Calling civic scenesters and philanthropic rabble rousers. The national urban planning and design advocacy firm Street Plans Collaborative is setting its sights on Austin to promote “tactical urbanism”.
For the uninitiated, think of tactical urbanism as guerrilla gardening, pop-up crosswalks, and other lo-fi, citizen-driven projects aimed at drawing attention to streetscapes that could benefit from long-term improvements. The Streets Plan Collaborative plans to host a workshop to jump-start projects around town (date to-be-determined).
You can read a tactical urbanism manual here.
I like this notion of “chair bombing,” which is a simple concept of dropping crudely constructed seats around town. A great example is a group of UT students who installed benches at four bus stops that didn’t have any along Martin Luther King Boulevard in East Austin. The benches cost only about ten bucks each. $10! Take that bloated municipal budgets.
If you’re interested in getting heavily involved, I’d suggest also reading a recent PeopleForBikes report that says there are four basic keys to truly effective tactical urbanism projects:
- Led by a city government or other public agency.
- Installed roughly within a year of the start of planning.
- Planned with the expectation that it may undergo change after installation.
- Built using materials that allow such changes.
Austin walking the walk?
Depending on your perspective and expectation, Austin can either be seen as:
1) a city that fakes it till it makes it with “innovative” “smart” connectivity buzzwords, but in reality is a bumbling, conservative city lagging far behind the likes of Dallas (gasp!); or…
2) a city that is truly a vanguard of a hippy plot to erode the Founding Fathers’ dream of freedom by implementing a bike and transit lane takeover at the expense of car lanes (gasp!).
But I really think Austin deserves a high five for being a thoughtful implementer that both sides can rally around in the case of bite-sized improvements, whether they live in Circle C, Parmer, or downtown.
Austin was one of six cities nationwide chosen from a pool of 18 applicants for the Streets Plan Collaborative workshops, which is pretty cool because it means the City of Austin actually applied to be part of the program. What’s more, the city says the workshops will be supported by the transportation, zoning and public works departments. Not to get too wonky, but the city also says they want to use the program to support the “shared streets” concept codified in the recent update to the Sidewalk Master Plan.
The city Public Works Department deserves credit too for launching a program years ago that assists neighborhood groups in developing, resourcing, and executing medium-sized improvement projects on streets, sidewalks and parks. Effectively, it’s government-funded tactical urbanism, which is great because it brings to bear the city resources and planners, but at the behest of the community it will actually impact.
By my count, the program has 41 completed or underway projects across the city, including installing solar powered lighting along the Shoal Creek Trail under the W. 12th St. and Lamar Blvd bridges. The program seems like the perfect conduit to support projects that come to light through the workshops and the public awareness of tactical urbanism that occurs.
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