Rising trend of tactical urbanism

Tactical urbanism is a term coined by Mike Lydon [1] describing the deliberate short term action of local ideas, typically executed in form of lighter, quicker and cheaper interventions. These short-term ideas are often temporary and relatively inexpensive alterations to a public space, enabling direct community involvement to create and test a project immediately. If successful, they may lead to more permanent changes to the urban landscape in the long term. Such acts of tactical intervention provide a hands-on ‘hacking’ approach in the city that is easily visualized, as compared to a mere participatory-involvement through public talks and feedback on urban-planning projects which may be presented in a manner unfamiliar to the layperson. [2]

Today, the trend of tactical urbanism has spread through the internet, with a readily available open source of tool-kits and know-how brought to a global stage. The growing success of tactical urbanism projects all over the world is proof that expensive and labour-intensive initiatives are not the only, or even the most effective, way to bring energy and life into a community’s public space.[3] The proliferation of LQC efforts all over the world thus signals the emergence of a powerful, networked, and creative movement, and it shows that more people are beginning to see how they can initiate ground-up tactical reclamation of public spaces by making a series of affordable, human-scale, and near-term changes.

 

Ground-up tactical reclamation of public spaces

The act of reclaiming indicates retrieval or returning back of, proposing the notion that the ‘rights’ of public spaces have previously been taken away from those entitled. However, in this case, it goes beyond mere appropriation of land based on legal rights, with the intent of reclaiming for a common good; an element of goodwill in converting a current deemed ‘unsuitable’ built environment into something useful for a greater audience than oneself. [4]

In addition, ‘Tactical’ refers to finding opportunities in a rigid system and targeting issues it wishes to address. While the power of urban planning is often held in the hands of planning authorities and designers in a top-down manner for efficiency, there are still leftover or unseen problems in the built landscape, the micro-level details of the city that citizens would take note of on a more intimate basis. Therefore, urban space retrieval is a creation process undertaken by citizens as ground-up initiatives. [5]

These acts of tactical reclamation of spaces highlight issues people have with the existing urban space yet provides possibilities to new interpretations of public spaces like quick, experimental starter kits paving the way for future permanence. As such, it encourages the manipulation of public spaces like a playground, into places of informality and activation for spatial-discourse to occur, by the local communities.

Growing awareness and action in Singapore

The relationship between power and space is evident in the highly planned city of Singapore, where the state has full authority to determine the location and function of various spaces. The planning of Singapore has been prioritized on economic principles and foreign attractiveness, through predominantly centralized planning of designated nodal activity points and organized systems.[6] However, what may be lacking in the top down place management approach is the allowance and initiative for the alteration and regeneration of certain underutilised communal spaces that do not belong to any specific owner.

The appropriation of spaces, where people occupy a place for themselves from shared public spaces, is not new. It occurs frequently as an extension of personalisation onto designated public spaces like housing corridors, void decks and back-alleys. Such acts of active customisation and adjustment of physical setting around their space, based on personal interests and needs, show the potential of citizens reclaiming spaces even in the ruled built urban-scape of Singapore.

Figure 1: Appropriation of void deck spaces for group activities

Figure 1: Appropriation of void deck spaces for group activities

There have also been various interventions in the past few years by students, creatives and people with visions adapted from overseas experiences. Examination and sharing of the following two case studies can help to better inform people of the urgency in re-valuation of Singapore’s public spaces and demonstrate public receptiveness to these ground up adjustments to the city spaces.

‘Our City! Safe Streets’ was a tactical reclamation collaboration between students from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Participate in Design (PID) and ReallyArchitecture (re:ACT). In 2013, 4 curbside parking lots along Circuit Road at Macpherson Estate were taken over for 2 days and converted into artificially turfed lots, framed by plants and signages. The collaboration was triggered off by an incident at a junction along Circuit Road when a lorry collided with a cyclist, as a response for the need for safer streets in the city. With the theme of enhancing street safety in Singapore, the group conducted a prototype workshop while engaging citizens to rethink the notion of ownership of these common grounds. A participatory workshop with Macpherson residents was carried out and the idea later translated into reconstructed pocket spaces along Circuit Road. The final proposed extension of green patches onto the roadsides served two main purposes of space re-valuation- green spaces that serve as community gardens that engage residents and provide a safe zone for the pedestrians to cross Circuit road. [7]

Figure 2: Participatory workshop with Macpherson residents

Figure 2: Participatory workshop with Macpherson residents

Figure 3: Before and after with visual enhancements to highlight spatial problems and make pedestrians more prominent

Figure 3: Before and after with visual enhancements to highlight spatial problems and make pedestrians more prominent

Figure 4: The temporary novel change in the neighbourhood involved residents around the area designing the lot space, arranging flower pots and seats.

Figure 4: The temporary novel change in the neighbourhood involved residents around the area designing the lot space, arranging flower pots and seats.

On the overall, the intervention highlights an oversight in the division of a community space by a road and the acceptance of this status quo. It encourages people to re-think the typical usage hierarchy, question normative conception of space solely for people or vehicle and be more aware to adjust for other users when using that particular road. Here, ground up tactical urbanism demonstrated a reclamation of roads back for pedestrians and also a user-friendly simulation of the area rather than mere transition point. Despite being temporary, URA has come to acknowledge the possibility of negotiating road spaces for safer streets, adopted the prototype idea, and expanded the singular event to an annual PARKing day in Singapore. [8]

Another tactical urban intervention is the ‘Edible Gardens’ initiative. In 2014, a farming consultancy group, Edible Gardens, temporarily converted the rooftop car park of People’s Park complex into an urban farm for about 4 months. Non-disruptive parts of the underutilised spaces were filled with potted edible crops, while the adjacent sheltered area was shared between Edible Gardens and two online design retailers and converted into pop-up farming, retail stores and venue for food and craft-related workshops. [9] The provision of workshops and retail create opportunities for transaction between people, while the mini farm with casual setting arrangement allowed for the act of loitering and transition freely across rooftop space. With the concept of urban farming, Edible Gardens took this opportunity to share their vision of sustainable living in the city with a visible model to be share with others. As a temporary intervention, the rooftop space could also be re-purposed easily to cater to different variations of activities and social spaces throughout the event.

Figure 5: Underutilized People’s Park Complex’s rooftop car park before intervention

Figure 5: Underutilized People’s Park Complex’s rooftop car park before intervention

Figure 6: Rooftop spaces that encourage people to hang around and have conversation

Figure 6: Rooftop spaces that encourage people to hang around and have conversation

Figure 7: Food gathering on rooftop space

Figure 7: Food gathering on rooftop space

Figure 8: Weekend car boot sale on roof

Figure 8: Weekend car boot sale on roof

This act of tactical reclamation not only helped to revitalize the underutilized rooftop, but also demonstrated the possibility of easily harnessing urban concrete spaces near and accessible to residents for cultivating edible crops on a reasonable scale. Furthermore, it provided a reshaping of literal perceptions that the rooftop car park which is technically privately owned public space exists solely for private activity. Beyond functioning as a parking space, the area was temporarily transformed into a destination and alternative convergence point of interaction away from the crowd on the streets and commercial spaces below. Most importantly, various stakeholders were involved in this space transformation, actively participating in redefining public space in different ways from consumers to advocates for tactical urbanism in the process.

Future proliferation of tactical urbanism

Tactical reclamation is increasingly recognised as a tool that instigates spatial discourse and re-creates a public space in both people’s mindset and as a physical creation. The importance is in sustaining existing and future platforms that allow regular citizens and ground-up initiators to intervene in the environment as an act of space creation for the greater good. This is because the vibrancy that comes with the community’s personal investment in space and the chance of being able to co-create and change one’s physical environment cannot be easily replicated with state-led, formal provisions. With more participation, social responsibility and care for the built environment could be slowly cultivated in our society. Furthermore, it is only with an increased receptivity to participation in the production of space, that we can loosen up the rigidity of Urban Planning in Singapore. Perhaps then, we are able to start engaging in a more flexible, resilient and adaptable forms of tactical urbanism to meet the challenges of our ever-changing, growing nation.

References

[1] Lydon, M. Bartman, D., Garcia T. Preston, R. & Woudstra, R. (n.d.). Tactical Urbanism 2: Short-Term Action, Long-Term Change. Retrieved July 17,2016, from http://www.cnu.org/sites/www.cnu.org/files/tacticalurbanismvo2final.pdf

[2] Haydn, F.& Temel R. (Eds). (2006). Temporary Urban Space: Concepts for the Use of the City Spaces. Birkhauser.

[3] Project for Public Space. The Lighter, Quicker and Cheaper Transformation of Public Spaces. Retrieved July 17,2016, from http://www.pps.org/reference/lighter-quicker-cheaper/

[4], [5] Oldenburg, R. (1999). The Great Good Place: cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons and other hangouts at the heart of a community. Marlowe and company. p.40

[6] Ooi, G.L. (2004). Future of Space: Planning, Space and the City. Eastern Universities Press. p. 204

[7] Participate in Design. Safe Streets. Retrieved July 18, 2016 from http://participateindesign.org/projects/safestreets

[8] Urban Redevelopment Authority. Public Spaces Come Alive with PARK(ing) Day and PLAY at Jalan Besar. Retrieved July 18, 2016, from https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/media-room/news/2015/sep/pr15-43.aspx

[9] Hong, N. (2014, February 5). Edible Gardens: Urban agriculture in the Garden City. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from Timeout Singapore: http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/aroundtown/feature/edible-gardens-urban-agriculture-in-the-garden-city

Figure 1: http://www2.tnp.sg/sites/default/files/styles/medium/public/BIGPIX25.jpg?itok=Tx20HlNv

Figure 2: http://participateindesign.org/projects/safestreets

Figure 3: Dr Chong Keng Hua and SUTD Our City!

Figure 4: http://participateindesign.org/projects/safestreets

Figure 5: http://thelionraw.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/img_6403.jpg

Figure 6: http://www.cityfarmer.info/2014/02/16/rooftop-food-gardens-in-singapore/

Figure 7: http://topofchinatown.com/?attachment_id=164

Figure 8: http://topofchinatown.com/?attachment_id=257