On 16 February 2022 Connective Cities invited three experts on tactical urbanism to share their insights with over 55 participants from Jordan, Ukraine, Nepal, Germany, Namibia, Burkina-Faso, Congo RDC and Spain, among others. In the one-and-a-half-hour session the benefits of using tactical urbanism as a new approach to shaping the urban space were presented via examples form Barcelona, New Delhi, Chennai, Kochi and Coimbatore. Particularly noteworthy was the great interest shown by practitioners from city administration, especially from German municipalities, who were astonished that radical planning approaches can be implemented in large cities without major judicial disputes. The event forms part of the series "Insight Sessions: (Post-)COVID Urban Futures", which facilitates recurring exchange on various topics of sustainable urban development in the (post-)COVID-19 era. The brief and concise format of exchange is intended to initiate reflection and present innovative solutions to local challenges.
After an initial presentation of the concept of tactical urbanism, the first speaker Rajeev Malagi from the World Resource Institute India presented how tactical urbanism can be established in a city. He emphasised that in the course of the pandemic, it has become even more evident how important it is to "unlock” the streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Furthermore, he presented several good practices from his work with Indian cities and their keys to success. This includes putting people at the centre of the planning process and giving them the feeling that they are participating in the changes of the city. In addition, it helps to align tactical urbanism with the political agenda being pursued in the city and to engage experts in tactical urbanism who can build a bridge between the administration and the neighbours.
The second speaker was Ariadna Miquel, Director of Strategy at Barcelona City Council. She showcased how the city adopted the successful and renowned "Superblocks" programme, the "LET'S PROTECT SCHOOLS" initiative and the redesign of one of the city's main intersections, which is being transformed into a park. All these projects have in common that they shift the distribution of the public space dominated by car use, to less privileged and more vulnerable inhabitants by applying tactical urbanism. The examples of her work prove that with the necessary political will, cities can adopt the approach of tactical urbanism to achieve a profound change towards more liveable public urban spaces.
The last presentation entitled "Reclaiming Streets for People" was given by Aswathy Dilip, South Asia Director of the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. She presented how a "TEST-LEARN-SCALE" approach to participatory urban planning can be pursued through tactical urbanism. Additionally, she emphasised that cities need to inspire each other and that competition with each other would increase the willingness to break new ground.
The presentations were followed by a question-and-answer session. Of particular interest to the municipal experts was to find out how to ensure that the innovative approach would be supported by the citizens, but also by the municipalities themselves, as many had experienced that they tend to be reluctant to embrace new ideas. In their answers, the experts pointed out that it is necessary to know why people oppose a change in the distribution of public space, to make citizens understand the reasons for the change and to encourage them to support the projects through participatory approaches that awaken in them a sense of ownership of the changes in their neighbourhood. Moreover, the interventions should not be presented as directed against some interest groups, but rather highlight the common benefits.
The key lessons from the event for urban professionals can be summarised as follows: Be bolder and try out new ideas that are not focused on a fixed outcome. This is especially important to ensure that there is space for real participatory processes in which the ideas of the planning authorities and the residents can be brought together to achieve an outcome that is better than either group could have imagined on its own. In addition, communicating with citizens and explaining the motivation behind the "learning by doing" approach is crucial to prevent opposition, and political support is needed to turn the short-term actions into long-term changes.
Reclaiming Streets for People, Aswathy Dilip