New Design Guide Helps Planners Hack Tactical Urbanism

Getting into the nitty-gritty of street interventions.  

A Build a Better Block installation in Kansas City inspired by activists in Oak Cliff, Dallas (Credit: Build a Better Block)

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Literature on and toolkits for tactical urbanism have proliferated over the past decade, but the Street Plans Collaborative — authors of the popular book Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change — felt there was still a need for nittier, grittier guidance. The group’s new 132-page online publication, “The Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials and Design,” dives into the details of pop-up urbanism: when to use tape or paint or chalk, how to choose the right materials for temporary barriers, and more.

The free guide aims to provide a “flexible palette of materials” that can be deployed depending on the type of project being developed. Different materials and tactics are called for depending on whether a project is a demonstration, pilot, interim design or final, long-term installation, the guide notes. The goal of a tactical urbanism project is often to test a design in the short-term that may later become permanent, so it’s often not necessary or practical to use long-lasting materials from the start.

When creating guerilla bike lanes, for example, the guide recommends using traffic cones to separate cyclists from traffic. A demo project might replace them with wooden crate planters or water-filled plastic barriers, while long-term, granite blocks or concrete jersey barriers might be the best option. The guide then goes further, showing how cities have softened up the harsh look of jersey barriers by attaching planters, seating and shade canopies to them.

Suggestions for barrier materials and their relative permanence make up just one section of the guide, which also explores surface treatments, street furniture, landscaping elements, signage and programming. Duct tape, corn starch paint and sidewalk chalk are great for demos, while spray paint could last long enough for a pilot. For a project that will last a few years, acrylic asphalt paint or street bond pavement coating will do the trick.

The guide also includes case studies of pedestrian crossing, bikeway, intersection, plaza, park and alley projects in the demo, pilot and interim design phases. The projects span the country, from a community-painted crosswalk in Seattle that became a sanctioned city project, to a demonstration roundabout in Long Beach.

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Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at

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Tags: urban designtactical urbanism

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