Book Review

Tactical Urbanism

Short Term Action for Long Term Change
Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia

Tactical Urbanism emerges from two changes in the US, the Great Depression and the Great Inversion – the return of communities to the urban downtown. It is in reaction to witnessing conventional projects subject to the ‘slow grind of well intentioned process of public engagement; bloated, difficult, expensive, ineffective and vulnerable to political mood swings’ that the authors frame ‘personal advocacy’ projects to bring about immediate, albeit small changes.

They show how, by starting small and live-testing projects, it is possible to achieve the support of communities and eventually town halls, delivering bottom-up and top-down transformational projects, that can bring about sustainable quality of life changes in the here and now. Typically, the projects described begin with taking ideas to the streets that meet resistance and eventually approbation, leading to the ‘scaling up’ of these ideas by their replication through ‘open sourcing’ and/or by informing a strategic shift in policy. Tactical Urbanism does have parallels with the ‘meanwhile’ movement but here tactics are given emphasis rather than the effect.

This is a movement of people critically and constructively engaged in their cities, bringing design thinking directly to bear in an innovative and inspiring way. Projects like the Bogota Ciclovía, a 120km linear park made from the temporary closure of streets, the guerilla way-finding Walk [Your City] in North Carolina, or Bristol’s Playing Out exemplify a strategic retrofit of city infrastructure by the coordination of a set of adjustments.

With this book, Lydon and Garcia are ‘scaling up’ knowledge accumulated from their empirically honed approach to urban design theory. They identify diverse historical precedents, from opportunistic bookstalls on the banks of the Seine in 17th century Paris, to the artist Bonnie Ora Sherk’s Portable Architecture installations in 1960s San Francisco. Their own work as The Street Plans Collaborative and that of those they cite have a generosity and spiritedness about them.

Since 2011 four volumes on Tactical Urbanism have been published online, two from North America, one from Latin America and one from Australia/New Zealand. This is the distillation of those four volumes, together with a refined and extended account of How To develop a Tactical Urbanism project. It makes a useful source book for students and practitioners and offers encouragement to anyone passionate about design, demonstrating ways to put creative processes at the heart of urban transformation.

URBAN DESIGN 137 Winter 2016 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 137 Winter 2016

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Tactical Urbanism Publication Urban Design Group
Island Press
Reviewed By
Juliet Bidgood