Tactical Urbanism: The Official Guide Now Available


After many months of work, the 2nd edition of Tactical Urbanism is complete. A big thanks to Mike Lydon for inviting me to contribute to the effort. If you have an interest in placemaking or improving your community I would recommend you give a few of these tactics a try. The Atlantic Monthly summarized the wisdom collected in this guide nicely:

The tactics in the guide are those that have gone through this process. They’ve had enough iterations in sometimes very different places to know what works and how to maneuver through the realities of municipal governance to make something stick.

If your community is in the process of deploying some Tactical Urbanism please let me know in the comments. Work on the 3rd edition is already underway.

I would also like to thank Ellen Dunham-Jones for bringing me down to Georgia Tech as a guest critic. The work I saw from the Tech architecture students was inspirational. Ellen’s studio focused on helping Lethonia, a small town East of Atlanta, with their redevelopment plans. What was exceptional about the studio’s approach to this task was that they crafted not only a long term, visionary, proposal for the town, but also implemented several Tactical Urbanism interventions. The resulting excitement from tactics are captured in the video above. This effort has confirmed my assumption that long term plans are more believable if they are coupled with short term action.

Jan Gehl’s Incremental Approach to Urbanism

My ongoing study of how best to design the human habitat has been consumed by the research of Jan Gehl. I am pleased that the CNU will be hosting him for a keynote lecture at CNU20. If you have not picked up a copy of his latest book, Cities for People, I highly recommend you give it a read.

In the film above, Mr. Gehl mentions the importance of Copenhagen incremental approach to the city’s public space improvements. Planners should find it particularly important to note that a master plan would have never been able to get the city to where it is today, and that it was the slow build up of small projects that allowed a greater vision to be created. Perhaps this is the best approach to 21st century city building? Lighter, quicker, cheaper, and, overtime, better.

The emerging Tactical Urbanism discussion can certainly learn from Copenhagen’s story.

Greater Kennedy Plaza Receives $200,000 for Placemaking

The National Endowment for the Arts has award $200,000 to the Greater Kennedy Plaza effort. This is incrediable exciting. I have worked on this placemaking project for close to four years now. The Our Town grant funds will be used for a variety of arts and placemaking related activities:

Providence’s Our Town grant will support the Creative Capital Hub project. The project will use arts programming and new urban design plans to transform Greater Kennedy Plaza from a bus terminal with disconnected parks to a grand plaza and central gathering place for the city’s residents, tourists, and workers. Project activities include developing a master urban design plan to guide capital improvements and programming of artistic performances and festivals at the plaza. The project activities will offer an improved public transit experience for the 71,000 individuals that utilize the Greater Kennedy Plaza daily.

Not too long ago I wrote about the long term vision plan that I helped develop for Kennedy Plaza, and thanks to the support of the NEA planning and urban design for phase one work will be able to move forward. A big thanks needs to go out to Buff Chace, Lynn McCormick, Cliff Wood and the entire grant writing team. I also need to thank Fred and Ethan Kent for encouraging us to be zealous nuts when it comes to transforming a public square.

I am glad to see that a division of our federal government is seeing how investing in the creation of a high quality public realm can effect economic development and livability.

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Life & Urbanism has been neglected the last few months due to a host of new projects. News on those efforts will be posted soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your weekend by visiting one of your city’s great public squares.

Tactical Urbanism

Tactical Urbanism Final

What do street fairs, pop-up retail and chair bombing all have in common? They are low cost, high impact “tactics” for improving a neighborhood. Every city planner, developer or active citizen should start to think about how they can execute short term experiments that help build momentum for a project, change the perception of a place or energize support for bigger plans in your community. We have started doing this in Providence, and I plan to write about them in the coming weeks under the new topic of “Tactical Urbanism”.

My friend Mike Lydon defines Tactical Urbanism over at Pattern Cities as:

– A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;
– The offering of local solutions for local planning challenges;
– Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;
– Low-risks, with a possibly a high reward; and
– The development of social capital between citizens and the building of organizational capacity between public-private institutions, non-profits, and their constituents.

For more info on this emerging set of tools you can download the report here, read about the idea here, here, and here. Hope you are enjoying your weekend, and, perhaps, heading out to enjoy a Pop-Up Cafe or an Open Street.

Are You Enjoying Your City’s Region?

There is a community in Providence that takes full advantage of the city’s proximity to the sea. All too often, I am lucky to get a call at 5:00 AM from someone in the group who is heading down for a pre-work surf. Getting two hours worth of surfing in before hitting the office at 9 AM makes living in Providence special. My question to you on this Friday evening is how are you going to enjoy your city’s regional amenities this weekend?

A big thanks to friends Damian Ewens and Stephanie Ewens for producing and editing the above film. I am looking forward to shooting more of these experimental films this spring (hopefully in warmer water). Also featured in the film is Clay Rockefeller and Carter Blackwell… they kept the pace for the paddle while I brought up the rear. You can find out more about Providence Dawn Patrol here and the Get Lively Experiment here.

Now get out there and enjoy your city’s region! Have a nice weekend.

Event Planning 101: Running a One Day Conference Well

Producing a meaningful event is hard. Producing an event that encourages dialogue that leads to innovation is near impossible. Yet, shouldn’t we try? My time is too valuable to pitch it away to a panel of talking heads with little meaningful discussion. Today’s professional events need to address our new paradigm in better ways. Meaningful, exciting ways. My time and attention is worth that much. This post is a little off topic from our normal discussion of how life collides with urbanism. However, so much of what I have been doing lately is organizing people that it seems worth a post.

Ok, so how does a new paradigm event get done? I had the pleasure of working with a fantastic group of CNUNE members on the production of the recent Sustainable Urbanism Summit. This small group was able to pull off an exceptional meeting that was interactive, inspirational and, perhaps most impressive, produced on practically no budget. Robert Orr and Robin Bergstrom deserve a massive thank you for taking on the leadership of this effort. The Summit would not have been the event that it was without their passion. That is the first lesson: let passionate people run things.

But, what else matters? Below is how CNUNE produces the Sustainable Urbanism Summit. These guidelines only plot the course. It seems every year things change due to new ideas. Which is perhaps lesson two: stay flexible. You could get on quite well with only these two lessons and produce a fine event. No matter how much planning is in place things come up, and having great people on the team who are not afraid to change is key.

What events have you been to lately that were full of meaningful discussion and ideas? And if you have run one of those events let me know what you think of the event production guidelines below?

GIVE THE EVENT A VISION:

The New England Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU New England) hosts the Sustainable Urbanism Summit annually in a transit accessible New England community with the goal of creating a forum for the exchange of ideas for improving our regions built and natural environment. Throughout its history, CNU New England has focused on the improvement of the human habitat. After many years of advocacy and design guidance, the organization feels that now is a critical time for action. As the political and economic conditions of our country change, it is imperative that we tackle our environmental crisis, collectively identifying challenges, exploring opportunities, and planning for a better, more resilient way of life in New England.

Our hope is that the speakers and the discussions one experiences at the Summit will both inspire and better connect you with professionals, public servants, academics and citizens that share a commitment to improving our built and natural environment. New England has the physical framework to become a model for sustainable urbanism at every scale. Healthy and complete town centers can be one of the most comprehensive solutions to climate change. Building on this idea, we urge attendees to take advantage of the ideas discussed at the Summit. Now is the critical time for our region, we need your help to solve the critical challenges facing our villages, towns and cities.

DEFINE THE EVENTS GOALS:

  1. Produce an experience that inspires all into action.
  2. Create a platform for connections and projects to be created.
  3. Provide our speakers with an engaging audience.
  4. Make sure everyone has a fun and memorable time.

PICK THE RIGHT VENUE:

  1. One lecture hall that has good light and inspiring architecture. The capacity should leave no chairs empty. Moveable chairs are best. The room should have fine details and grand features that will enhance the presentations.
  2. The venue in general should reflect the importance of the Summit.
  3. Space for up to 10 breakout group meetings. It is ideal if several or all of these can happen in the lecture hall. Other meeting rooms should be located very close to the main hall to encourage cross pollination between small group discussions.
  4. Free space is best, but low fee space is acceptable. Religious and community meeting halls have been successful venues in the past.

PROGRAM SHOULD BE ABOUT THE PEOPLE:

  1. The group of speakers should be as multidisciplinary as possible. Strive to include all industries that might effect the built and natural environment.
  2. There should be at a minimum two big name speakers. These marquee speakers should draw attendees, and can help kick off and conclude the program.
  3. Several of the speakers should not be from New England states. This insures that we import new thinking into the region.
  4. At least one of the speakers should be “out of left field”. This speaker might be minimally related to the central theme of the Summit, but brings a unique perspective. This “sideways” speaker’s presentation will hopefully be refreshing and provocative. A little surprise is good.

TELL THE EVENT’S STORY:

  1. The Summit is designed to be an intimate affair. This requires that the population be kept below 150 people. Use this fact to encourage early registration. (Reserve your seat today. Don’t miss the latest thinking on creating Sustainable Urbanism. Space is limited!)
  2. Keep the ticket price low, and announce early so municipal people can get a request into their budgets.
  3. As much as it is hard to believe, not everyone uses Twitter and Facebook. Tell the story of the event to people.
  4. Word of mouth is great. Make sure people know what to tell other people.

HAVE A CHECKLIST OF MILESTONES:

Six Months:

  1. Setup Summit Planning Committee
  2. Assign team leaders: Program, Sponsorship, Events, Volunteers, Communications
  3. Brainstorm possible speakers and themes
  4. Lock in a city and venue.
  5. Lock in a date.
    1. Before committing fully to a date make sure any other regional conferences or large academic events do not occur on the date.
    2. A Thursday night start, and all day Friday event works best.
  6. Announce event on main CNUNE website.
  7. Begin production of the Summit Website from the template.
  8. Lock in the marquee speakers.
  9. Create a short list of speakers.
  10. Begin inviting speakers.
  11. Scout out a pub or drinking hall for the night before cocktails and kick-off speaker.
  12. Create event budget.

Four Months:

  1. Launch event website with date, marquee speakers, location and early registration instruction.
  2. Begin to blog about everything that is going on with the Summit production.
  3. Finalize speakers list with first and second choice speakers.
  4. Make invitations to speakers.
  5. Execute venue contract.
  6. Finalize the kick-off cocktail location.
  7. Contact colleges and universities to begin outreach for registration and volunteering.
  8. Send save-the-date email blast.
  9. Create fundraising plan and sponsorship packages.
  10. Make fundraising calls to sponsors.
  11. Monitor event budget.
  12. Scout hotels in the city, and inquire about deals for groups.
  13. Invite key bloggers and press to the event.

Three Months:

  1. General registration opens.
  2. Key speakers should be on the website. Headshots and bios for each speaker are important to include because the Summit is heavy on speaker interaction. It is all about the speakers and we need to market them well. Links to speakers websites and blog should be included as well.
  3. Create draft of the program & schedule.
  4. Communicate with speakers who are traveling.
  5. Make formal call for volunteers.
  6. Finalize any hotel deals for the Summit group. We should not be committed to having to fill a certain number of rooms.
  7. Continue to update the blog.
  8. Work to confirm final speakers.
  9. Hit 50% of fundraising goal. Collect checks from pledges, and put their logos on the website.
  10. Recruit partner organization. Send them text for an email blast to their members. Add them to the website.
  11. Update industry publication about the event. Make sure it shows up in their calendars & announcements.

Two Months:

  1. Email information on hotels and travel.
  2. Finalize tour details if occurring.
  3. Finalize extra workshops if occurring.
  4. Select volunteers from applicant pool.
  5. Finalize speakers.
  6. Recruit video or reports to capture the event.
  7. Followup with key bloggers and press about attending the event.
  8. Begin blogging about individual speakers to help marketing. Interview speakers if possible. This should be a “sneak peek” and should encourage registration.

One Month:

  1. Begin email series of “Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Summit”.
  2. Monitor registration.
  3. Confirm travel details for speakers.
  4. Confirm AV requirements at the venues.
  5. Assign tasks to volunteers.
  6. Monitor budget.
  7. Send speakers guidelines.
  8. Post draft schedule for the program.
  9. Review second draft of program.

One Week:

  1. Assign equipment and material procurement.
  2. Complete “Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Summit” email blasts.
  3. If registration is full announce it.
  4. Send thank you to volunteers and remind them of their instruction.
  5. Confirm final details with speakers.
  6. Confirm event bloggers and documentation is in order.
  7. Confirm travel plans.
  8. Issue production team and speakers contact list. Cell phone numbers should be included.
  9. Post final schedule and program to website.
  10. Print program.
  11. Relax.

Two Days:

  1. Email team leaders will any last minute changes.
  2. Confirm any last minute program changes.
  3. Update schedule if needed & post to website.
  4. Print sign-in-sheets, name tags, signs showing the way to the event, etc.
  5. Confirm venue logistics.
  6. Monitor budget.

One Day:

  1. Relax.
  2. Enjoy the chaos.

Good luck with your event. I hope this guideline can help in some little way make your event a more meaningful experience for all involved. Keep an eye on www.cnunewengland.org soon for the outcomes of the Sustainable Urbanism Summit.

Removing Highways Improves City Life & Economic Vitality


Would you install something on your computer that slows it down, makes it less valuable and (for Mac users) ruins the beauty of it? No, of course not. Then why are we letting this happen to our cities? A compelling case for removing inner city highways is made in the video above by fellow CNU board member Jack Davis, and CEO John Norquist. For more information visit the Highways to Boulevards page at cnu.org.

Integrated Transit Planning: Principles for Providence’s Mobility Network

Public Transit is the live blood of the modern city. It has become more and more apparent that the cities that have robust regional transit options will be the cities that prosper. I am excited about the plans that the Rhode Island Public Transit Administration is drawing up for the first Streetcar line serving downtown in over 60 years. With all the talk of transit going on due to RIPTA’s Core Connector Study, I pulled together the principles below to hopefully inspire the creation of a better plan that supports a more prosperous region that is, of course, a nicer place to live.

This is an incomplete list, and it would be great to hear your additions in the comments below.

The Region

The physical organization of the Metropolitan Providence should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.

A transit system should support the ongoing development of towns and cities by respecting historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.

Transit should serve to connect activity centers within the region. Corridors should be located to encourage the redevelopment of existing city fabric. The evolution of suburban development should also be considered when locating these corridors. Failing suburban retail center, big box stores and office parks should be consider retrofit opportunities that would add higher densities if served by transit.

Strong connection to regional rail and shipping services is not only an economic necessity, but will provide further alternatives to highway driving for the business and citizens in Providence.

Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways. Transit spines should work with these larger linear features to enhance the connections between neighborhoods.

Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, will help organize Providence’s metropolitan structure and revitalize the urban core. These corridors should be planned to connect neighborhoods and to provide easy access to the services and destination located in Downtown.

Wherever possible, new development shall be sited on underutilized, poorly designed or already developed land. Transit stops should be located in these areas to encourage redevelopment. Future development should be organized based on the principles of a walkable neighborhood with plans for transit integrated into the design.

Neighborhoods must be compact, with a range of densities that are compatible with existing places and cultures. Successful transit options require lively, mixed-use urban places.

Brownfields shall be redeveloped, using cleanup methods that reduce or eliminate site contaminants and toxicity. Redevelopment of these sites should rely on transit and reduce or eliminate parking requirements.

Networks

Multiple transit option should be provided to ensure all citizens of Providence have access to jobs, entertainment and recreation. Automobile travel should be discouraged to promote more sustainable forms of mobility.

A resilient transportation network requires many nods, stations and multiple opportunities to navigate to a destination. Planners must recognize that people will change their course if needed and the network should provide as many choices as possible.

A transit system should be organized around a network of corridors, and thoroughfares. Transferring from one mod to another should be easy and well organized. Expansion of the network should create a web of transit facilities.

Providence has a fragmented urbanism which transit should work to connect. The network should provide transportation option within a neighborhood as well as travel between neighborhoods.

Streets and Blocks

The design of streets and the entire right-of-way shall be directed at the positive shaping of the public realm to encourage shared pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular use.

All transit stops should be designed as permanent amenities to the streetscape. These stations should build on the culture and identity of both the corridor and neighborhood.

Development should create a positive public realm that is designed to provide pedestrian comfort and safety. Transit should be integrated within developments and public space to further enhance these aims.

Retail and first floor commercial uses are important elements of a mixed use neighborhood. Transit should be planned to enhance the economic development potential of first floor uses that will add life to the street and enhance community safety.

Buildings

Development within a five minute walk of transit should not require parking. The market should dictate if any off street parking is needed based on sales or leasing requirements.

Transit infrastructure should respect the character of the neighborhood. The streetscape, including transit facilities, should be designed to improve the pedestrian experience, and enhance the surrounding businesses.

For more on smart planning principles click herehere and here.

[Image By food_pvd]

Paris Inspires Rebuilding of Bridge in Providence

Cities are for people. How often do you think of a city as the human habitat? Do you ever look at your daily routine and how it could be improved if the environment you lived in were different. Lions live in the Serengeti because the habitat provides them with what they need for life. Does your habitat provide you with what you need for life?

There is a project just taking off in Providence that has the potential to improve the habitat and in turn the daily lives of many citizens. On Wednesday the City and RIDOT will be unveiling the final design proposals for the pedestrian bridge that will be replacing the original 195 highway. My hope is that at least one of the design proposals will provide Providence with a bridge for people. My gut seems to be telling me that we will mostly be getting proposals for a semi-functional “icon” that will look “sexy” or “modern” on a postcard, but once constructed will provide a dismal environment for humans. I’ve spent a little time thinking about what this new bridge should do with the hopes that those in the position to select the winning design give more thought to what the bridge needs to do for the humans who will be using it.

A quick aside, I placed my order today for Jan Gehl’s new book Cities for People because of his firm’s great commitment to building comfortable cities. I am noticing more and more good work happening in places like Copenhagen, New York and San Francisco and hope that places like Providence will get it soon as well.

Now on to the criteria for a great bridge:

It is All About the Water

If a pedestrian bridge is going to be vibrant it must be about experiencing the water. Being on the water. Looking across the water. Watching the objects upon the water. This natural connection can be accomplished in various forms. The Passerelle des Arts is perhaps the best example of a successful pedestrian bridge that I have experienced recently. As you can see from the photo above, the bridge connects directly to the quay below allowing for folks to stroll right on down to the water. Another important detail connecting the bridge strongly to the water is the use of wood planks as the surface material. The cracks between the boards allow you to feel the water passing below you. I also enjoy how the structure of this bridge seems to disappear giving way to the river beyond.

Simple & Durable Details for Comfort

A pedestrian bridge is everyone’s and no ones’. People will take photos on it. People will sit on it. People will have a picnic on it. People will even get engaged on it. Yet, none of this will happen unless they feel comfortable on it. The bridge needs to feel like you are the first person to sit in that spot, ever. This is how a bridge becomes everyone’s living room. So how does a bridge do that? The design cannot be too complex. The materials need to be durable, and simple so that if they do need to be replaced they can be quickly and easily. The bridge needs to be clean, and have the receptacles to encourage cleanliness. The bridge needs to be warm. People will sit on anything, but they will enjoy sitting on certain materials more then others. Pick those. The structure needs to be firm and realistic. People understand their living rooms. To be comfortable, they need to understand their bridge as well.

Not Too Much Room

If a pedestrian bridge is going to evolve into more then just a way over the river then careful attention needs to be given to width. Too wide and people will lose their connection to the water. Too narrow and there is no room for leisure. The best pedestrian bridges have three zones. The center is for clustering. This is the area for bigger picnics, benches, ping-pong, and all sorts of small group activities. Moving outward, the main travel ways need to be wide enough for two people to pass each other comfortable or for a strolling couple and a stranger to pass without discomfort. If the proportions properly sized, then this area should also handle nicely the frequent bicycle. At the railings of the bridge is the most important zone. The railing needs to not only protect you from a fall, but also be a coffee table, a leaning post and a writing desk. All manner of activity will take place in this zone, and the rail is the key to making it prime real estate. Think of the bridge’s cross section like a great boulevard where activities mix well with the passing people. Particular attention needs to be given to each of these zones. A foot here and six inches there can put this dance way off balance.

Something is On the Other Side

You would think that all bridges have something on the other side. However, they don’t. Humans love to know that something, anything, is worth crossing over to the other side. A visual indication that there is life across the water is good. In Providence, there will be two new parks on both sides of the new bridge. What will people find in these new parks on each side of the bridge? Will you be able to see it form the other side? Principally, a bridge is a transit connection. It provides access for travelers to get to and from their destinations. Will these new parks be great destination in their own right? If not, what are the other destinations that this bridge will serve and how can its design help make it fun to go over the bridge to get there?

Leave Room for Traditions

Flexibility is a key ingredient to all successful public spaces. A framework needs to be created that not only provides a comfortable environment for the citizens of a place, but also supports its evolving culture. A design needs to leave room for these living traditions. The Love Padlocks of Paris have a place. These tokens give life to this bridge. They are a powerful ornament, but a simple little detail that would not have been possible unless the design of the railing was flexible. When two people come out onto a bridge, kiss and leave feeling more alive their city is providing for them in more ways then modern planners can count. This is the art of city building. This is the alchemy of creating authentic place for people.

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The Public will have an opportunity to view the proposed bridge designs of 11 finalists competing in the Providence Pedestrian River Bridge Design Competition at a special reception on Wednesday, November 3rd from 5pm until 7pm at Providence City Hall. (via Greater City Providence)