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.


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.


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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