Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: 'Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change' by Mike Lydon

Review by David Wineberg

“That’s public space, so no one can use it.” –city official

We have an unfortunate need to freeze everything. Starting with words themselves, which Timothy Leary called a “freezing of reality”, we insist on things being rigorously defined and immutable, and then apply blanket rules to their status. But the world doesn’t work like that, which causes all kinds of problems. Citywide bylaws have unintended consequences, among which are the inability to innovate or solve local problems. Tactical Urbanism is about the small things any town can do to make it more inviting, exciting, enchanting and livable. If Times Square can go from sardine-crushed hurried masses to food trucks, folding chairs and leisurely conversation – overnight – there must be something to it. It’s all about working around the regulations that no longer have relevance, are anti-people, or which pointlessly keep the area unlivable.

The book is a celebration of innovation, in everything from ideas to implementation. Tactical Urbanism is about temporary and/or low-cost answers to the challenges of urban life. It’s about creativity in vision and in execution. There are examples from all over the world, and the way they are going viral.

The most important takeaway from the book is precisely the outcome; they bring neighbors together, out in the streets. So the value of the book is simply this: you want to make a livability difference? You are not alone. There’s lots of validation, reinforcement, and precedent. It is far from hopeless. 

The authors collect the five basic steps to success, but in reading the book, I find there are three simple foundations they missed:
-Measure. Before and after. You need a baseline to prove what needed correcting. And if dragged before Council or a court, you will need results to show it was worthwhile.
- Social media to build recognition, appreciation, buy-in and support. If the overwhelming majority of the neighborhood wants to keep what you/they have created, you need to foster their support and keep them informed.
-Know the enemy – the “system” - and work with its officers. Find a way to give them what they want, so they will let you have what you want. That might be prestige for themselves, or a legal workaround to the mess of regulations, or a financial benefit for the town. Find the factor to turn the biggest barrier into the biggest champion.

Tactical Urbanism is a fast paced, uplifting read, filled with large, full color photos. It is meant to be a handbook as much as a history, and the very real and inspiring case studies make it a valuable tool. It is enormously hopeful.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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