Urban planner Mike Lydon, principal of Street Plans Collaborative, explained the origins of tactical urbanism in this morning’s keynote talk. As an advocate for making more livable places and better cities, he told stories about projects designed to give space back to people. Most of these projects started from unsanctioned, grassroots activities, some of which were actually illegal at inception. One person, for example, painted a crosswalk on a street. He was rewarded by being arrested.
Temporary projects, such as temporarily closing streets to create bike paths or pubic parks, often are sanctioned by governments, probably because they’re not permanent installations. However, it’s not unusual for temporary projects to become permanent, as governments discover that people like them. In Brooklyn, outside Lydon’s office, his firm worked with a group of partners to turn parking lot into a plaza with places to sit, trees, and a mural on the ground. Retail sales in the neighborhood exploded. Transforming parking lots into parks and plazas, putting up wayfinding signs to encourage walking in neighborhoods, and slowing traffic by altering curbs with traffic cones, according to Lydon, started as guerrilla projects.
His methodology is simple: Build. Measure. Learn. Start small and get your prototype in the ground as soon as possible.
What does this have to do with libraries? Lydon is a big fan of little free libraries, which fit well with his philosophy of making citizen-centered spaces. He would like to see libraries no longer regarded as closed spaces defined by book collections. He ended by suggesting that cities are the original internet, filled with random connections, and libraries are the servers.