Authentic cities are made by many hands, and never all at one time. What refreshes a city, making it new and inviting, is incremental change. These may be light, quick, and inexpensive at first, but if the changes are desirable actions situated in the right place, the low-risk startup may herald greater investment and permanence.
The agents of change are neighbors, dreamers, children, angels, lieutenants, messengers and delegates. Great places are shaped by the inhabitants themselves, not by consulting engineers and experts on brand identity. Every network – even those that stretch across the earth – remains local at all points. Starting from the privilege of the home advantage illustrates the collective impulse of a specific city, and not just any city.
Residents form the spiderweb of connections that make new places possible. The Sunday ball-player who must constitute a team of eleven from the neighborhood children; the soapbox speaker who walks home past the crowded sidewalks at the pub; the fisherman who casts into the lake becomes entangled with the dog walker… these casual daily contacts circle around to include every person in the community. They weave a pattern with their delicate shuttling that is not seamless and perfect, but that leaves gaps for future inhabitants to stitch their life into the design. It is their collective impulse that creates tactical urbanism in cities: pop-up, start-up, crowd-pulsed, temporary, kick-started, on a whim, undersubscribed, and hopeful. They wish to redistribute the good parts of the city – food, nature, wealth — to their own neighborhoods, contradicting the staid fate, the current decline, and the status quo.
Small fixes, widely scattered across the city, are better economic drivers than one big stadium, or one industrial plant, or one (fill-in-the-blank). They improve the quality of life for more people, encourage public participation, and spread identity and attraction throughout the city. Design opens the potential for contact by creating places for social cohesion that attract 10,000 to 15,000 people within a 20 minute walk. Pop-up places are low risk and temporary, but they can propose alternative uses for lands that allow them to become incrementally more permanent. If they fill a void not just in the physical space of the city (for green-ness, permeability, and social habitat) but also by driving economic actions (such as food vendors and entertainment spaces), they become part of the tactical economy, and improve their chances to stay in place.
Permanent change requires active agents and civic engagement. It requires diligence on the part of the organizers to succeed long-term, so that the ad hoc improvements are not territorialized, or become contested space. They require a different identity from the condition that preceded them, and from other places in the city, to attract a loyal following. They need density to ensure that active functions remain viable. The result is the transformation of forgotten and blighted lands into places of social capital, linking people and nature in physical spaces throughout the city.