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Mike Lydon

Principle The Street Plans Collaborative Website

Mike Lydon is a founding Principle of The Street Plans Collaborative, an award-winning urban planning, design, and research-advocacy firm based in Miami, New York City, and San Francisco. As an internationally recognized planner, writer, and advocate for livable cities, his work has been featured by NPR, The New York Times, CNN Headline News, The Atlantic Cities, Planetizen, Grist, Salon, Next City, and Architect Magazine, among other publications.

Mike recently co-authored Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Actions for Long-term Change with business partner Tony Garcia, which will be published by Island Press in March of 2015. Mike is the creator and primary author of the The Open Streets Project and Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action, Long-Term Change Vol.1 and Vol.2. With Julie Flynn, Mike edited and co-developed the publication Mercado: Lessons from 20 Markets across South America. In 2009 Mike collaborated with Andres Duany and Jeff Speck in writing The Smart Growth Manual, which was published by McGraw-Hill and honored by Planetizen as one of the top ten planning books of 2010.


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Demographic projections reveal that earth’s fast-growing urban population will not taper anytime soon. This unprecedented demographic shift has created tremendous economic and social opportunity for some, but also inequality, environmental degradation, and negative social impacts for too many others. The results are inscribed physically on our cities, including right here in the United States where a surprisingly fertile garden of inequality continues to be nurtured.

Most of these outcomes can be traced to a raft of government policies, programs, and project delivery systems that are failing to keep up with societal needs. Using the technology-laden rhetoric of the day, one might say we’re using outdated software (government policy) that seems incapable of meeting the demand for new hardware (affordable housing, transport options, safe public space etc.). While this fissure plays out differently in London, Kigali, or Los Angeles, it’s become increasingly obvious that conventional planning efforts leave large gaps exposed and can’t be counted on to fill them in.

So, what’s to be done?

An increasingly popular approach is to abandon the notion that top-down “solutions” are the only way for government to manage urban growth. Of course, lessening government’s role is often critiqued as an abdication of its most basic responsibility. Yet, one might also argue that promoting more agile, networked, and peer-to-peer project delivery frameworks at the neighborhood scale is another way cities may address urgent challenges today, not...maybe sometime in the future when the political and economic capital might align.

Leading the way is a new breed of architect, planner, and designer that no longer separates the creation of the plan from its actual implementation. In other words, the narrow and well-worn path of “design-present-defend” is being replaced by an ethos Eric Ries calls “build-measure-learn.” 'Design' in this sense is not a noun but a verb that requires physical collaboration with neighborhood residents, social entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, and yes, even other government employees. This approach draws upon the best talents of design professionals by asking them to work with communities to test short-term projects before designing them for the long-term.

This approach, which I observed in a variety of unrelated city and citizen-led activities and began calling Tactical Urbanism in 2010, has coalesced into a much larger global movement that professor Nabeel Hamdi might call “planning without the preponderance of plans.”

As we’ve defined it, Tactical Urbanism is an approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions intended to catalyze long-term change. Such projects feature the following five characteristics:

• a deliberate, phased approach to instigating physical and/or social change; • an offering of local ideas for local planning challenges; • short-term commitment and realistic expectations; • low risks, with possible high reward; and • the development of social capital between citizens, and building organizational capacity between public-private institutions, nonprofits, and their many constituents.

Despite its initial reputation as a movement of guerilla activists, Tactical Urbanism is gaining currency inside of local governments where frustration with the pace of change may be as high inside city hall as it is outside of it. That said, Tactical Urbanism remains a young movement and it does has very real limitations. It won’t solve the largest challenges facing your city or mine. And its movement into the halls of government does deserve scrutiny, like some of those offered in Quilian Riano’s previous post because it’s too easily misunderstood.

Yet, Tactical Urbanism also leaves plenty of room for invention and allows space for artists, architects, designers to play a more proactive role in city-making by creating what I call “renderings in real-time.” Tactical Urbanism also offers a growing number of tools for city agencies who view their role not as the progenitor of all changemaking activities, but as stewards capable of a framework where the above actors produce projects that might be scaled and applied citywide with a focus on reducing inequality.

But don't take my word for it. Identify a need in your neighborhood and try it out for yourself!

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Demographic projections reveal that earth’s fast-growing urban population will not taper anytime soon. This unprecedented demographic shift has created tremendous economic and social opportunity for some, but also inequality, environmental...

Show more »