Liveblogging the Tactical Urbanism Salon: Intro & Panel Discussion: Tactical vs. DIY Urbanism


Mike Lydon - The Street Plans Collaborative
Aurash Khawarzad - DoTank:Brooklyn / Project for Public Spaces
  • ML: Idea for the TUS was to look at short-term actions driving long-term change
  • AK: Old process of building communities is not working anymore; new more collaborative ways of doing things
  • AK: We want everything about today to be different; everything we do should be action-focused. 
Panel Discussion: Tactical vs. DIY Urbanism

Tony Garcia - The Street Plans Collaborative
Chiara Camponeschi - Enabling City
Quillian Riano - DSGN AGNC
June Williamson - The City College of New York, CUNY

  • ML: New York seems to be a center of urban tactical innovation in the US; what can other cities learn from NY?
  • QR: NYC in particular attracts best & brightest because there's a lot of energy; but we can't ignore that these things have been happening elsewhere for a while now. A lot of these tactical actions elsewhere are done to kind of "shame" the public officials into action. And we're learning from that now. 
  • JW: One of the factors to consider is the top-down leadership; compare that to suburbs, which have some of the most fractured governance structures in the US. Metro structures, kinds of innovation that happen here happen because, to some extent, of top-down model.
  • TG: Why wouldn't it start in suburbia? Urbanism in NY, SF, etc lend itself more to these types of tactical urbanism. Trying to choose areas that are more urban than not--pushing places that are almost there a bit further rather than starting from scratch. 
  • JW: How do you find the mechanisms to make change? In suburbia, need to develop stronger relationships with private partners, developers, who own more of that landscape.
  • QR: We're doing tactical urbanism because of politics. We're doing these things to combat the slowness of govt. And in the suburbs, you don't have the concentration for a constituency. In the US, our own democratic processes are beginning to stifle innovation.
  • CC: Positive side of chaos--drives new, groundbreaking thinking. In suburbs, most of the time, the effort is to get rid of that layer of chaos and make a more quiet community. How do we form networks for people who really care about where they live? Chaos can be used in very positive way. You have to be comfortable with the unpredictable.
  • AK: Occupations around the country are a great example of how action can affect community planning; will discuss how to support movements like that in a bit. Question for now: What makes experience for people doing tactical projects is that we have to work with the public, a very broad group of people. A lot of people "get" tactical urbanism and understand the value in that. But many are skeptical; how do you address the skeptics?
  • TG: You don't convince anybody; you do the project in spite of the skeptics. When they see it in action, they'll understand. It's not about asking permission, it's about doing something and using the result of the action to convince the skeptics.
  • CC: Value is in creating these "aha" moments; engage in a conversation following the action. Filling the gap btwn the distrust and traditional systems, show the many ways to start getting engaged. Arts-based approaches create new opportunities for thinking about engagement and challenging traditional modes of engagement. Phrase things in positive terms; help people understand that their own creativity matters.
  • QR: Now, the designer is the politician, in many ways. Tactical urbanism is an alt. to New and Landscape urbanism, but it overlaps a bit with both. Example LU's hold up is Olmsted and the Emerald Necklace, Olmsted created a ground-up movement. Design was matched w/ a political, economic and social agenda and constituencies. Here, Chris Reed is doing this in Lowell, where he's creating constituencies. No one is ever 100% happy but if they're not against you these projects can move on.
  • JW: Tremendous power in visualization and being able to see changes. A lot of people have trouble imagining what change would look like. Even a pilot project temporarily shows alt uses; physical representation is important. Showing before & after images of retrofitted suburbia, is very useful.
  • TG: Suburban tactical interventions are more challenging exactly because the scale is different. Retrofitting a mall is much harder; goes beyond tactical. There is something to be said for visualization, here.
  • ML: What's fascinating about tactical urbanism and makes it different from guerilla tactics--it can scale to both large and small scales, from big projects to block-level actions. You're also starting to see corporations get involved in pop-up spaces--i.e. the BMW Guggenheim Lab. Panelists: can you speak to that continuum, from bottom-up to top-down?
  • CC : That's how you can move from a short-term action to long-term institutional change. I think tactical urbanism works best when those two worlds meet, create a conversation around participation. Citizens need to state values, push for co-design, have enabling policies to democratize access to funds. We can demand more flexibility from governance models. It's ultimately up to us to push for that.
  • JW: Connect this to the politics of public space. What is it, and who owns it? We have public spaces, privately-owned public spaces, de facto public spaces in shopping centers, etc etc. In suburban, partially-public spaces, there are levers that do come back to the physical form. Even if it's ersatz designed, once you put public streetscape iconography in shopping center, you're inviting people to act as citizens rather than consumers. We're operating at the blurring of the line; we have to bring private corporations into the discussion.
  • QR: Tactics implies that there is a larger goal we're trying to fulfill. In a democratic society, our tactics should be leading to something. Need to talk about strategy. The collective force in our society, the govt, should help set the agenda. People say it's actually a positive that OWS is happening in a POPS, since it's 24-hrs. But even if it were in a public park, we are the ones allowing it to close at midnight. The private space does not have to answer to us.
  • JW: But they do at some level if they're been publicly-funded.
  • QR: It depends on contracts, etc. But what is the end-goal of tactical urbanism?
  • TG: Government doesn't change or adapt fast enough to how people use public spaces. There's a lag-time there. Govt has to catch up and become that nimble, at least re: public space.
  • CC: What inspired me to write Enabling City is that blurring of the line between citizen and consumer. The idea that we can shop our way out of huge problems is really problematic. OWS shows that we can participate in ways that are not just about shopping. Commercial model excludes a lot of people. Challenging the privatization of participation is important.
  • JW: The shopping center I've been thinking about is in Silver Spring MD; there was an incident at a publicly-funded private dev where someone was prohibited by a mall cop from taking photos. Started a campaign on Flickr, had a big rally to put pressure on local govt to stop the private owner from blocking the use of the space as a public space.
  • AK: Community projects at DO:Tank are designed to help community but also to shock people into realizing that they are not engaged and can actually be. We have to ask now, though, why does this system where the public is so excluded exist? How did this system come to be? Can tactical urbanism change the underlying values system of how we develop and interact w/cities?
  • QR: Great time to ask; in the US we're starting to question a lot of things. There is a fear of power, a questioning of authority--there's a real sense that this has gone too far. TU at its best will be a thinking about how we collectivize America instead of the Tea Party isolationism. How do we come back together to produce and create together and use processes to agree on what cities should/n't have?
  • CC: The desire for a commercial competitive edge causes us to only celebrate values that don't allow us to think about how we want to collectively structure our cities; emphasis on individualism and consumerism creates isolation. Tactical urbanism shocks that, causes us to reformulate and reclaim public discourse for alt values to emerge.
  • TG: What's the value system of dev in cities? Right now it's megadevelopment. Complexity for developing property is insanely difficult--and it hasn't always been like that. Incremental development created urban fabric we love. We need to return to a tactical development model. This answers econ projects too. Ease the rules so we have smaller-scale development. That's the scale we want to build our cities at.
  • JW: There's an argument you can make about having a variety of scales diversifies risk; not everything has to be mega. Another question that I have is whether there are generational issues at work here? Baby boomers are moving into what they call the "senior tsunami." There's also the shrinking of the middle class, and social/econ anxieties that have driven this consumptive culture of "keeping up" with neighbors. We're going to have these people who can't drive occupying huge neighborhoods where you have to drive everywhere.
  • TG: Obv answer is the tech divide; digital natives here have grown to expect instant results, something we can react to. Parents' generation is more willing to wait and see the result of work. Technology is changing the way that we want to do things in the world.
  • CC: It's not just a matter of speed, but w/Web 2.0 values, transparency, openness--also values we want to see in the democratic process. Maybe the trust in govt is declining, faith and attachemnt to other values is growing. We see it w/digital platforms, movements like OWS, they really attract people, even w/o larger infrastructure behind them.
  •  QR: I remember when Obama was running, there was a feeling like we were moving beyond the Baby Boomer values system. We've lived with a lot of meaningless; there's a sense were even getting tired of Web 2.0. We want meaning again. We want to think about what these things actually mean and what they do, more than improving Coca Cola's brand name on Facebook.
  • Audience question: Seems like, when people choose to do something rather than waiting for govt is that it offers room to fail! Can anyone talk about failed tactical urbanist moments and what that means?
  • QR: Was just at a conf of community design centers, and we did an entire panel on failure. Was called Fail Now Fail Often. Raises the issue of what our responsibility is to the city. If a software startup fails no one notices; if you fail in a city, it could actually hurt people. W/my own projects, I want them to fail. I want them to be so open, malleable. The failure is the game.
  • CC: Slogan--Try again, fail again, fail better. There is an attitide w/TU that allows for greater experimentation. If something isn't working, TU offers the opportunity to open it up to more diverse viewpoints.
  • TG: What's the metric by which you're measuring failure? That's an important question.
  • AK: We go into TU inverventions expecting to learn; there is no failure, no right way. Just go and get your hands dirty and learn over time, develop a set of principles that help us figure out what failure is.
  • Audience: We have to get rid of this concern with failure. The idea that there is a govt separate from people w/the answers is ridiculous. When you talk about failure, the biggest failure is when something is built exactly as you designed it. It's been imposed.
  • Audience: Do we really need gatekeepers? Are there examples where TU projects get shut down because they didn't get permission?
  • ML: Re: yarn-bombing--what is the long-term vision or goal? Is there one? Does every intervention have to have that? DIY keeps itself to small scale, chief difference with Tactical Urbanism is that there's a larger range of scales.
  • AK: It's important to network with gatekeepers if you want an action to have a life past your initial intervention. It's important to keep people engaged so that people actually know what you're doing. You have to work w/people who know how to get the message out. Imagery is a critical component. Can't just have images, can't just have intervention, need to have all of it to reach people who have power to make projects go beyond what you intended them to be. You'd be surprised how many gatekeepers actually do want to work with you and get involved.
  • Audience: Is there any way we're starting to evaluate and codify what we're doing, as a movement?
  • AK: One thing is the Tactical Urbanism Report that's being worked on now. Another idea from Dan Latorre @ PPS is to create a wiki where people around the world can share their experience re: action, success, failure, etc.
  • QR: I'm uneasy w/metrics, but stories matter, narratives are important. We need what architecture has traditionally had: critique. Talk about more than just form. Kimmelman @ NY Times is beginning to try to expand that. Focus more on critical discourse.
  • CC: There are a lot of efforts starting to track this stuff; more participatory research tools are starting to be used to track. Ultimately, this is tied into a conversation of metrics and expertise and the hard facts that currently influence policy-making and these arguments that w/o quantatitve data, projects are less valued. We need to figure out alternative narratives; there's a challenging but wonderful opportunity to talk about how we measure change. How do you measure empowerment? Can you?
  • JW: Have to get back to articulating what the strategies are. Do we debate strategic goals or do we assume that we all agree on what those are? As these actions begin to have larger effects, that discussion around assessment is important.

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