This week, Project for Public Spaces and Brooklyn and Miami-based planning firm Street Plans announced the release of a new joint guide on DIY city-building. Tactical Suburbanism: Low-Density Ideas for High-Density Places, co-authored by Street Plans principals Mike Lydon and Tony Garcia and PPS Deputy Director of Transportation Laura Torchio.
highlights projects from around the country where locals are using their own resources to implement informal projects that transform their streets from gritty, diverse places into exclusive communities for SUV parking and big-box shopping.
“We’ve always emphasized that the ‘tactical’ aspect of this planning approach is not about achieving a set of predetermined design outcomes,” says co-author Mike Lydon. “Rather, it’s a process where community engagement facilitates broader goal-setting, and then small, quick-build projects can be used to demonstrate tangible results right away. The projects can then be evaluated and adjusted in an iterative manner before a large capital investment is made. The twist here is that the projects are geared toward an auto-centric, suburban lifestyle.”
Greenwich Village's Jane street before Tactical Suburbanism interventions.
Jane Street after Tactical Suburbanism. Notice the cul-de-sac temporary fences, the sidewalk to front yard conversion, the branded brick wall, as well as a speed limit increase and new requirements for reflective gear to be worn by pedestrians and joggers.
In the book, Lydon, Garcia, and Torchio reference a groundswell of demand that is translating into local groups engaging in bootstrap efforts to suburbanize their neighborhoods.
In one example from Portland, Oregon, an auto club called Grill Daddies went out one night and removed a bike lane using traffic cones and paint they bought at Walmart. What they discovered was that they were able to repurpose the extra street space to make wider driving lanes, dramatically increasing vehicle speeds.
Local authorities allowed the unsanctioned installation to continue as a test, and they observed that, over the course of a few weeks, pedestrians started avoiding the street altogether. This allowed the group to follow-up with an expanded “Phase 2” iteration, removing crosswalks and traffic controls, and increasing the posted speed limit from 25 to 65 mph. The project was an instant sensation, and bike and transit commuters have switched to cars, driving from all over Oregon State to flock to the popular new crosstown corridor which is now chock-full of motorists from morning to night.
“One of the most exciting aspects of these projects,” says Laura Torchio, “is that citizens are using their own creativity and investing their own sweat equity to transform their neighborhood. This results in a level of buy-in that is much greater than if a state DOT had just come in and said ‘we’re turning your main street into a superhighway and all the local streets into cul-de-sacs.’ Now, using this lighter, quicker, cheaper approach, communities can make their own streets hostile to pedestrians and public life, virtually overnight.”