It sounds more like a military exercise than something urban planners and urban planning aficionados can learn about. In reality, tactical urbanism is a grassroots movement for citizens to make changes in their community without having to go through that pesky, bureaucratic, rules-driven channel known as local government.

A popular form of tactical urbanism is “Parking Days,” or in Denver “Parking Spaces to Parks,” where Denver citizens move grass, benches, and plants into a metered parking stall in order to advocate for more open space. My alma mater’s landscape architecture program at Kansas State University does something similar for Earth Day (shameless plug).

But now even urban planners - working in that pesky, bureaucratic, rules-driven channel of local government – are getting on board with tactical urbanism. Many see it as a way to draw more citizens into urban planning, to be more engaged in their communities.

Civic Center Eats, at the north edge of the Golden Triangle, is a popular attraction in Denver.

Civic Center Eats, in the Golden Triangle, is a popular attraction in Denver

Tactical urbanism is gaining roots in Denver. Just a few months ago it was featured on Colorado Matters, a Colorado Public Radio program. Chris Gleissner, a senior planner with the City of Denver, felt tactical urbanism was a low-cost and agile alternative to citizens having to show up at the city offices for a boring meeting where planners are talking AT citizens. Instead, tactical urbanism is an experiential exploration of urban planning and urban design alternatives.

As Mr. Gleissner said, tactical urbanism shows residents “a high-return for livability and mobility.”

It has been used in the Golden Triangle neighborhood in Denver, in a neighborhood plan called Triangle Transformations. The City of Denver provided food (of course) and demonstrations on how the neighborhood can change: pedestrian improvements, bicycle infrastructure, Car2Go representatives (a car sharing program), and small park design examples.

The Golden Triangle neighborhood, just south of the Denver Central Business District]The Golden Triangle neighborhood, just south of the Denver Central Business District

City planners and designers were able to get real-time and real-world information on what residents want for the neighborhood. They created small seating areas in the street’s right-of-way, creating seating areas to show how benches and pedestrian improvements can help neighborhood design. They taped and duct-taped stripes on the ground for crosswalks, and showed how the City could plan and design bike lanes in a different way for the neighborhood.

There is even a website dedicated to tactical urbanism in Denver called tacticalurbanismhere.com.

What does tactical urbanism provide? According to Mr. Gleissner, it provides real solutions for what needs to be done for scenario and area planning. It helps prioritize projects based on feedback from the demonstrations. It also helps answer “where is the current momentum?” In other words, what projects will neighborhood residents get behind and support?

Next time you, as a city planner, are about to hold a public meeting or next time you, as a citizen, are fed up with that ugly park bench, maybe tactical urbanism is the solution.

What tactical urbanism initiatives have been accomplished in your community? Do you see situations in which tactical urbanism isn’t the right solution for public engagement?

Credits: Images by Jonathan Knight and linked to source. Data linked to sources.