New Urbanism, Tactical Urbanism and Loving Our Cities a Bit More

I’m just back from CNU 21 in Salt Lake City, and it was pretty damn great. Several Minnesotans were there, and we were proud that our very own Chuck Marohn gave the closing speech. You can see a succinct summary of that speech here by Nate Hood.  What I like about it is the glimpse of the future, and that new urbanists are turning away from top-down planning and advocating for local solutions.

One such local solution is called tactical urbanism. You can read more about it here, and I’m excited to say Team Better Block is coming to St. Paul this weekend. The whole point of CNU is to come home inspired to make change in our own cities, and tactical urbanism is a big one for me. So here are a few ideas.

Tactical Tailgating. The entire Minnesota Vikings stadium and Downtown East planning process for the Star Tribune blocks has been disappointingly devoid of active public participation, so I’d take a page form tactical urbanism and apply it to tailgating. Block off a row or two of the Star Tribune lot across from the Armory some day, park a couple cars, and tailgate. Serve some food, toss the football, and get some input from folks about how the new downtown park, the Yard, should look and function.

In my own neighborhood, host the West of the Rail Business Association (WRBA) annual mixer at the vacant lot on the corner of 42nd Street and 28th Avenue. Serve some food (there is a theme here), advertise local businesses, and invite important people. The WRBA seeks additional street trees at commercial nodes, so we can borrow some trees from a nursery for the day to advocate for the cause. Maybe we’ll have a parklet, and maybe some chalk for kids to draw on the sidewalk. We’ll give people post-it notes to stick on the vacant building indicating what use they’d like to see in there. There will be a jazz quartet.

It is my understanding that the Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub is getting an on-street bike rack installed soon. When they do, bike bomb the place. Put balloons and streamers on the rack, have a party. Invite dignitaries and advocate for the city to come up with a solid policy to allow for on-street bike racks.

At Open Streets on Minnehaha Avenue this August 13, use temporary paint or chalk to demonstrate how a cycletrack will work on that street following next year’s reconstruction of the street. Invite people to “try out the cycletrack” and provide input, perhaps convincing Hennepin County to just do it. (It is my understanding that the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is In front of Jardin Magico, my son’s daycare, paint a temporary mid-block crosswalk right in front of the door, and invite all the kids to come to daycare that day and play in the street instead of the fenced in playground in back. After all, as we learned at CNU, cars kill more kids after infancy than any other cause. Let’s take back a piece of our street for one day. Maybe it will make the city safer long-term for children.

One tactical urbanism example I read about while out there is a temporary park being installed in a Salt Lake City neighborhood. While a $1.7 million park plan is on the boards and awaiting political support ad funding, the neighborhood is moving ahead with $12,000 worth of temporary improvements like greenery and benches, allowing for residents to kick the tires if you will. Quite a deal. Perhaps this will push resources toward the long-term solution, but in the meantime I guarantee people will enjoy the space more.

What are your ideas for your neighborhood? The most important thing with tactical urbanism is to have fun and enjoy our streets, neighborhoods and cities in a new way, even if only for a day. That alone could be reason enough for a one-off or annual event, but what if we make fun and enjoyment of our cities permanent?

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is