Tactical Urbanism: It's All Around You

by Claire Vlach

Although you may not have recognized it as such, you’ve probably seen Tactical Urbanism at work in Portland. A prime example are the painted intersections scattered here and there across the East Side. The first of these intersection improvements, consisting of a painted design in the street as well as a tea station, kids’ playhouse, and community bulletin board, was created in Sellwood in 1996 by a group of neighbors, without the city’s approval. The Portland Bureau of Transportation threatened to fine the group and dismantle the project, but the group presented the city with a survey showing that since the intersection was redone, neighbors felt there was more communication and lower crime and traffic speeds. The city eventually allowed the project to stand, and thanks to the work of the City Repair Project, the city adopted an ordinance approving what is now known as “Intersection Repair” in 2000. Now, officially-sanctioned painted and improved intersections dot the city.

Image courtesy of the  Planet Repair Institute

Image courtesy of the Planet Repair Institute

You can see a more recent example of Tactical Urbanism this summer along Naito Parkway. You may have noticed traffic cones blocking off the east-most lane of Naito Parkway along Waterfront Park. This project, known as “Better Naito,” is a collaboration between Better Block PDX and PBOT. It reserves a 15-foot wide space for bicycling and walking, providing much-needed access along the Waterfront during festival season. The project was piloted for two weeks in June 2015, and due to its success is being repeated this summer for three months, from May to July.

Image courtesy of  BikePortland

Image courtesy of BikePortland

Together, these two projects illustrate that tactical urbanism can take many forms. It can be led by citizens, organizations, governments, or a combination. It can consist of temporary improvements such as traffic cones; semi-permanent improvements such as paint; and permanent improvements such as community bulletin boards. Tactical urbanism can lead to localized change, such as opening up a traffic lane to pedestrians and bicyclists, or to policy change that spurs on-the-ground improvements throughout the city.

If you want to learn more about tactical urbanism projects in Portland and around the country, and to put together some ideas for developing your own tactical urbanism project, please join me for How to Change Your Neighborhood: Tactical Urbanism 101, Thursdays in August.

Claire Vlach is an urban planner and designer who focuses on public projects such as streets and plazas. She has Masters’ degrees in both Urban Planning and Urban Design.