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Last week, a press release from Chicago’s Office of the Mayor proclaimed something that would have sounded like a Yes Men prank just a few years ago: Rahm Emanuel, it said, has a plan to get rid of the city’s “excess asphalt.”
It wasn’t a proposal for a big new park or recreational facility, but a plan to take little bits of public space here and there – streets, parking spots, alleyways – and turn them into places for people. It was the latest example of a municipal government taking an active role in tactical urbanism, that low-cost, low-commitment, incremental approach to city building – the “let’snot build a stadium” strategy.
For a long time, tactical urbanism was associated with guerrilla gardeners and fly-by-night pop-up parks, whereas large-scale “city planning” was seen as the job of bureaucrats with blueprints. But more and more often, City Hall is taking a more active (as opposed to purely reactive) role in these types of smaller, cheaper, localized efforts, and sometimes even leading them. “Tactical urbanism has always been a combination of both bottom-up and top-down,” says Mike Lydon, a principal at the Street Plans Collaborative, an urban planning firm, “but now you’re seeing more of these ideas proliferate at the municipal level.”