Tactical Urbanism

Madison, WI State Street with outdoor tables set up and a man in a mask walking by public art

A man walks on State Street in Madison, WI. The city has approved a ‘streatery’ program in some business districts and worked with artists to create blocks of art after Black Lives Matter protests. Photo credit: Ken Fager.

We have shared how cities might take advantage of opportunities arising during the current crises to advance new or innovative practices. Today, we’re providing resources on tactical urbanism during COVID and racial justice protests. Tactical urbanism describes low-cost, usually temporary interventions that can be quickly implemented in cities to improve spaces. These projects can serve as pilots and result in permanent changes to promote public safety and health. While some cities are using these tactics to help businesses continue safe operations, residents in many cities are creating spaces for healing and advancing racial justice.

Equitable Access to COVID-Safe Spaces

Early in the pandemic, many cities explored tools to provide more access to open spaces, but ensuring equitable access is key. Streetsblog’s “Can Tactical Urbanism be a Tool for Equity?” dives into how cities can center the demands of communities of color while safely opening streets. Public health should also be a core consideration of these efforts. And researchers at Colorado State have offered a framework for mitigating COVID and improving long-term health outcomes through city space adaptations.

Madison, WI created a “Streatery” program for restaurants and taverns to utilize new spaces, like outdoor private parking, and increase COVID-safe dining. Asheville, NC offers five ways to adapt spaces for public use, including new uses for sidewalks, parklets for businesses, and streets shared between businesses and pedestrians. Residents and businesses can apply online to adapt spaces.

Addressing Racial Justice in Public Spaces

Along with city-led efforts, grassroots-led tactical urbanism is also significantly impacting urban public spaces. From the site where George Floyd was murdered, to the dozens of cities where monuments have been toppled, to Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone–residents are exerting power across the country by occupying and changing public spaces.

In many cases, laws around monuments have moved much more quickly due to pressure from protests. The Equal Justice Initiative, founded by Bryan Stevenson, has worked nationally to develop resources and data around racist monuments. Many mayors will face the need for community conversations around racial justice and building trust.