Tactical urbanism—when nerdy activists flip bad city planning on its head and turn it into smart placemaking—is being used as a tool to usher in the 21st century by upstart DIY planners all over the world. Park(ing) Day is the most notable example: Repurposing parking spaces—with a table and chairs or a swing set, for example—and turning car stalls into mini-parks. (Here's the deal with parking spaces if you're wondering why they need to be liberated, by the way.)
Now elected officials are relying on tactical urbanism. Hyper aware that they'd passed some crummy urban policy themselves yesterday when they A-okayed building a 25-acre operations and maintenance base next door to the the planned 120th St. light rail station in Bellevue's Spring District, where the city had been planning on (and investing in) a vital mixed-use neighborhood, the Sound Transit board immediately tried to rectify the damage they'd done to Bel-Red corridor development potential.
With ST board member and Washington State Department of Transportation head Lynn Peterson openly admitting that the board had failed "to take land use into consideration early enough in the process" and that the "lesson learned" was that "performance measures ... should include land use," the guilt-ridden and apologetic board immediately passed a companion amendment to figure out how to reclaim the industrial site they'd just placed in the middle of Bellevue's future. (They squandered 1.8 million square feet of potential office and retail space, Bellevue City Council member Jennifer Robertson lamented during her testimony against siting the base in the walkshed of the light rail station.)
Taking their cue from the tactical urbanists who turn bad planning into rad planning, the amendment directed ST staff to come up with ways to use the giant maintenance base to actually facilitate, instead of stall, Transit Oriented Development. (TOD, as its known by planners, is the idea that's supposedly guiding ST planning, where light rail stations are envisioned as the heart of Jetsons-style planning blueprints.)
Building commercial retail on top of the maintenance base is one idea they've now got in play.
GREEN+HOP will be working with Bellevue teens to use the maintenance base as a hub for a spectauclarly ugly graffiti spree.
But I don't think the ST board is truly seizing the urbanist opportunity they've created for themselves.
Jamming a 25-acre heap of infrastructure, which one board member actually compared to siting a jail or a sewage treatment plant yesterday, in the middle of a live/work/play hub is actually a golden moment for Bellevue's urban future (and for some urban tactics.)
The most famous instance of tactical urbansim comes to us from hip-hop history. And it blossomed at subway maintenance bases just like the one now-planned for Bellevue. Graffiti artists like Dondi, Stay High, PHASE 2, and STiTch hopped the fences at NYC train yards and, making the city their art gallery, brought the art of disenfranchised youth to the most visible canvas in NYC: Ever-present subway cars. (Ed: Check out the recent 99% Invisible podcast on NYC subway graffiti for more).
Re-framing the plodding maintenacne base as a tool for TOD and urbanism, PubliCola is thrilled to announce we're partnering with GREEN+HOP, Graffiti to Reclaim the Environment and Empower Neighborhoods (part of the Huron Opportunity Project), a new Detroit-based youth arts nonprofit. The group has been instrumental in the DIY arts urbanism movement that recently grabbed the attention of the New York Times for turning Detroit's economic collapse into a renaissance-in-progress.
In concert with Detroit youth artist leaders from GREEN+HOP, we will be capitalizing on the board's unwittingly brilliant decision to site a monolithic maintenance base next door to the future Spring District. GREEN+HOP will be working with Bellevue teens to use the maintenance base as a hub for a spectacularly ugly graffiti spree that will capture the brilliance of NYC's storied train yard graffiti movement.
More details soon: But we're psyched to say that yesterday's ST vote—creating a magnet for graffiti— was an urbanist blessing in disguise.
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