Urban development is often a difficult process that can create new conflicts and exacerbate old ones, particularly when larger plans are “announced” by community leaders to a public that has not been actively engaged in the planning process and does not understand its goals. In this post, we look at how starting small and working with the public can lead to the positive and sustainable changes cities need to thrive.
Although most of us think about big changes to cities when we hear about urban development, even the small things can change your city forever. For example, consider the traveling booksellers who set up outdoor shops on the streets of Paris in the 1500’s. Although these shops were temporarily banned 1649, public demand brought their return. In 2007 the various sites along the Seine where books and other wares have been sold for some 400 years became UN world heritage sites. More recently we have seen a small city experience a boost in recycling due to an Eagle Scout who made it his project to design and place recycling bins throughout downtown.
Whether you want to re-purpose central city streets for pedestrian plazas as New York and Kansas City have done, temporarily claim parking spaces for parklets, or simply put some chairs outside, local governments can play a key role in encouraging experimentation and change by inviting individuals and citizen groups to identify and propose solutions on space issues, providing a platform for interested groups to connect, publicizing ongoing activities, and providing incentives such as “seed money” or “partnership funds” for community supported actions. This approach can cost less and result in more immediate and sustainable change than large scale projects.
If you are interested in learning more about starting small and engaging the public, you can find a variety of useful stories, experiences, and ideas in Tactical Urbanism, Vol 2. If you would like help thinking about how to integrate these more experimental approaches into your development processes, send an email with your question to email@example.com.