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Tactical Urbanism in Downtown Miami

Ten years ago, tactical urbanism was a mysterious phrase heard around a handful of conferences for city planners and engineers. Over the years, it’s become a routine tool for city fixers.

Why do many diverse groups of people get excited about tactical urbanism?

Tactical urbanism is short term action that creates long term change in the built environment. It can be in the form of a temporary bike lane, a pop-up restaurant, or crosswalks. Many of these projects are low-cost, market-driven concepts that don’t require government intervention. Ideas have spread and evolved with enormous speed thanks to YouTube and other social sites.

New York City’s pedestrian plaza might be the most famous example among urban planners. In its quest to make Times Square a pedestrian paradise, the Times Square Alliance purchased and set up 376 folding chairs in a zone that the City temporarily closed to car traffic. The results were incredible and instantaneous. The demonstration project was so successful that it fueled the City to launch a massive Plaza Program to fund and install more projects.

Reforming the old public engagement process.

The public engagement process has certainly improved with time. Charrettes are the most notable example because they concentrate planning and design in a few days, rather than months. Tactical urbanism is different in that it's the infrastructure application of “show me, don’t tell me.”

Not only do projects get rolled out fast, but residents offer feedback and ideas that can be incorporated immediately. That’s a huge community benefit. Let’s face it, the planning industry could use a boost when it comes to restoring people’s trust in delivering livable transportation.

A first of its kind.

In a 15-year period, downtown Miami’s population surged 118%, but sidewalks and green space weren’t expanding. So when stars aligned and community partners such as the Knight Foundation and The Miami Foundation offered an opportunity for seed funding, the Miami Downtown Development Authority coordinated with the City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, and Florida DOT to propose a huge tactical urbanism project along three blocks of US1, Biscayne Boulevard.

Agencies committed to the idea and converted 101 parking spaces to a grand promenade for 20 days. Why? To show what “cities are for people” can mean in downtown Miami.

It was programmed with all sorts of events and vendors to draw people in and encourage them to linger. Where else could you take your four-legged friend to a puppy brunch while listening to live music?! Biscayne Green was a direct response to the visioning process in the downtown master plan.

“Biscayne Green was a manifestation of the City of Miami becoming the metropolis that the rest of the world already thought that we were.” –Ken Russell, Downtown Development Authority Former Board Chair

“Cities are defined by public spaces. Think of all the great cities, whether it’s Central Park in New York or Millennium Park in Chicago. We need more of them in Miami, spaces where there is engagement and activities that bring people together.” –Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation Former Program Director

Is tactical urbanism worth the time and expense?

Communities around the country have planning fatigue. So often you’ll hear murmuring about yet another meeting or one more study to collect dust on a shelf. A quick build helps residents visualize what could be, builds trust that they’re being heard, and encourages them to be active members of their community. People are much more likely to take pride in what otherwise might be a boring infrastructure proposal.

Tactical urbanism was a way for the local agencies to prove they were serious about a collaboration to make a pedestrian-friendly downtown as they work together to request state and federal funding for permanent changes. Funding is competitive, and Miami knew tactical urbanism was going to have incredible return on investment.

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