The Economic Case for Tactical Urbanism

Break-dancers, making the pavement human since the 80’s

Cities were meant to have people milling around in them, doing all manner of things. Tactical Urbanism is a movement to “re-people” dead spots in cities.  Community groups, tired of the soul-killing aesthetic of antiseptic concrete of their environs, take matters into their own hands and make the ugly beautiful, or at least entertaining.

There are a lot of great arguments for putting bike lanes on the street, but sometimes convincing people that walking or riding is more human, is not enough of an argument to actually get people to leave their cars and consider the street as something besides a car-only conveyance.

Imagine a park – here

A pop-up park, newly spouted planters, a cleverly painted cross-walk do that job more effectively.

Why didn’t I think of that?

Richard Florida makes a case for the aesthetic of cities in his book “Rise of the Creative Class.”  Basically, to paraphrase, a good aesthetic draws people into areas, with those people come diversity, with that diversity comes creativity, with that creativity comes sustainable economic growth.  To buttress the economic growth assertion, one principle of economic growth is that it is the differentiation of goods and services that is at the heart of economic growth.

Bryant Park:  An intersection of perspectives

In Jane Jacobs fight to preserve the hurly burly of the Greenwich Village sidewalk, she makes the strongest argument for the peopling that stands in contrast to the antiseptic, clutter free look of le Corbusier and “Urban Renewal” architecture.

Le corbusier death.PNG
Le Corbusier:  Suicide inspiring architecture

The thing is, the 1970’s post-modernist architectural look is now firmly associated with Soviet-era authoritarian regimes.  Albany’s government complex looks more like downtown Pyongyang, North Korea than a city in a free society.

Albany, capital of New York State


Pyongyang:  Capital of a police state

People need an edifice of humanity, to feel human, to act human.  Grand buildings are regal and lots of people like to be impressed by them, but the space they occupy become economic vacuums.  The areas surrounding them, because there is no space for any diversity of purpose:  mixed residential, entertainment, restaurants, shopping, the obvious happens.  Once the 8-5 working class and their support systems go home, these areas turn into dead-zones for the remaining 16 hours of the day.

Hop scotch

The great thing about tactical urbanism is it is a temporary way for people to try on a concept.  Instead of going whole hog and spending a year or more putting a bike lane on a street, residents and interlopers alike, can experience an urban treatment, if it is a misfire, then it is easily modified or dismantled.  Most importantly, after the experience, people generally want the treatment to stay and provide the critical political mass to push the city into making investments in humanizing communities to everyone’s benefit.


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