Tactical Urbanism vs. Practical Urbanism
About six times a year I take a few days out of my schedule as creative director of Bizzell Design, Inc. to catch up on reading and research. This recent ”retreat” centered around the book Tactical Urbanism by Mike Lydon & Anthony Garcia. If you have not had a chance to read it, you should take the time. The writers explore and document how small initiatives can make a big difference in city planning, place making and public interaction. A few of my favorite phrases mentioned in the book were: ” Build, Measure & Learn” ”Do Tank vs Think Tank” ”Top Down & Bottom Up Planning”
The attraction to being tactical . . .
While our natural curiosity likes to peer over the edge of defiance and cheer on the groups or individuals that take on big city planning by painting crosswalks at midnight, or organize Main Street takeovers sounds empowering it is, but in many cases it is just a temporary statement. If we see these actions as a beginning process, then real permanent changes can be made. I feel that one centralized theme is often forgotten about. That theme is the balance of commerce, economic development and community connection. The bottom line in place making for small towns or revitalization of declining districts must include this balance. Small changes can create big difference. But small changes connected to a larger vision can create real momentum. Any changes that don't create community connection often loose momentum. Plans go into the drawer nothing happens.
Even before the trend of Tactical Urbanism became a movement, Bizzell Design approached every civic design project weather Branding or Wayfinding from a practical perspective. Our slogan ”We design obtainable, real-life solutions” is truly how we work. Instead of ”Chair Bombing” to create a park for a day. We design murals that enhance vacant buildings, tell a brand story and entice people to open up a new business. The key to the success of a program begins with design intention.
Case Study: Our company began working with town of Matthews, NC by answering an RFP for wayfinding signage design. Our initial research indicated that a much larger scale of work needed to take place in order to achieve better results from the wayfinding. Basically, like with many small towns, the downtown streetscape had become the location to more offices and less retail. One entire block was an unsightly sidewalk entrance to the Farmers Market area. On Saturdays, it was full of life, but on the other six days it just looked vacant, empty and unkept.
We decided to use some ”Bottom Up” thinking and implemented some key elements into our wayfinding study — by being willing to do more than our hired scope of work, we were able to take advantage of an assembled stake holders group who’s task was to oversee the wayfinding process.
Bizzell Design introduced a few visionary concepts that dovetailed nicely with the way finding program. The major item on the list was to address the Farmers Market entrance. The town’s stakeholders group understood the importance of vision for a wayfinding program. As we unpacked our studies, they saw how important it would be to think as every town attribute as a destination, this is what makes wayfinding successful. Bizzell Design would suggest ways to re-name districts and identify community theaters and parks as a more visible part of the downtown scene. In essence- we were also building a brand from the bottom up as well.
Our group of visionary stakeholders decided to include the Farmers Market entrance as a key part of the initial wayfinding program therefore making a key connection! With the design work and fabrication of the way finding signage and farmers market entrance complete, downtown had its first facelift in decades. That empty block was no longer there, instead a will branded entrance coordinated with the way finding signage put fourth a new image at a fraction of the cost of a sidewalk renovation or the building of a new building. ( small changes are often a better catalyst than big plans ) and in the book Tactical Urbanism there are several examples of this theory.
What I am most satisfied with by trying out this ( Practical Urbanism ) approach is the fact that this original stakeholders group has now strengthened and become the RedBrick Partnership. A unique downtown economic group that works with the town government, local business and citizens, chamber of commerce and parks and recreation to enhance balance of commerce, economic development and community connection while building a strong brand by teaming with these other organizations.
Our group in less than one year has developed a marketing program that empowers the retailer to become a part of planned events, we have developed a trolly program that coincides with a Food Truck Friday program. Banners on the street remind visitors and residents about shopping local with the ”Made in Matthews.” And one of the group stakeholders has organized a successful pop up market — these temporary vendors could become permanent shops downtown!
Bizzell Design serves this group in a creative capacity — keeping guard of the initial brand & marketing message. We make sure everything directs us toward the expanded vision. My guess is that a two year term is all that is needed to cast a practical, overall 10 year vision for the city’s downtown. Redbrick will be well equipped to refine the connection between downtown business and downtown government.
Bottom up . . . Creating A vision that begins with obtainable results, affordable tasks and a great group of visionary stakeholders.