Build better places today

Tactical placemaking is a set of tools municipalities and community groups can use today to start building better places.

Tactical placemaking is the process of creating or activating quality places that uses a deliberate approach to rapid change. It begins with short-term commitment and realistic expectations that can start quickly. It targets public spaces such as streets and plazas and is low risk. It is designed to be an ongoing process in neighborhoods and commercial districts. Over time, tactical placemaking can transform an area into a high-quality place that is attractive and welcoming to people.

One of the main advantages of tactical placemaking is that it can begin the implementation of a place-based plan for the community or neighborhood. Tactical actions can test concepts at low cost and determine feasibility of higher-cost investments. Often, tactical actions involve temporary changes to a place to activate it and improve the place for a short period allowing the community to measure impacts. These temporary changes can also build support for similar changes on a wider scale throughout the community and often result in changes to local codes.

Two main sources for tactical placemaking ideas are Project for Public Spaces Lighter Quicker Cheaper and the Street Plans Collaborative Tactical Urbanism. Both of these organizations have numerous proven tools to use in activating public spaces. One of the key advantages of these types of activities is the low or non-existent costs or barriers to implementation. Guerilla gardening or chair bombing can be done in most cases by local community groups, in some cases without a permit from the municipality.

Other activation events such as Build a Better Block or musicians playing in the park at lunchtime may require a permit. Some tools require full partnership between a municipality and community groups such as intersection repair or play streets. All of these placemaking activities have varying levels of cost or community involvement and are designed to build on existing assets and character. Most are designed to be done at the grassroots level to solve problems and activate places. State Street in Grand Rapids was the site of a build a better block event in May of 2013 where temporary bike lanes, parklets, pop up retail and numerous other events and activities brought the place to life over a weekend. This demonstration project showed the benefit of having an active street as part of a community.

Strategic placemaking requires regional and local plans which take time and cost money. But, your community doesn’t have to wait before starting to create great places. You can quickly engage in tactical placemaking, while it gets a plan in place. Once the plan is done engage in tactical placemaking activities to implement the plan and create quality places.

Michigan State University Extension offers training and technical assistance to communities that are in interested in placemaking and urban coding. For more information on placemaking visit Miplace.org or contact a Land Use Educator for more information on these programs. 

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