Tactical Urbanism Where it Matters: How Small Scale Spatial Practice Can Catalyze Change in Underserved Communities

This paper examines how tactical urbanism may catalyse change in distressed communities by looking at several case studies. It argues that design collaborations, cooperative research and expanding the temporal frame of a project can lead to institutional growth and neighbourhood stability.

Date added 11 November 2021
Last updated 11 November 2021

This paper examines how tactical urbanism may catalyse change in distressed communities by looking at several case studies. It argues that design collaborations, cooperative research and expanding the temporal frame of a project can lead to institutional growth and neighbourhood stability. As such, the paper highlights that urban tactics are mostly not by or for the privileged class.

Pointing to William Whyte as the coiner of the tactical urbanism/placemaking movement, the paper explains that accessibility, safety and overall comfort are among the key problems acting as barriers to active social spaces that can build community in underserved neighbourhoods. The paper focuses on the Philadelphia area, including Camden New Jersey as it shows tactical urbanism carried out both in healthy town centres and gentrified neighbourhoods as well as in underserved places experiencing poverty.

The paper attempts to answer some main questions (p. 205) by discussing them in relation to the case studies included:

  • How can a new version of tactical urbanism be employed to advance a social justice agenda and reclaim its democratising effects?
  • How, outside the centers and contested urban edges, can small scale design-interventions address the multi-layered quality-of-life issues born of poverty and public underinvestment?
  • What must be added to the ‘spontaneous’ act of intervention to make sure that it knowingly engages larger spatial, socio-economic and temporal contexts?
  • Who participates, and how do designers, who are mostly outsiders, operate?

The paper concludes that tactical urbanism applied in neighbourhoods that struggle can be problematic even though it is meant or designed well as it can result in a specific minority deciding what is in the best interest of the common good in the place.