A “reproduction” of a walking sign placed by Matt Tomasulo and friends in Raleigh, North Carolina (of course, with a little reference to my City of Port Moody, BC). Further information on their walking sign initiative can be found at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cityfabric/walk-your-city.

Tactical Urbanism in Action

According to Mike Lydon, writer for Pattern Cities (http://patterncities.com/archives/175), tactical urbanism is:

"A pattern [of action] that features the following five characteristics:
- 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 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.”

This is a rather fitting term for Matt Tomasulo’s recent Walk Raleigh intiative. Back in January, Mr. Tomasulo, a master’s student in Raleigh, NC, and a few friends placed 27 walking signs around the city at major intersections. The purpose of which was to encourage walking and, in turn, promote healthier, sustainable communities.The signs were not approved by the city and were removed but have since been replaced as part of a 90 day pilot project.

What an interesting tactic. Such initiatives, while guerilla in style, are an important piece of public engagement in planning. They work to educate the public in how simple building healthy communities can be. And in how simple and quick walking instead of driving can be.

What sort of tactical urbanism initiative would you dream up?



Images taken from http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/streets/vivavancouver/

The future for public gathering?

The Vancouver Police Department’s recently released internal riot review calls for an end to large scale public events that attract and concentrate large crowds of young persons; those events that draw more of a family crowd are the exception. I find this outcome disappointing but somewhat expected. I am a bit nervous about what this will mean for future public gatherings, especially for young persons (including myself, at least for a little bit longer) who are a demographic that should be encouraged not discouraged to participate in the public events and happenings in their communities. Yet, I sympathize with the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department – how do we encourage participation in these type of events but prevent outcomes like the Stanley Cup riots? 

To shed positive light on public gathering and space, I think it is worthy to turn attention to the City’s VIVA Vancouver program, which, taking its cue from San Francisco, has transformed eight street spaces into “people places.” What a great initiative to build community events and encourage the shared use of public space – roads aren’t just for cars anymore.


A great street (at least I think so). Yu’er Hutong, Beijing, China.

A Really GREAT Street

Last week I had the (very fortunate) opportunity to hear Allan Jacobs speak on the topic of Great Streets.* Jacobs is the former Director of City Planning for San Francisco and the author of Great Streets, a book that considers street types and urban spaces around the world. Jacobs considers ‘great’ streets as vital in making great cities.

As uncovered in the book, great streets have a few physical and designable characteristics that make them so attractive. So what are these great street qualities? According to Jacobs, a great street has…

1      Places for people to walk with some leisure. Busy streets are good, but you also do not want it to be too crowded. Jacobs suggests a measure of 16 people/metre/minute, as this is generally when arms start to touch, but he also suggests that we be cautious about using such quantitative standards.

2      Physical comfort. A great street should provide shade when it is hot and sun when it is cool.

3      Definition. Definition provides a sense of place and gives boundaries to the street. Buildings can provide definition; a general rule is to have the height of buildings be at least half the width of the total right-of-way. If buildings do not provide definition then a really good line of trees can work well.

4      Transparency. Those characteristics or qualities that invite you in, the sights and clues of what it is that is behind it, what it is that gives definition.

5      Complementarity. Characteristics and qualities that are complementary, buildings for example. This provides an understanding of context.

6      Quality and Maintenance. A great street is well kept, not too run down.

7      Qualities that engage the eyes. These are the in’s and the out’s of the street, the qualities that attract the eyes and get the eyes to wander and be curious.

8      Qualities that contribute. There are a few key elements that contribute to a great street, these include trees, buildings, marked beginnings and endings, density and special design features (such as textured pavement or interesting seating).

Reflecting on the neighbourhoods and streets that I enjoy many of these characteristics are present. Moreover, designing streets with these characteristics in mind may also make them more sustainable- innovative designs that meet these characteristics often include street trees, space for active transportation, greater opportunities for shops, and designated public spaces.

Reflect on your favourite neighbourhoods and streets and uncover what makes them so great. Are there any qualities or characteristics that differ from those above that make the street or neighbourhood an attractive place to be?

*This was another great free public lecture offered by SFU’s City Program.