Tactical urbanism

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Since 2012, Montreal has closed Saint Catherine Street to traffic and animated the pedestrian zone with overhanging pink resin balls. This temporary transformation of a street is a type of tactical urbanism.

Tactical urbanism is an umbrella term used to describe a collection of low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places.[1] Tactical urbanism is also commonly referred to as guerilla urbanism, pop-up urbanism, city repair, or D.I.Y. urbanism.[2]


The Street Plans Collaborative defines "tactical urbanism" as an approach to urban change that features the following five characteristics:[2]

  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 a possibly 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.


The term was coined circa 2010 to describe a range of existing techniques. It is attributed to New York-based urban planner Mike Lydon.[3] The tactical urbanist movement takes inspiration from urban experiments including Ciclovía, Paris-Plages,[4] and the introduction of plazas and pedestrian malls in New York city during the tenure of Janette Sadik-Khan as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.[5]

Tactical urbanism formally emerged as a movement following a meeting of the Next Generation of New Urbanist (CNU NextGen) group in November 2010 in New Orleans. A driving force of the movement is to put the onus back on individuals to take personal responsibility in creating sustainable buildings, streets, neighborhoods, and cities. Following the meeting, an open source project called Tactical Urbanism: Short TermAction | Long Term Change was developed by a group from NextGen to define Tactical Urbanism and to promote various interventions to improve urban design and promote positive change in neighbourhoods and communities.[6]

In 1984, the English translation of The Practice of Everyday Life by Frenchman Michel de Certeau did not use the term "tactical urbanism" to describe events that occurred in 1968 in Paris.[7] Certeau described tactical urbanism in opposition to "strategic urbanism", although the modern usage tends not to make this distinction.

The Project for Public Spaces uses the phrase "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper," coined by urban designer Eric Reynolds, to describe the same basic approach expressed by tactical urbanism.[8]

Types of interventions[edit]

Tactical urbanism projects vary significantly in scope, size, budget, and support. Projects often begin as grassroots interventions and spread to other cities and are in some cases adopted by municipal governments as best practices. A list of common interventions are listed below.

Better block initiatives[edit]

Temporarily transforming retail streets using cheap or donated materials and volunteers. Spaces are transformed by introducing food carts, sidewalk tables, temporary bike lanes and narrowing of streets.[9]

Chair bombing[edit]

The act of removing salvageable materials and using it to build public seating. The chairs are placed in areas that either are quiet or lack comfortable places to sit.


The act of removing unnecessary fences to break down barriers between neighbours, beautify communities, and encourage community building.[10]


The act of removing unnecessary pavement to transform driveways and parking into green space so that rainwater can be absorbed and neighbourhoods beautified.[11]

Food carts/trucks[edit]

Food carts and trucks are used to attract people to underused public spaces and offer small business opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Guerilla gardening[edit]

Guerrilla gardening is the act of gardening on land that the gardeners do not have the legal rights to utilize, such as abandoned sites, areas not being cared for, or private property.

Open Streets[edit]

To temporarily provide safe spaces for walking, bicycling, skating, and social activities; promote local economic development; and raise awareness about the impact of cars in urban spaces. 'Open Streets' is an anglicized term for the South American 'Ciclovia', which originated in Bogota.

PARK(ing) Day[edit]

An annual event where on street parking is converted into park-like spaces.[12][13] Park(ing) Day was launched in 2005 by Rebar art and design studio.

Pavement to Plazas[edit]

Popularized in New York City, pavement plazas involve converting space on streets to usable public space. The closure of Times Square to vehicular traffic and its low-cost conversion to a pedestrian plaza is a primary example of a pavement plaza.[14][15]

Pop-up cafes[edit]

Pop-up cafes are temporary patios or terraces built in parking spots to provide overflow seating for a nearby cafe or for passersby. Most common in cities where sidewalks are narrow and where there otherwise is not room for outdoor sitting or eating areas.

Pop-up parks[edit]

Pop Up Parks temporarily or permanently transform underused spaces into community gathering areas through beautification.

Pop-up retail[edit]

Pop-up shops are temporary retail stores that are set up in vacant stores or property.


The Street Plans Collaborative, in collaboration with Ciudad Emergente and Codesign studio, produces a series of free tactical urbanism e-books. Volumes 1 and 2 focus on North American case studies, Volume 3 is a Spanish-language guide to Latin American projects, and Volume 4 covers Australia and New Zealand, including responses to the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Street Plans' Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia published a tactical urbanism book in March 2015.[16]


  1. ^ Pfeifer, Laura. "The Planner's Guide to Tactical Urbanism" (PDF). Regina Urban Ecology. Regina Urban Ecology. Retrieved 23 October 2014. Tactical urbanism is often citizen-led but can also be initiated by government entities.
  2. ^ a b Lydon, Mike; Bartman, Dan; Garcia, Tony; Preston, Russ; Woudstra, Ronald (March 2012). Tactical Urbanism Short-term Action Long-term Change Volume 2. The Street Plans Collaborative. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  3. ^ "Tactical Urbanists Are Improving Cities, One Rogue Fix at a Time". Smithsonian.
  4. ^ Bossart, Diane. "The rise of tactical urbanism". Next Pittsburg. Next Pittsburg. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  5. ^ Davis, Brian. "On Broadway, Tactical Urbanism". faslanyc. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  6. ^ Lydon, Mike. "The Next Urbanism: A Movement Evolves". Planetizen. Planetizen. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  7. ^ Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press. Reprint edition (December 1, 2011).
  8. ^ "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper: A Low-Cost, High-Impact Approach". pps.org.
  9. ^ "The Better Block". The Better Block. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Downtown De-Fence Project". Downtown De-Fence Project. Toronto Building Space Committee. Archived from the original on 23 January 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  11. ^ "Why Depave". Depave. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  12. ^ Best, Hilary. "Park(ing) Day!". Spacing Toronto. Spacing Toronto. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  13. ^ http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/Park(ing)+Day
  14. ^ "NYC DOT - NYC Plaza Program Sites". nyc.gov.
  15. ^ http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bloomberg-crows-times-square-pedestrian-plaza-article-1.1557047
  16. ^ "Tactical Urbanism". Island Press. Retrieved 23 October 2014.