Tactical Urbanism in Action

chalk rainbow Oxford St path

If you have not heard of tactical urbanism, you may be missing one of the latest urban trends.

Tactical urbanism refers to low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places. Tactical urbanism may also be referred to as guerilla urbanism, pop-up urbanism or D.I.Y. urbanism.

Place Partners in Sydney is a strong advocate of interventions that create better places for people and recently held a workshop to look at tactical urbanism opportunities in one of Australia’s best known urban streets: Oxford Street, Sydney (home of the Sydney Mardi Gras).

people at whiteboardpresentation on screen

A workshop facilitated by Kylie Legge of Place Partners and Ryan Reynolds of Gap Filler was held at the end of February. From this workshop three ideas for action were decided upon:

Bringing the Rainbow Up Oxford Street

chalk rainbow Oxford St Sydney

With Mardi Gras approaching, it seemed like a great time to bring back the much loved Rainbow Crossing to Oxford Street – but this time, in a much safer way!

The proposal was to colour a chalk rainbow on the black asphalt between South Dowling Street and the Verona Cinema on the City of Sydney side (we did not want to install on expensive bluestone that would put the Council offside). This was a great way to test a response – if it was well liked by the public, we may be in a better position to lobby for a more permanent installation. The project draws on the goodwill associated with Mardi Gras and would hopefully pull some people a little further up Oxford Street than they would otherwise go for a great photo opportunity, in a space of relatively low-patronage.

UPDATE: This project has been completed and was up for one week before the Council removed it after Mardi Gras. The photos and a summary have been sent to the City of Sydney to suggest a permanent installation (with paint) nearby. Please contact Chris at chris@placepartners.com.au if you have any other ideas for projects elsewhere on Oxford St.

Shopfront Art Gallery

The Shopfront Art Gallery will be utilising shop windows to place some great artworks in otherwise overlooked spaces along Oxford Street. The project will collaborate with UNSW Art and Design to take care of insurance, liability, selecting the students/artist, hosting the website and the potential to sell work. The second step will be site assessment and contacting owners, including spaces such as the old box office at Verona, or the empty shop at Willow. Then… installation!

Manpower required: Some really great artists to put their hands up as well as people to help out with install. Three people on the team currently.

Timeline: Aiming to have talked to UNSW Art and Design and decided on formalities/project set up within one week. Aiming for at least 4 installations done within one month.

Contact: Please email Nam at nam.vinh.giang@gmail.com ASAP to offer your time.

Oxford Street Story Telling

What would happen if Oxford Street had a voice? Rather than growling ‘For Lease’ or ‘Stop’, what if the street suddenly serenaded us with positive messages or inspiring quotes from literature, film and fashion? The aim of this project is to activate rundown walls and under used spaces on Oxford Street through the use of poetic, thought provoking, attention grabbing words. These will be applied to selected areas as pasteups.

Manpower required: We need people to help come up with the quotes, design, any of the graphics and help choose the location of installations. Any help would be appreciated! So far there are 5 people on the team.

Timeline: Aiming for minimum 4 installs within one month, hoping for 8. Send through your ideas to get this project moving immediately!

Contact: Please email Ariella at ariellafriend@gmail.com ASAP to offer your time.


If you are interested in being involved in any of these Sydney-based projects, please contact the people above, or email chris@placepartners.com.au if you have an idea for another project.

We look forward to hearing more about the latest tactical urbanism installations in Sydney and elsewhere.


Building Healthy Places

Building Healthy Places cover page

Strategies to improve health outcomes in developments, such as providing protected bikeways, minimising noise pollution, and offering amenities such as community gardens, are highlighted in a new publication from the Urban Land Institute, the Building Healthy Places Toolkit.

The Toolkit outlines 21 practical, evidence-based recommendations that the development community can use to promote health at the building or project scale.

These include:

On physical activity:

  • Incorporate a mix land uses (to reduce the need to drive from place to place)
  • Design well-connected street networks at the human scale
  • Provide sidewalks and enticing, pedestrian-oriented streetscapes
  • Provide infrastructure to support biking
  • Design visible, enticing stairs to encourage frequent use
  • Install stair prompts and signage
  • Provide high-quality spaces for multigenerational play and recreation
  • Build play spaces for children

bike lane on Sydney city streetoptically permeable staircase

On healthy food and drinking water:

  • Accommodate a grocery store
  • Host a farmers market
  • Promote healthy food retail
  • Support on-site gardening and farming

raised vegetable garden beds

On healthy environment and social well-being:

  • Minimise noise pollution
  • Increase access to nature
  • Facilitate social engagement
  • Adopt pet-friendly policies

The report illustrates the application of the recommendations to seven real estate typologies – master-planned communities, multifamily, mixed-use, office, industrial, single-family, and retail.

3d sketch of multifamily development

The Building Healthy Places Toolkit is part of ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative, an ongoing program of work to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities.



People oriented city planning

Kingston foreshore buildings Canberra

Jan Gehl’s recent visit to Canberra brought with it a reminder and a clear message that cities are for people.

The history of many cities, particularly those designed and constructed in large part through the 1960s and 70s, has been to design for the car.

Canberra like many other Australian cities has made half-hearted and piecemeal attempts to tame the car, this has come in the form of pedestrian malls in the city centre, and the occasional lacklustre public square.

The public life of Canberra certainly suffers from the spread out nature of its suburbs and multiple centres and has been designed in plan view, with little thought for the human experience, particularly for those attempting to walk through its spaces.

Gehl’s concept of a human scale city is one which is designed for a person walking through the space at 5km/h. At this speed we see detail and can identify people, and at this pace there is the need for small scale visual interest and interaction. Cities designed for car use, tend towards big block development, open expanses and limited pedestrian scale detail.

Useful measures of success, when considering whether a city is designed for people include:

  • Is it accessible for a 7-8 year old (does it allow them to move around independently and safely)
  • Number of cultural events
  • Weekend visitors to the city centre (not just a place for office workers)
  • Number of evening activities such as restaurants, concerts etc.

While it was disappointing that Gehl didn’t provide much commentary on Canberra (hard to do within a brief visit), his advice to remove 50% of the asphalt certainly wouldn’t go astray.

From this perspective that would mean less surface car parks, more buildings with ground floor activity and smaller scale elements between existing big box developments and the street or surrounds. Sections of Canberra that have begun to experience some of this human scale development include Braddon, New Acton/East Acton and Kingston Foreshore.

cone sculpture at New Acton

Let’s hope that next time a Gehl Architects representative comes to Canberra the same can be said for other activity centres such as Woden Town Centre, Mawson and Weston Group Centres (to name a few). As these spaces, while delivering retail floorspace and convenient car parking, are underwhelming as places for people.

Canberrans love Canberra for many valid reasons including it’s clean, unpolluted air and water, it’s extensive outdoor recreation system, the ease of travel (by car mainly, or bike if you are fit) and the employment and education options available.

However for Canberra to continue as one of the worlds most liveable cities and become a vibrant city loved by visitors as well as residents, there will need to be a greater focus on human scale development, transport choice (not just cars), public meeting places, connected pedestrian and cycle networks and greater housing choice (not only detached houses on individual blocks or apartments, but more townhouses, terrace houses, cohousing, supportive housing etc).

Focusing on places for people, and ensuring that the overriding objective of putting people first in the design and planning of any new place or development, would support a more vibrant and active Australian capital.

The Public City: Essays in Honour of Paul Mees

the public city bookcover

How can we improve city life? That is one of the questions that the book ‘The Public City‘, honouring the late Associate Professor Paul Mees seeks to answer.

Co-edited by RMIT University’s Dr Beau B Beza and Melbourne University’s Brendan Gleeson, it is a tribute to RMIT’s Associate Professor Mees, one of the world’s great activist scholars,who died last year. His urban ideal counted on a watchful, confident and
well-informed citizenry to work collectively in a quest for fair and just cities.

Fifteen of Australia and New Zealand’s leading urban scholars, including Professor Emeritus Jean Hillier and Professor Gleeson, have contributed to the book.
The Public City includes a foreword by the late Professor Sir Peter Hall, a world leader in urban planning from Britain.

The collective works in the book draw upon Associate Professor Mees’ ideas as well as providing a blueprint for the improvement of civic and institutional purpose in the creation of the public city. The works also provide personal insights into his life.

The Public City: Essays in Honour of Paul Mees, will be launched next week. Father Bob Maguire, recently named as one of Victoria’s 20 Living Treasures in the Herald Sun newspaper, will open The Public City launch, hosted by RMIT’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies and the Centre for Urban Research.

What: Book Launch – The Public City: Essays in Honour of Paul Mees
When: Thursday, 4 December, 6.30pm
Where: Pearson & Murphy Café, 124 La Trobe St, Melbourne, enter from rear of
RMIT Building 1.
Cost: Free (RSVP through www.publiccitylaunch.eventbrite.com.au )

The business case for better streets and places

Electronic walking man on screen

One of many fantastic presentations at Walk 21, was from Living Streets London Manager, Tom Platt. He spoke about the business case for investing in better streets and places to deliver improved financial return for the high street (also known in other countries as the main street, downtown or shopping streets).

In the last decade, 16 per cent of high street shops in Britain have become vacant. During this time people have continued to move from short frequent shopping trips, to longer, less frequent car trips, with two thirds of shopping trips made by car.

The UK based study entitled the Pedestrian Pound, was commissioned by Living Streets and supports investing in the public realm as a means to increasing retail spending, reducing retail vacancies and creating an environment where people will walk for shopping trips. (This also contributes to other established co-benefits related to health, social inclusion and the environment).

The study findings include that:

  • Well planned improvements to public spaces can boost footfall and trading by up to 40%.
  • Investing in better streets and spaces for walking can provide a competitive return compared to other transport projects, with walking and cycling projects increasing retail sales by up to 30%.
  • Many car journeys are short and as the volume of goods is small, these trips could be made on foot.

The report is also supported by interesting case studies from the UK, including:

  • Sheffield, Heart of the City
  • Oxford Circus, diagonal crossing – where improvements to the pedestrian environment were found to result in an increased turnover of 25% for one of the major retailers facing this intersection.
  • Reinvigorate York, providing pedestrian improvements for the 7 million visitors that visit York annually.

To find out more about this study click here.

Walk 21 Sydney: How do we create walkable cities?

Sydney opera house with walker in foreground

A stimulating couple of days at Walk 21 Sydney, has drawn a whole host of research projects, concepts and innovative thinkers to our attention. Over the next month, we will highlight some of these people, publications and research to assist in spreading the word on how we can develop better urban environments.

If you would like to add a post, or links to relevant information please get in touch.



Festival of Urbanism: Health and high rise, is density bad for you?

Just in case there is not enough on your calendar, the Festival of Urbanism has just launched in Sydney! Running from the 15 October to the 6 November 2014, the festival is packed full with interesting of events. Tonight’s discussion is ‘Health and High-rise – Is density bad for you?

Expert panellists (see below) will address health issues related to increased density.

  • Associate Professor Stephen Corbett, Director of the Centre for Population Health in Western Sydney Local Health District
  • Dr Jennifer Kent, Urban Planner, Macquarie University
  • Dr Peter Sainsbury, Director of Population South Western Sydney Local Health District

To attend register here.

The theme of this year’s Festival of Urbanism is ‘Megaprojects’ for more information see the Festival of Urbanism.Tr