Keynote: Hacking Library Spaces: Lessons From Tactical Urbanism

Mike Lydon, Principal, The Street Plans Collaborative and & Author, Tactical Urbanism

@MikeLydon @StreetPlans

Street Plans based in Miami and Brooklyn: methodology to hack the city. Do a lot of bike and pedestrian planning. Urban design. Policy development. Education and training. Placemaking.

Share Knowledge + Advocate for Better Cities — firm publishes and shares work online

His work was inspired by open streets… Seeing challenge in people not being willing to go to public meetings. Became involved in advocacy for biking, and involved in open streets: streets used for walking, biking, dancing, etc., and Bike Miami Days — changed how he thought about sharing ideas, inspiring people, advocating.

At same time, NYC was hacking its streets: Temporary “Pilot” Plazas — temporary paint, movable planters, different public spaces, projects in the streets. Giving streets back to people to hang out, eat, etc. “As inexpensive hacks, tactical interventions producing great affects, we here at FASLANYC greatly admire them, esp because they are no longer….” –Brian Davis

Cities becoming more participatory — leading to longterm change in policy and physical changes. Tactical Urbainsim and Tactical Urbanism2 — — Blew up — was shared widely by thousands.

Method for sharing — putting ideas online — brought this idea to a global stage. Downloaded around the world in many countries.

Tactical urbanism become a global movement owned by no one, that can involve anyone, and that is intended to improve the lives of everyone.

Tactical Urbanism: city, org and/or citizen-led approach to neighborhood building using short term, low-cost, and scalable interventions intended to catalyze long-term change.

Yarn bombing: DIY? Yes. Hacking? Maybe. Tactical? No.

It’s not just…hipsters. It’s for neighborhoods. Getting all generations to come out and make change together. Newsboards, Little Free Libraries, creating places that are communal in our neighborhoods.

Tactics & Tacticians–Movement from Unsanctioned to Sanctioned. People just going out and doing things without permission.

Three Overlapping Trends: The Great Recession & Shifting Demographics & The Internet as a Tool for Building the Civic Economy

The Great Inversion and the future of the American City

Growing Frustration: Roadblocks at Every Turn, as people are moving back into the city. Amenities not there that people like. Laws, ordinances, and rules that are blocking things from happening. Guerilla

City vs Citizens and the Widening Gap Between What we Have and What We Want — Guerrilla crosswalk painter. Tension between citizens and city leaders.

Guerrilla stripers add bike lanes…

But this isn’t a new idea. Boxes on the river in Paris, pop up in the morning and become stands. Help activate the river. Took 500 years for this to be sanctioned.

Food trucks vs real restaurants. Play streets concept. Portable Parks in 1970 in San Francisco. Zoo animals at a temporary park on an off ramp by a freeway.

Strategy without Tactics: Midtown Plan (1969). Transform Broadway street… But nothing ever happened with the plan. Until 2009: Times Square closed to traffic, just for the weekend. Set up lawn chairs (for $10 from hardware stores). People sat down and started using the chairs. 2010: Times Square put paint on ground, tables and chairs, and measure the impact. Economy exploded and became a much safer street.

Times Square Lights Up City’s Economy, Study Finds

Pedestrian traffic increased; sales increased. Safer streets.

Now, Times Square reinventing itself permanently:

Mayor Bloomberg Cuts Ribbon on First Phase of Permanent Times Square Reconstruction

Idea: Build, (project) Measure (data), Learn (ideas) cycle; try something, learn from failures and build on it. Ideas come from Lean Startup

We need strategy and tactics: …it is about getting it right for now and at the same time being tactical and strategic about later….and about disturbing the order of things in the interests of change. –Nabeel Hamdi, author of about the art of practice and the limits of planning in cities.


1. Citizens unsanctioned citizen action

DIY crosswalk; “Dear crosswalk vigilante — thank you! made my day”

Guerrilla crosswalk turns into total overhaul of New Haven intersection — this guy showed leadership in his community and was elected to city council!

Walk [Your city] — few people were walking in a walkable neighborhood. Signs to make people walk in the community. City council had him take the signs down and then voted to make them

Good projects go to scale and spread.

2. Municipality/Organization: Public Involvement Through Collaborative Demonstration

Students: Pop-up Rockwell — two way bike path. Learned that bike traffic increased. People went to different businesses, we’re going to just try this, pilot, got buy-in and permission. Failure was also involved — most valuable. Some of the intersection design wasn’t as strong as it should be. Realized the flaws in 1 week, and integrated those findings into the permanent infrastructure.

Coalition: Park-Making in Miami, FL — parking lot overtaken with temporary materials and changed it into a park, with a coalition of groups. Became a very active space for a week. Changed the conversation for

3. Municipality/Developer: Phase 0 Implementation

Project in Brooklyn, near Manhattan Bridge: retail sales up 172% vs 18% across Brooklyn. Food truck pod; and outdoor plaza in a parking lot. Project will be made permanent, and will be expanding. Political will and support built using temporary first.

City + BID + Artists — murals to replace ugly paint.

Hired by cities AND agitators 🙂


1. Working from the Outside In: Hamilton, Ontario

2. Enhancing Public Involvement – Somerville, MA

  • Too much surface parking; neighborhood needed to grow, but not up
  • Davis Square Streetscape Plan (2012)
  • People didn’t want change; showed up at the meeting in protest
  • Go test the Streetscape Plan into the planning process using tactical urbanism
  • Somerville Design presents 3-day pop-up plaza and make a parking lot into a plaza.
  • Very active space — street performers, musicians.
  • Comment box
  • Space active long into the night. People sitting on the asphalt just hanging out.
  • Brought a lot of people to the table for the planning process.
  • “Make this plaza permanent”
  • People were shown the possibilities
  • City is moving to test out a food truck, tables and chairs and incrementally bring space change about.

3. “Phase 0” Implementation — Penrith, Australia

  • underutilized section of asphalt — street
  • transform the space into a park — not much traffic on that street
  • laid out the process for this to happen; convinced city council to go along with this.
  • City committed $40,000 to try the park idea out and then if successful, would make it permanent
  • workshopped ideas; people into 3 teams with 10,000 to spend; 10,000 left to integrate the 3 teams together
  • Sketched to scale where things would go.
  • Kit of parks — materials to be used — and prices figured out.
  • Space sketched out
  • City excited — and within a month of the workshop, the space was transformed. Fence opened up. Much more welcoming environment.
  • Collaboration across government; an iterative process…
  • Businesses started to put out pots and plants.

This all reminds me of these projects:

What does this have to do with libraries?

  • Search “Library” in Google Images — stereotypes of what people think of libraries. But it’s not what libraries are about. People aren’t understanding the role libraries can place in communities as third places.
  • Salt Lake City Public Library — programming in retail spaces…
  • Open up library spaces
  • Streets and public services
  • “I think of the city not as opposite to the Internet, but as absolutely like it. In a sense, it is the original Internet, the original hyperlink since cities are places in which random connections, rather than linear order, often determines what will happen.” –Paul Goldberger, 2001
  • He’s become aware of projects because of web tools and the Internet
  • “If the city is the original internet, then the library is its server”
  • Tactical information delivery

5 Ideas for Libraries

  1. Embed Tactical Urbanism into information delivery process
  2. pilot test public engagement ideas/tools
  3. focus on placemaking, improve the interface between library, city, and citizen
  4. use existing initiatives + Find Multipliers
  5. Scale Down to Scale Up — start small, make impact, then project further.