Tactical urbanism refers to the approach of implementing short-term, low-cost, and scalable demonstration projects that test alternatives to infrastructure, design, and uses in the public realm. This term was coined by planner Mike Lydon and is grounded in the same values articulated in the Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC) approach that was developed by Eric Reynolds, Founding Director of Urban Space Management over 40 years ago. The concepts are endorsed by proponents of placemaking and new urbanism as nimble techniques for improving the quality and design of public spaces.

The tactical urbanism and LQC approaches emphasize an iterative and fast-paced design, construction, and installation process that shares similarities to the processes of implementing temporary public art and social practice art. These approaches are important additions to the menu of approaches that planners can use when conducting planning projects. Planners traditionally utilize a standard set of visual materials to help people envision alternatives in public spaces, e.g., photos, maps, hand-drawn or architectural renderings and plans, and computer-generated visualizations. Tactical urbanism and LQC promotes a more creative and engaging approach to visioning the potential for change.

Examples of projects that can be identified as examples of tactical urbanism and the LQC approach:

  • prototyping and installation of temporary street furniture, which may inform the design of future permanent installations
  • installation of temporary bicycle lanes using temporary paint, plantings, and/or traffic cones, which may inform future changes in greater alignment with complete streets principles
  • closing of vehicle lanes and/or reclaiming of some parking spaces and programming those spaces with temporary arts and culture activities and places for people to sit and congregate, which may inform future changes to reclaim portion of areas as dedicated recreation space

Preparing to Implement a Tactical Urbanism Project

  • Identify a location for the demonstration: Learn about locations that have been previously identified as planning and revitalization priorities by the community. Learn about resident interests by talking with community members. Use this information to identify a prominent parcel, block, street, or corridor to study through the community design process for the demonstration project.
  • Clarify the goals, objectives, and outcomes: Identify the short- and long-term goals for the project and make sure everyone on your project team and design team (which may not be the same team) are on the same page.
  • Identify the right partners for your design team: Who are key people who know this neighborhood or place and who are trusted leaders in the community? Who is best positioned to facilitate and engage the community about the project and facilitate the design process? Who needs to be involved in the design and/or production of the demonstration project? If the intervention sparks future changes, who might be positively or negatively impacted and how might you consult with them on the project?
  • Engage the artist community as a partner in community design. Identify ways to engage local artists, arts organizations, and/or public art staff. Engage them as co-facilitators of the iterative design process; as social practice artists leading a participatory design process; and as designers or fabricators assisting with the construction and implementation of projects in the public realm.
  • Identify necessary permits or permissions: While many tactical urbanism projects are unsanctioned ‘guerilla’ or do-it-yourself (DIY) projects done without the active engagement of government, planners are in a unique position to pave the way to permit this type of experimentation as a strategy for advancing planning and community development objectives. Examine the review process and permits needed to allow these temporary projects and reference projects that have taken place in other places to build support for proactively permitting this type of activity.

Tactical urbanism projects are often instigated by residents and community advocates. However, planners can play a significant role in embraced these approaches to stimulate creative innovations in government-led planning, design, and visioning.

View the links below for case studies of tactical urbanism and creative placemaking projects advancing livability, sustainability, and equity objectives and view PPS’s website for additional case studies of LQC projects. Highlights of additional case studies on the PPS website:

  • SuperCrawl. Looking to reinvent the city in the early 2000s, a group of community organizers and local businesses looked to Hamilton’s emerging art scene and instituted a monthly Art Crawl on James Street in the downtown area. The Art Crawl was so successful that in 2009 a local organization instituted a once-a year spin-off event called SuperCrawl, where the street is shut down for a day-long festival of music and activity.
  • Canalside Buffalo uses LQC strategies to turn the city’s downtown waterfront into a multi-use, year-round destination. In partnership with Healthy Buffalo and recreational sports organization Game On!, the Canalside Management team turns the winter waterfront area into a hub for social activities like pond hockey and ice skating, broomball, curling, ice bike rentals, winter-themed walking tours, and seasonal artisan markets and food trucks.
  • MEMFix. Memphis, Tennessee’s innovative MEMFix program began in 2010 as a way to reimagine the city’s dilapidated Broad Avenue. In 2010, along with local merchants and residents, the nonprofit organization Livable Memphis developed a Placemaking campaign to reimagine Broad Avenue — a rundown commercial strip in the city’s downtown. As part of an initial three-block streetscape exhibition, MEMFix projects, led by local volunteers, included adding protected bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, pop-up retail, and festive programming. Single day events, like neighborhood block parties, led to greater investments and more continuing programs such as MEMshop, a related retail incubator program.

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