Archive for November, 2012

Tactical Success

Posted: November 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

Last week’s Transforming A Block tactical urbanism salon was a great success. The weather, being our biggest concern beforehand, came through with a crisp but pleasant forecast. Jason Roberts, founder of the Better Block project, kicked off the day with an excellent lecture on everything from success stories of better blocks in Dallas to broad alternative solutions for reinventing any city corner. Our Dresden colleagues also joined us all the way from Germany via teleconferencing to add valuable international flavor to the discussion.

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The RedHot food truck served a delcious tex-mex lunch and was an example of what could be in the plaza

Following the lecture, Columbus and Dresden participants parted ways in the ether, and those on the local side headed to Knowlton plaza for a delicious lunch provided by RedHot food truck. Meal choices included tacos, chips and fresh salsa, black beans, and rice –a perfect hot meal for a cool afternoon.

Most importantly, though, is that the food truck itself attracted lots of attention on the plaza. Students passing by on their way to class could not help but notice the new food option in the vicinity and were trying to buy lunch there during the event. It was very obvious that a food truck program in the Knowlton/Hitchcock plaza would be welcome –an idea that will likely be translated into our studio’s final recommendations. A similar program has proved very popular at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library Mall, where over 40 vendors sell every type of food imaginable to those who work and study in Madison. They have set a great precedent for food truck courts that could easily be replicated at other universities, including Ohio State.

After lunch, we dedicated the rest of the day to participatory workshops and the actual transformation of the plaza. The workshops varied in degrees of success; but, the whole purpose of the salon was not to find perfection but rather to be active and sample whatever ideas came to mind for the space. Jason Roberts’ earlier discussion urged phased planning and smaller, less capital-intensive projects, which set the stage for workshop participants to excitedly transform the plaza through chalk art, hanging mirrors, way finding signs, and a temporary bike lane.

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Bikers using the temporary bicycle lane

The bike lane was perhaps the most interesting experiment. Many people seemed glad to see a little order brought to the plaza, but even more ignored the bike lane altogether. Regardless, seeing the infrastructure physically drawn out on the pavement gave everybody at the salon a better idea of how users would react if a bike lane were actually built –observations that are a lot cheaper to obtain with a temporary lane than building a permanent and expensive one that ultimately fails.

The artistic transformations on the plaza – chalk art and vertical design –seemed to draw more people to the area and slow everybody down who wanted to view the happenings. The engagement in the finished chalk art game was surprisingly successful, and would have been even more so if the weather were warmer.

The conclusion of our tactical urbanism salon left our studio with many thoughts, concerns, and visions for this particular space and the College of Engineering. The salon was unlike anything most of my classmates or I had ever organized or participated in before, and it proved to be a great learning experience for all. Here are a few key takeaways from the day:

1. The chalk art was beautiful and very fun to create but was more time-consuming than expected.

2. The availability of food will almost always attract people, and can be a serious tool in reinvigorating all types of space.

3. The bicycle lane was a practical approach to changing user behavior in the plaza and is an experiment that could be replicated in many other areas around campus as an inexpensive way to gauge cyclist, pedestrian, and driver response to infrastructure changes.

4. As a studio, we all struggled with the short time frame in which to organize this Tactical Urbanism Salon. However, a great lesson was learned in “blackmailing” ourselves with a deadline in order to force change. By embracing the chaos and pushing forward with the project, we were able to make things happen by doing instead of just talking an idea to death.

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In addition to compiling a comprehensive data report, our studio has also spent the past several weeks pulling together the details for a unique tactical urbanism event.

This inaugural Columbus/Dresden biannual planning salon will be a fun and interactive way to re-imagine existing and underutilized urban space. The purpose is to bring students and planners together in a one-day takeover of the

The open space in front of Knowlton Hall will serve as the platform for a Better Block transformation at Ohio State

outdoor plaza between Knowlton Hall and Hitchcock Hall on the Ohio State campus, with the final set up serving as a visualization of the full potential of this particular space. Specific elements of the salon will also provide on-the-ground examples of tactics that could ultimately be part of our facilities planning studio recommendations for the College of Engineering.

Our inspiration for a tactical urbanism salon stems from Jason Roberts’ Better Block initiative. Since 2010, the Better Block project has been a tool for community and business leaders to demonstrate ways that unsafe and forgotten neighborhood blocks can be revitalized through a little effort and creativity.

Elements typically found in a transformed block include pop-up businesses, temporary bike lanes and cafés, live performances, art displays, movable seating, extra trees and plantings, food, vibrant color, kids’ activities, and of course, plenty of people to enjoy the new space.

When transforming any block, several broad topics must always be addressed: safety, shared access, and stay power (encouraging people to gather and linger). Within these general realms, the possibilities are endless for those who are willing and determined to transform a block where they see potential. And, although the space takeovers are temporary, the best part of the Better Block project is that these events can inspire real change by helping local leaders and politicians see where improvements can be made, identify where code is outdated, and find ways to reinvigorate the local economy.

Kansas City Better Block Project

Tactical urbanism is characterized by being bold, rapid, and interesting. Roberts’ how-to video on building a better block details some of his original projects, all of which were successful because they weren’t afraid to break a few rules, push the envelope of expectations, and do it all in just one day. This flash-mob style of planning skips the bureaucratic process altogether and jumps right to implementation –a planner’s dream come true for a day and an effective way to showcase real ideas.

Ohio State’s rendition of Transforming a Block will feature several workshops and a luncheon provided by RedHot food truck, with the rest of the afternoon dedicated to site transformation and enjoying the new urban space. The workshops will engage participants at a more detailed level and include pole design, a how-to for temporary bicycle lanes, chalk art, guerilla gardening, and yarn bombing.

The salon will take place from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM on November 13, and has been submitted for five hours of Certification Maintenance Credit. Jason Roberts himself will be kicking off the event as our guest speaker – and we are very excited to have him join us on campus. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to collaborate with fellow Central Ohio students and planners in learning unique tactical urbanism techniques that can be used to improve your own community. Visit the APA Ohio website for more information and instructions on how to register.