Tactical Urbanism Salon

Big ideas in small interventions: Morning discussions at the Tactical Urbanism Salon

Local planners, architects, and community members presented to a standing room-only crowd at District Hall in the Innovation District for the second day of the Boston Tactical Urbanism Salon. Topics ranged from the concrete to the conceptual, orange cones to space-saving, street-friendly cars. The focus throughout was delivering big change in little packages.

Mike Lydon of the Street Plans Collaborative opened the morning, discussing the tactical urbanism state of the practice around the world. Mike emphasized that Tactical Urbanism isn't just about small interventions--it's about small interventions that move towards long-term change. In cities like Boston with a rich neighborhood fabric, this often involves fostering and scaling good ideas that develop naturally in urban neighborhoods.

Mark Matel of Nuestra Communidad CDC in Roxbury discussed Bartlett Yard, a former MBTA busyard that his organization is helping to redevelop. In the meantime, Matel's organization has used tactical urbanism to engage the community and envision what future growth will look like.

"[We tried to foster] a culture of yes... where when someone has a good idea you try your best to make that happen."  - Mark Matel

Jennifer Effron of Washington Gateway Main Street discussed the overhaul of the I-95 underpass at Washington and Albany in the South End. Her presentation sparked a discussion about strategies to mitigate the safety and aesthetic issues with one of the most challenging types of urban infrastructure. 

Alexis Canter of Sasaki presented on the Midtown Detroit Techtown District and how tactical interventions can help bring the energy of research and technology institutions out to the street. 

Ryan Chin of MIT Media Lab talks about the small technologies that could make big impacts on urban living. ultra-compact, ultra-mobile cars, flexible micro-apartments, and highly compact urban agriculture. 

Vineet Gupta of the Boston Transportation Department explores the evolving role of city government in an era where the roles of information technology and "bricks-and-mortar" infrastructure are merging.

"We are the government and we're here to help you enjoy the city."

Rachel Szakmary, also of the Boston Transportation Department, talks about the city's parklets pilot program and how the city government is working with neighborhoods to create flexible, seasonal parklets that respond to the needs of each particular place.

Mariko Davidson, recent graduate of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning discussed tactical urbanism from an academic perspective, exploring how the movement developed from public art to a powerful way of effecting change in urban environments. Her challenge to the audience and tacticians: consider how a code of ethics for tactical urbanism would legitimize and make efforts more effective.  

Aaron Naparstek, founding editor of Streetsblog, talked about the tactical birth of livable streets movement in New York City, showed how these grassroots efforts shifted to become official city Department of Transportation policies, and noted how activists now need to make state and federal lawmakers understand the movement or "see the chair-bombs."

Nicco Mele, author of The End of Big, ended the morning with his midday keynote on technology empowering individuals. He raised a question of core relevance to tactical urbanism: how do we reconcile the important values and responsibilities of large institutions with the increasingly individualistic focus of technology and society?