Fayetteville one of six U.S. cities selected for ‘tactical urbanism’ project

A scene from Park(ing) Day in Portland, Oregon.

Photo: Kai Bates, CC 2.0

Crosswalks painted by local artists, parking spaces turned into miniature parks, streets transformed into sidewalk cafes, all for the purpose of calming traffic, increasing safety, and creating interesting little spaces for residents to enjoy.

It’s called “tactical urbanism,” and it’s defined as “low-cost, short-term projects to advance long-term planning goals.”

The idea is simple; do something inexpensive and temporary to improve an area in order to envision what a place could look like if those improvements were made permanent.

The concept is catching on all over the country, and soon, Fayetteville will be getting into the act.

Painted bike lanes lead to a seating area set up in Seattle, Washington.

Photo: SDot Photos, CC 2.0

Street Plans Collaborative, a Miami-based urban planning, design, and research advocacy firm that literally wrote the book on the phenomenon, this week announced that Fayetteville was one of six U.S. cities chosen to participate in their workshop series on tactical urbanism.

The workshops, paid for through funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, are designed to jumpstart tactical urbanism projects in the participating cities in order to “advance street safety and placemaking projects such as pedestrian plazas, bike lanes, shared streets, etc.”

The other participating cities include Akron, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Long Beach, California; Washington, D.C.; and West Palm Beach, Florida.

Tactical urbanism is a relatively new term, but the principles have been around for much longer.

Examples of tactical urbanism in action include initiatives like Park(ing) Day, a concept created by landscape architecture firm Rebar. During Park(ing) Day, which has become somewhat of a global phenomenon, residents turn public parking spaces into miniature parks as a way to illustrate how even a small area can be transformed into an enjoyable space.

Locally, Fayetteville native and placemaking enthusiast Keaton Smith led an effort in Benton County a few years ago along with the NWAAIA and the NWA Emerging Leaders to transform a city block in Rogers using tactical urbanism principles. Smith and his team converted an alley way into a temporary retail market, turned a parking lot into a temporary food truck court, and highlighted a pocket park planting a garden in the small grassy area. Similarly, the folks behind Team Springdale recently transformed a downtown street into an outdoor dining space, and hosted a huge community meal right in the middle of the street.

Another scen from a Park(ing) Day event in Portland.

Photo: Kai Bates, CC 2.0

Fayetteville Alderman Matthew Petty, who applied for the city’s participation in the program, said specific projects in Fayetteville will be identified as part of the process.

One area that he believes could benefit from the increased safety and traffic calming outcome associated with tactical urbanism is the Archibald Yell Boulevard area.

“That neighborhood is already organized, and the residents there have been asking for ways to make that area more pedestrian friendly,” he said.

Petty said that the award from Street Plans Collaborative comes with about $10,000 of funding to help the city pay labor costs associated with whatever tactics are identified in the workshop, and the city will have to come up with funds for materials for any specific projects they decide to try.

“We have some money in the budget earmarked for things like intersection improvements that could be used for this project, but we don’t expect it to cost very much,” he said. “The whole idea behind tactical urbanism is to employ low-cost methods as a way to test these ideas that could lead to long-term improvements.”

Petty said that when tactical urbanism is at its best, citizens themselves are coming up with the ideas of ways to improve the infrastructure in their neighborhood.

“In places where this is working, the neighborhoods will come out and say, ‘We want to do this,'” he said. “One of our tasks will be to figure out how we handle these requests, and to create a new permitting process that allows for this to happen.”

Petty said that a date hasn’t been set yet for the Fayetteville workshop, but he expects it could happen as early as this fall. Once that’s determined, Petty said he’ll rely on the local community to come out with their ideas on how to transform little areas of Fayetteville.

“This is definitely going to require plenty of volunteers,” he said.