June 13 2013

Guerrilla Planning From the Bottom Up: Tactical Urbanism at the Congress for the New Urbanism’s CNU21

Mike Lydon

Mike Lydon, The Street Plans Collaborative

Mike Lydon, Principal at The Street Plans Collaborative, opened the session with, “It’s time to redesign the project delivery process… to make urbanism legal again.”

He suggested that those who wish to see change should set-up a mock up of your desired redesign with traffic cones. This cone redesign hopes to promote the installation of pedestrian bump-outs. However, police have been known to “crack down” on these installations:

Tactical Urbanism poster by Matt Jelly.

He ended his portion of the session by sharing his mantra, “This is me. This is you. This is we.”

Charles Marohne of Strong Towns

Charles (Chuck) Marohne, Strong Towns

Chuck Marohne, Executive Director of Strong Towns, began his presentation by essentially asking why we fund projects regardless of public support. He said that oftentimes, a community’s decision makers and major players decide that something must be done and simply do it without taking public input into consideration. This just irritates the citizens because when they finally get word of it, it’s been put into motion. They read about this project in the newspaper and by that time all the citizens can focus on is the price tag.

He concluded by saying that he believes that the small investments offer the largest returns. Crosswalks, trees, and other small projects are extremely worthwhile to him.

Demetri Baches

Demetri Baches, Metrocology

Demetri Baches, a Managing Partner at Metrocology, got to briefly make note that he encourages practitioner/citizen discourse over practitioner/practitioner discourse. He said that we need to perform a destruction of the processes that have been used since the post-war era. “The bottom-up needs to meet a receptive top-down,” in reference to the coexistence of the tactical and traditional means of creating urban change.

Michael Mehaffy of the Sustasis Foundation

Michael Mehaffy, Sustasis Foundation

Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director at the Sustasis Foundation, briefly reinforced the presence of the “Pattern Language.” He described it as, “A web way of thinking and a web way of acting,” and as a network of relationships. Mehaffy rhetorically asked, “How does nature do it?” He responded to himself, noting that nature does not “put all of its eggs in one basket,” is able to adapt nimbly, and has the capacity to self-organize.

Howard Blackson of PlaceMakers

Howard Blackson, PlaceMakers

Howard Blackson, Principal and Planning Director at PlaceMakers, made observations about all of the different jobs that must be done on any given street and how many different offices and departments those jobs represent. He said that he’d like the public and private interface under one district, but that isn’t possible.

One audience member, with whom Blackson spoke with afterward, shared that in her city, there are “downtown rangers.” They’re essentially volunteers who serve as liaisons between the public and the city. Lost? Found a broken pipe? Trash can overflowing? Precarious tree branch making you nervous? Tell a “downtown ranger” and they’ll either help you directly or relay the observation to the people responsible for getting it fixed.

Bruce Donnelly

Bruce Donnelly, Independent Planner

Bruce Donnelly, an independent urban planner, explained his concept of the urban tissue. First, the public sector must connect the major centers of activity. Then the private sector shall develop the “back land” behind the housing lots. Then, connect the backs of the lots and create blocks out of them. He was unsure of whether this is a public, private, or even spiritual responsibility at the time of the presentation. Break-through routes would be the public’s responsibility.

He finally argued that the urban blood flow is attenuated by going around corners.

Mark Nickita

Mark Nickita, Archive Design Studio

Mark Nickita, Mayor of the City of Birmingham, Michigan and President of Archive Design Studio, is on a mission: he wants to reimagine and rebrand the historic “Rust Belt” as the “Lake Belt.”

His presentation was aptly named, “Living in the Lake Belt: Rethinking and Leveraging the Assets of Place.” He said that leveraging assets simply means creating greater economic opportunities and to create unique places.

Here’s a few of the Lake Belt’s assets:

  • Water and Resources
  • Education and Universities
  • Healthcare and Research
  • Sustainability
  • Density and Efficiency
  • Proximity to Other Cities
  • Climate Allows for all 4 Seasons

The majority of the megaregion continues to hold onto its historic buildings. Cultural institutions, symphonies, and art galleries are abundant in the Lake Belt. However, old homes, manufacturing buildings, and old travel corridors need to be improved.

“Torontonians don’t let winter bring them down: they embrace winter!” said Nickita, referring to the usual complaint that it’s too cold in the Lake Belt.

For those who are looking to follow the “leveraging assets” approach, he suggests these first steps:

  • Identify and qualify your assets
  • Connect to the larger good/whole
  • Focus on unique characteristics

Nickita encouraged the audience to look beyond the past. “Don’t look back at the past and say, ‘We need to go back there,’ or, ‘We wish we were there,’ or, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to 1950?’ We need to make places for the future.”

Do you think a tactical urbanism, or “bottom-up” approach is an effective method of planning? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments below!

Credit: Images and references linked to sources.

Aascot Holt

Aascot Holt is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University, pursuing a major in Urban and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography. She will graduate in the spring of 2013. She is from Stevenson, WA and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a brick 1936 kit house. She is most intrigued by small-city and small town planning, parks and recreation planning, long-range planning, and historic preservation. She hopes to continue her habit of being involved with many planning projects at a time, and fears being pigeonholed. Aascot maintains the “Being A Planning Student” Tumblr as well as her planning-centric blog, The Comprehensive. She is currently writing Cheney, WA’s entirely new comprehensive parks, recreation, and trails plan, completely pro bono. More can be learned about her endeavors via LinkedIn.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 13th, 2013 at 9:15 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Guerrilla Planning From the Bottom Up: Tactical Urbanism at the Congress for the New Urbanism’s CNU21”

  1. Alice Hutton Says:

    I was hoping that guerrilla planning for the bottom up would look a little more diverse. We talk about the ‘public’, just wish our profession reflected the “public” a bit more. Glad to see the author brings a bit of gender equity to the post.

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