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The history of Tactical Urbanism: DIY street enhancements prompting permanent safe streets

Painting a mural over a parking lot, West Palm Beach, Florida. (photo:Knight Foundation)

Modern day Tactical Urbanism has included DIY protected bike lanes, roundabouts, Parklets and crosswalks built with materials you can find at your local hardware store or nursery. Tar paper and duct tape can serve as a temporary crosswalk, toilet plungers can serve as flex posts for protected bike lanes and floor paint can help stripe colorful lanes. Astro turf, planters and used car tires can create barriers for delightful Parklet spaces where people can rest, connect and engage with people rather than just pass through. All of these tactics serve to illustrate what safe streets can look like for cities big and small. The Vision Zero movement is helping to promote re-imagining the urban landscape as a place where all road users including pedestrians, cyclists and drivers have equal rights and equal compromise in terms of infrastructure use. Very exciting!!!!

Images above (left) temporary plunger flex posts and the image (Right) illustrates the results with a permanent protected bike lane with flex posts installed.

All this talk about infusing our economy with federal funding for infrastructure projects makes this an important time to take a look at what Tactical Urbanism is doing for cities all over the U.S. and all over the world. But first, a brief history: Tactical Urbanism is a term coined by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, Street Plans co-founder and co-authors of the book "Tactical Urbanism". Guides to Tactical Urbanism can be found here: and here:

While the Tactical Urbanism movement has spread like wildfire in the last decade there was a local organization that helped put the movement on the map in San Francisco. A group of DIY pranksters in San Francisco known as Rebar started the Praklet movement with a public space modification event known as Park(ing) Day. The event is held in September and volunteers help modify parking spaces to create themed Parklets in metered parking spaces all over the city. This event has led to the establishment of a permanent City run organization known as Pavement to Parks

"Musical Swings", a temporary art installation in what used to be a parking lot, West Palm Beach, Florida. The higher you swing the higher the musical note gets. (photo: Knight Foundation)

A few years earlier, in 2001, there was an organization based in Chicago helping to modify public space from an art, activism, and creative resistance perspective. The Department of Space and Land Reclamation known as DSLR was an activist organization inspiring collaborative performances, installations, billboard modification and guerilla gardening all over the city. The organization was an unofficial and loosely structured group of artists, activists, and creative pranksters who were making public art to jump start the conversation of public space reclamation and civic engagement.

Photo: DSLR

The Tactical Urbanism movement can be traced back even farther to Reclaim The Streets (1995-2000), a purely activist Anarchist organization that would perform interventions at protests and demonstrations to subvert and reclaim the dialogue between activists and the injustices they were fighting against. Their ethos: " A direct action network for global and local social-ecological revolution(s) to transcend hierarchical and authoritarian society, (capitalism included), and still be home in time for tea..." A tongue in cheek statement that still inspires a good chuckle.

The Tactical Urbanism movement can even be linked to Abbie Hoffman and his Yippie movement of the 1960's. His book titled "Steal This Book" contained all sorts of rabble rousing suggestions and some subversive ideas that a lot of people would now call life hacks.

Bike Curious SF promotes cycling, bike amenities, events and infrastructure at the interconnection of Transportation, Sustainability, Wellness, Fun and Empowerment. For more information please drop us a line, an email, or fill out the form on the site. Visit for more information.

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