Going Rogue for Urbanism

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Equal parts utopianism, dissent, and grassroots activism, “tactical urbanism” is the latest trend in city improvement. Strong Towns Blog calls it “a do-it-yourself mashup of Jane Jacobs thinking and the Sons of Liberty tactics.” Intervention is the name of the game for tactical urbanists. Before federal, state, and municipal budgets are entirely eviscerated, the renegade city-advocates intervene “in their blocks and neighborhoods to experiment in building stronger towns.” Strong Towns Blog’s Charles Marohn elaborates:

While it can be a touch counterculture at times, it is also quite pragmatic. Interventions are typically low scale and low budget, creating a low-stakes model for broader future change. Where local governments embrace the approach, a flood of positive interventions can occur on a limited budget.

Gee-whiz, right? It all sounds perfectly fine and dandy, so it’s good that Planetizen’s Mike Lydon reminds us that change–especially on the city-level–comes slow. “But while progressive planning efforts continue to revive a normative trajectory of city building–one found before the meteoric rise of petroleum-based planning,” Lydon writes, “it’s increasingly obvious that translating great principles, design manuals, built projects, and innovative zoning codes into truly great places is still not done easily.”

Despite activist rhetoric and borderline illegal methods, tactical urbanism initiatives are typically community-oriented. “Most involve partnership with government agencies or local business owners,” writes Sarah Goodyear over at Grist, “but they are almost all things that ordinary folks can initiate.”

I’ve written about one such initiative before: seedbombing, lobbing a ball loaded with wildflower seeds into an abandoned lot like a fertile grenade. Spinning off of that neologism, “chairbombing” is the latest subversive idea to get community members to sit around and, you know, talk to each other. Check out the video below and find out how one group in Brooklyn got their neighbors to shoot the breeze.

DoTank:Brooklyn – Chair bombing at North 5th and Berry from Aurash Khawarzad on Vimeo.

Sources: Grist, Planetizen, Strong Towns Blog

Image by saragoldsmith, licensed under Creative Commons.

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