Urbanism Books: Tactical Urbanism

The Street Plans Collaborative. (2016). Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Material and Design. Version 1.0. Cover page. [online]. Available at: https://issuu.com/streetplanscollaborative/docs/tu-guide_to_materials_and_design_v1

Author: Rowa Elzain

Upon looking for the book ‘Handmade Urbanism’ by Marcos L. Rosa and UTE E.Weiland, I have stumbled upon an online series of publication titled ‘Tactical Urbanism’. Intrigued by the title, I found myself for the following three weeks in a rabbit hole filled with shared practical stories on public spaces development around the world. Ranging from toolkits, documentation, funding and maintenance schemes, and many other topics one would consider within a small scale public space development, most of these publication are written by The Street Plan Collaborative. This article will focus mainly on an introductory overview from the publications ‘Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Material and Design’ version 1.0 by The Street Plans Collaborative and ‘Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change’ by Mike Lydon & Anthony Garcia. 

What is Tactical Urbanism? One could dissect the phrase and defining it through individual words. ‘Tactical’ an adjective referring ‘of or relating to a manoeuvre or plan of action designed as an expedient toward gaining a desired end or temporary advantage’ (Dictionary.com, 2010). Urbanism refers to the understanding and livelihood of the city inhabitants. Both books therefore define tactical urbanism as ‘an approach to neighbourhood building and the activation using short-term, low-cost, and scalable intervention and policies to catalyse long term change.’ (The Street Plans Collaborative, 2016). Hence, these types of projects can be foreseen as temporary interventions such as pop-up paths, DIY spaces projects, extension of corridors, and many other forms characterised by its’ low budget.

With ‘taking action’ as a key aspect of this approach, this method is sometimes referred to as Planning-by-doing, urban acupuncture, DIY urbanism, and Urban Prototyping. However, it is relevant to highlight the difference between a DIY urbanism, Strategic urbanism, and Tactical urbanism. Do-It-Yourself (DIY) urbanism as a movement of new culture of taking action towards the development of a user-generated product is referred to in urbanism as ‘a spirit of entrepreneurial activism with public art, design, architecture, engineering, technology, and notions of progressive urbanism’ (Lydon M. and Garcia A., 2015. Pp. 6). Although tactical urbanism project can be considered DIY project, not all DIY projects are tactical projects. The difference is highlighted with the aim and goal of the implemented project. In DIY approach, the goal can be achieved with the completion of the project, for example, creating a sitting area in a park could be done with the construction of a bench. However, in tactical projects, the goal is usually larger than the initial step. Hence it requires a series of actions to ensure progression. In addition, tactical urbanism project are mainly within the realm of official and legal projects although DIY could be temporary and unsanctioned.

One could argue that this is also true with strategic planning. In urban planning, the outlining of development strategies refer to the process of defining policies in order to reach a specified goal. These policies are the tools used by city leaders during the implementation process where they would be faced with addition layers of policies and zoning challenges. The traditional method of planning that is known to many can be seen as a slow project that could be disturbed or obstructed by many variables including financial and political aspects to name a few. Therefore, the clear difference between strategic and tactical is the time required for implementation. Quick response with low-cost actions whether it is within the testing phase or an initial step of a series of actions is key for tactical urbanism projects.

As a tool for planning, this approach could be used by all stakeholder within the power pyramid (from top-down or bottom-up). Whether it is used as an introductory project by the city council and municipality, or a test arena by developers and entrepreneur, or advocacy organisation against/resistant act to a proposed development, or finally a respond to a lack/need by the citizen activists and the community. This planning method is a tool for the involving all stakeholders and greater attention to the public along with the bridging of the planning gaps that delay implementation projects. Along these lines of understanding, Jaime Lerner, a former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, describe the necessities of taking actions by all stakeholders regardless of the circumstances by stating:

“The lack of resources is no longer an excuse not to act. The idea that action should only be taken after all the answers and the resources have been found is a sure recipe for paralysis. The planning of a city is a process that allows for correction; it is supremely arrogant to believe that planning can be done only after every possible variable has been controlled.” Jaime Lerner (former Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil)

The time frame of tactical urbanism project is outlined in 4 phases: Demonstration, Pilot, Interim Design, and Long-term/capital (The Street Plans Collaborative, 2016, pp.14). The first phase ‘Demonstration’ ranges from a day to a month for the implementation or showcasing of the project. This phase is usually led by the community or citizens with the lowest budget cost and could be sanctioned or unsanctioned. The three following phases are always sanctioned and include activities that involve the municipalities or government along with the public input. The second and third phase have a month-year and 1-5 years time frame respectively. The final phase is reaching of the aimed goal with a time frame that could range from 5-50 years.

Finally, the Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Material and Design describes the key aspects for the success of tactical urbanism projects which are: A clear understanding of context/need and constraints, outlining clear goals that would be used for the measurement of the project, a team that assist with the legalisation of the project, a collaborative design process that is inclusive, a creative path to material procurement that takes into consideration recyclable material, a flexible implementation plan that includes a ‘troubleshooting’ response to challenges faced on site, a communication plan that ensures that the all stakeholders are informed or the progress and process, funding through partnership/sponsorship/ or crowdfunding, measurement & evaluation are always essential, maintenance plan to ensure the quality of the project for years to come, and finally the follow-up by giving feedback to supporters through data and statistics on the project.

Both books are available online and provide essential steps, advice, and guidelines for individuals or advocacy groups that are interested in taking the development of the neighbourhood into their own hands. Although both books refer to the example carried in the United States of America, yet, key aspects could be extracted as principal or methodological description of how a tactical urbanism project could be carried.



  1. Tactical urbanism can be understood as the active use of public space by citizens to create new and diverse public discourses around urban change.
    Tactical Urbanism

    1. Thank you @Karthik for your comment.
      Would you say that 'Tactical Urbanism' provides the set of tools and strategies to 'citizens to create new and diverse public discourse..' rather than the active use of a public space?


Post a Comment