This is part of the ongoing conversation happening right now at the Memphis Boot Camp. Follow us on twitter at #MEMbootcamp or at

Tactical Urbanism has become a global movement owned by no one, that can involve anyone, and that is intended to improve the lives of everyone.

- Mike Lydon

Mike defines tactical urbanism as:

Tactical Urbanism: A city, organization and /or citizen-led approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost and scalable interventions intended to catalyze long term change.

Mike spoke last night in a public symposium for the Memphis Boot Camp. He pointed out that DIY – do it yourself projects like yarn bombing – are fun but are not necessarily tactical urbanism (TU). TU is also not about hipsters, although that can be cool too. A key part of TU is an intention to bring about long term change.

Some TU projects create tension in the community. These are often improvements residents want but the city is not doing. This can be embarrassing to city officials and staff members, but ultimately it is an opportunity to identify real needs.

The key to a TU approach is that the temporary, where successful, becomes the permanent. Build measure and learn. Build the improvement in a tactical way using materials at hand so people can visualize and experience, to the greatest extent possible, what the finished product will be. We then measure the results and see what impact the experiment has taught us. The final key then is to learn from what happens and feed it back into the next build.

Los Angeles has formalized this creating “people streets” to provide pre-approved solutions for advocates to use. Groups can apply to take ownership of a space and do an intervention then move it towards permanence without having to fight through the approval process.

One of the great examples Mike shared was from a city that went the conventional route and hired an expensive consultant to hold dozens of visioning sessions then do all the fancy renderings and detailed concept plans for fixing a bad street. When the plan called for some little-used parking lots to be converted to parklets and usable public space, residents who hadn’t been involved showed up to object to the loss of parking. After spending tens of thousands of dollars, everyone was frustrated.

The lesson is that you don’t start with the streetscape plan. You start with testing and learning what works. And when you engage the public, you don’t ask them to come to you. You need to go to where they are.

With just a couple of thousand dollars, Tactical Urbanists went out and built a temporary pop up plaza in the disputed parking lot. In an abandoned structure next door, they set up a temporary storefront where they did a week long charette, a place where people could stop in, learn about the project and give their thoughts. This allowed people to experience what a plaza would be like so they weren’t reacting to a picture but to what their five senses revealed. It showed people what was possible and created enormous momentum for a permanent project.

Tactical Urbanism is an approach to change the culture around how we deliver change.

It is rendering in real time.

Let’s redesign the project delivery process. Together.