DIY urban redevelopment

Could this be Division Street?

I was walking between classes one day at law school when I stopped in my tracks and thought “What on earth am I doing in LAW school, I’m an anarchist!  I hate rules!”   Now I’m in a position to help make local laws, I have similar thoughts when I see things about tactical urbanism like Building the Better Block.

Government is not likely to lead the way to creative, even fun, solutions to urban planning (or much of anything else).  We need government for stability, responsible management, careful spending, street maintenance, wastewater treatment, etc.  It’s slow, at best.  At worst, it prevents good stuff from happening.  Action oriented, creatively ADD sort of folks might well chew their own limbs off to escape the constraints and pace of working with city government.

Government, however, needs the urbanist guerrilla types to show what can happen with a little organization, passion, and involved citizens.   If we’re good at governing, we’ll find ways to empower people to try new things, be flexible enough in regulating to encourage private action, and be able to celebrate the results.

Get busy: here’s Tactical Urbanism, Vol. 1



6 thoughts on “DIY urban redevelopment

  1. This is all really great stuff… REALLY GREAT STUFF… but it seems to me that NF is getting more and more into regulation of all kinds that would not allow such super-entrepreneurial behavior.

    How does one convince a city council that the ‘Attitude’ needs to change?

    If we are so serious about being a Green Steps City, why not have a box that needs to be checked off on every Motion or Resolution that the Council
    passes ? ; the box indicating the evaluation of that action toward the goal of being a Green Steps City, or making a sound environmental choice.

    If the Council as Regulators is always the position, as against that of the Council being the Lead Enablers, then it is simply to difficult to get up the energy to ‘fight City Hall’ …

  2. and on another subject; that of road design… while driving on 50th in Mpls yesterday, I could not help but notice that the lane was barely wider than the car… a lane in each direction, a turning lane in the middle, in a dense residential neighborhood with many commercial intersections.

    Obviously there was no engineer telling the council that it wasn’t wide enough for trucks to serve the businesses, or fire engines, and I didn’t see any dire traffic accidents or crushed bicyclists… everyone looked happy driving along at a reasonable speed for the tight conditions.

  3. Kiffi,
    It is astounding how much ideas about lane width varies, even within Minnesota. I really recommend Suburban Nation, by Andres Duany, et al. It discusses at length the issue of suburban American engineers to desire “gold-plated infrastructure” above all else. They see only worst-case scenarios, and the result is actually much less safe — because wider streets encourage more reckless driving and discourage walking. I’m in Norway now, and if I could pick one thing that makes things more walkable and humane here, it’s smaller cars and narrower streets. A standard parking lane is 5-6′ — occasionally a car sticks out, but it’s THAT car that’s the outlier, not the sensibly sized one. A secondary issue is that wide streets COST a lot more, making budgets tighter for lighting, sidewalks, and other things that benefit nonmotorized users.

    But Betsey’s main point of citizen action is an interesting one. Roosevelt Drive, Northfield’s ultimate example of gold-plated, terrible street design could be an interesting site for neighborhood reclaiming of sorts.

    • I hope you’re enjoying Norway and bicycling widely, Sean. To add to smaller cars and narrower streets, I’d add that having more cyclists also helps create a culture of driving where cars expect to see cyclists and to share the road with them. Of course, as you’ve already implied, the narrow streets slow traffic, too.

      I’d love to see folks stage an urbanist guerrilla reclamation of Roosevelt Drive – I was just driving on that street (since what else is it good for?) and thinking about how to retrofit it with sidewalks and pedestrian enhancements to slow down traffic on its racetrack like curves.

  4. Betsey,

    Or, we could just keep Roosevelt Drive the way it is and let those who want something different design their own neighborhood or move to a neighborhood that has the design that they want.

    Complete Streets is not my idea of utopia. It is the exact opposite. I don’t want the government putting a bike path and a sidewalk in front of my house to convince me that I should walk and ride a bike. A sidewalk I can justify as a non-motorized alternative. But, I don’t want a bike path that will get used about once a day (if that). Bikers will ride in the street. They are like runners. Runners don’t use the sidewalk; they use the street.

  5. Just noticed as I saw the “archives” dates, that in September it will be the completion of the 3rd year of your blog…
    I think it has the potential to be of huge PUBLIC value, in bringing issues to the fore, but why does it have to exist only, or I should say, primarily, here? Why does the City Council process have to be so stilted as to make some people “want to chew their limbs off”.

    Why can’t the innovations that you speak longingly of here, have a place in the work session discussions of the Council?

    Why can’t part of each work session be set aside for the ‘New Ideas Forum’?

    Why does the Council have to perpetuate some outmoded version of what is proper for them to pursue? which is primarily what is brought to them by Staff, when maybe it should more productively be what the Council brings to the Staff, as the elected representatives of the people?

    I understand that there is a lot of just everyday business to take care of, business that needs approval of the Council for the staff to act, but it feels stifling at times, many times …

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