The small flag banners designed by ATLAS Lab in promotion of “Prototype to Permanent: Short Term Projects for Long Term Change”. Photo: ATLAS Lab Facebook page

The ASLA National Conference and Expo came to Los Angeles this year. It was my second year attending – last year’s event was an incredible opportunity, especially the educational sessions where attendees were invited to sit at the feet of masters of the profession to hear about their processes, muses, successes, as well as their struggles in every aspect of our field.

One particularly inspiring session was “Prototype to Permanent” – a discussion about temporary installations that made an impact on the community, and how they became – or were in the process of becoming – a permanent installation.

“Tactical Urbanism” has been coined to describe the global movement of small scale, short lived installations designed to improve the surrounding community or environment. In some instances these installations point out how a simply constructed solution can bring about a significant change.  Park(ing) Day is an example of such a transformation, altering a small space into a small park, and in doing so, leaving an impact upon the urban environment.

Another example cited happened in South Boston: After years of back and forth between the city and the community – with funds being available, then unavailable – the anticipation of the development of a new community space was palpable. A solution to offer the community a temporary public space at a lower cost than the master planned space was devised by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority in partnership with a design firm. This temporary space was intended as a short term solution while funds were accruing for the long term project. However, after the Lawn on D was installed, the space took off as one of the most powerful public places in the South Boston area.

The authors of the book Tactical Urbanism presented countless examples of temporary projects that served as advocacy pilot projects – each eliminating meetings, cutting the red tape, and side-stepping bureaucracy to set up a quick inexpensive solution to draw attention, meet approval, and gather funding. An example cited was Manhattan’s Lower East Side community’s desire to develop the safety of roadways for cyclists and to create a comfortable public space through a median. A project began with paint and planters, then later developed into a pilot that evolved into a permanent plaza space.

Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials is available as a free PDF download here.

One of the most powerful responses to these type of temporary sites occurs only after the project has expired and is removed.  When an temporary intervention that meets the needs of a community is created and accepted, a tremendous reaction happens when the installation is removed. The panel during this ASLA National Conference and Expo session noted this reaction is one of the most compelling reasons that cities and communities sought solutions to make these prototypes permanent.

The final thought we were left with at the conclusion of the panel was intended as encouragement for anyone feeling a compulsion to create a tactical urbanism project themselves…advice I believe applicable to most of our work as designers: not to focus on the installation or the project itself while creating, but to focus on the objective. And also to recognize the change a project can produce, no matter its simplicity or complexity. By observing the impact a project can produces upon the street, community, or environment, then comes an appreciation of the “short term action for long-term change” that defines tactical urbanism as a powerful tool to improve the landscape and community, one small section at a time.



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