action a person takes that includes repurposing discarded wooden pallets into a comfortable loveseat. One then stages the loveseat where needed, and in the case above, it was outside a laundromat that offered no outdoor seating for people waiting on their laundry. From the blog post, it was not made clear whether he first asked the owner of the laundromat if he could “Chairbomb” the business, but it seems that would be the courteous thing to do (plus, it would prevent the owner from destroying an unwanted loveseat the next day).

Tactical Urbanism has the five following characteristics:

  1. A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;
  2. The offering of local solutions for local planning challenges;
  3. Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;
  4. Low-risks, with possibly a high reward; and
  5. The development of social capital between citizens and the building of organizational capacity between public-private institutions, non-profits and their constituents.

In essence, Tactical Urbanism is a movement where people intervene in their own blocks and neighborhoods to create working parts that build a greater whole. In Missoula, I can think of two organized movements that follow most, if not all, of the Tactical Urbanism strategy.

The first is the Sunday Streets Missoula event. Scheduled this year for (Sundays) June 5 and September 11, Sunday Streets Missoula transforms seven blocks of Higgins Avenue into a car-free, open space where pedestrians, cyclists and other human-powered movers take part in recreation, exercise and appreciation of their neighbors, local businesses and streets. Though temporary in nature, the Sunday Streets Missoula events reflect what permanent, human-centered changes could look like in our downtown urban setting.

The second example of Tactical Urbanism I would suggest we have in Missoula is the Green Blocks Pilot Project run by Chase Jones out of the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants. Its three-part goal is to 1) demonstrate home energy savings and bring significant energy-saving home improvements to residents in 300 Missoula homes free of charge to participating homeowners; 2) bring neighbors together and build community; 3) encourage the green economy and create jobs. Each home participating in the Green Blocks program receives an average of $1,500 in energy efficiency upgrades for participating, and in order for homes to be included homeowners must band together to bring nearly everyone on their block in on the project – no easy feat. Again, the Green Blocks program makes small changes in an existing infrastructure for the betterment of the whole – very much like Tactical Urbanism.

So what can you do? What elements of Tactical Urbanism can you instill on your block or in your neighborhood? Is dropping a few “Chairbombs” your style? Or perhaps you’re more into “Guerilla Gardening”? Maybe you have some novel idea that hasn’t been explored yet. Tell us, what kind of change would you like to see in your neighborhood and how can you start it?

Photos courtesy of www.dotankbrooklyn.org and www.guerillagardening.org

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Ryan Newhouse has pedaled through thousands of miles of Missoula’s streets and trails as a commuter, long-distance cyclist, recreationist and former city bicycling ambassador. Although he now works from home, he still uses two feet or two wheels to push or pull himself and his daughter around town.  Back to “Bike It” home page or check out Ryan’s own blog.