These Clever City Fixes Aren’t for Everyone
DIY ‘tactical urbanism’ benefits some residents more than others
The Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2016
Last year, a group of San Diego realtors had an idea. What if they threw a “better block” party in a low-income Latino neighborhood called Barrio Logan? Maybe, they thought, it would create a buzz about the neighborhood. Maybe it would get residents outside, walking around and talking to their neighbors.
The organizers put in benches and planters and closed the street for a nighttime festival. But things didn’t go the way they planned. Business owners bristled at the notion that these outsiders knew better than locals how to improve the neighborhood. “They told us they were going to help us build a better block, when we’ve already been here building a better block for years,” one told the Voice of San Diego . A number of stores closed in protest, and the DJ ended up playing his set to a near-empty street.
The Barrio Logan incident captures the potential, and the potential pitfalls, of “tactical urbanism,” a new movement transforming cities. Tactical urbanism — which also goes by “DIY urbanism” or “creative placemaking” — uses small, often short-term fixes (like an artistically painted intersection) to promote wider and more permanent changes to a city (like reclaiming streets for walkers and cyclists). It tries to make the most of underused urban spaces such as vacant lots and deserted plazas, often through the medium of art. There are plenty of examples in the District: The daily lineup of food trucks that turns Farragut Square into a giant outdoor lunchroom. Free jazz concerts in a neighborhood park in Petworth. The weekend widening of sidewalks on M Street in Georgetown so strollers can breathe a little easier.