With India’s ever-expanding and fast-changing cities, the range of challenges that affect them is not only increasing but also becoming increasingly particular to the local setting. Urban design is being re-thought by decision-makers and designers to make cities more livable and public spaces safer and more accessible. Tactical urbanism is gaining traction among planners, activists, artists and is even being recognized by the government as a solution to these problems. 

Why tactical urbanism is important? - Sheet1
Tactical urbanism long before it was identified as such in Paris as Les Bouquinistes began transforming the Seine Riverbank into bookstores in the 1800s_©LartNouveau.com

What is Tactical Urbanism

Tactical urbanism is short-term action for a long-term change. It is also known as DIY urbanism, Planning-by-Doing, Urban Acupuncture, or Urban Prototyping. This approach refers to a city, organizational and/or citizen-led approach to building neighborhoods by using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyze long-term change. It tests out urban design, transportation planning, and infrastructural changes for improving road safety for all road users, especially the most vulnerable, like pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-motorized transport users. The shift in key trends of urbanism has led to us evolving towards a more human-centered idea of urban planning. Jan Gehl is a beacon for creating cities for people and not for cars. 

A good example of tactical urbanism is the popular pop-up bike lanes that have come up in many cities during the ongoing pandemic. They are cheap, simple, and short-term solutions, but are intended for a deeper change, like more safety and space for cyclists in the long term.

Why tactical urbanism is important? - Sheet2
Pop up bike lanes coming up during the pandemic_©Discerning Cyclist

Oftentimes, tactical urbanism targets empty lots, idle storefronts, highway underpasses, and other public spaces for sidewalk renovations, signage additions, neighborhood park upgrades, etc. Streets have been reclaimed and repurposed as parks, plazas, transit streets, bike lanes, and even gardens using interim measures. Times Square in New York City began with temporary street closures, paint, and cheap beach chairs but has since expanded to include custom-designed granite seats, tables, and defined activity zones for the city’s street performers and is one of the most famous public spaces in the world.

Why tactical urbanism is important? - Sheet3
New York’s Times Square transformation started as an interim project_©NACTO-GDCI

“Parklets”, the spaces where street pavements are repurposed into community parks by extending a walkway into the given area, is one of the more consistent tactical urbanism schemes. This sort of urbanization is likewise low-risk and does not demand long-term commitment from those engaged. With such a small time and financial investment necessary, there is a tremendous return on investment for participating communities. The most pleasing outcome of this strategy is that it builds realistic expectations.

Why tactical urbanism is important? - Sheet4
Parklet in Philadelphia_©Ryan Collerd

Participatory Design in Tactical Urbanism

Tactical urbanism is a city-led and/or citizen-led method of testing and demonstrating change in our physical settings that is both quick and economical. When actions have vision, local context, short-term commitment, low-risk and high-reward value, and community support, they are characterized as tactical. These tactics sometimes succeed in bringing neighbors together as well. Pop-up initiatives are meant to gain official sanction or effect change in the long run. Tactical urbanism frequently includes parklets, play streets, and even street art which act as disruptions to everyday city life. They should, in theory, be able to be developed or acted upon in small steps.

Sringeri Mutt Road, Chennai:

This intervention facilitated by the ITDP (Institute for Transportation and Development) is where a participatory approach proved worthy. A quick and cost-effective initiative aimed at enhancing road and personal safety in the neighborhood, particularly for women and children. The major purpose was to increase safety by addressing the issue of abandoned vehicles and unlawful parking, which contributed to the area’s general deterioration and led to activities like public urinating and eve-teasing. Trust and accountability were built by involving the stakeholders at every step of the way. Following the initial discussions, the problem was resolved by first removing unauthorized parking, then cleaning and painting the area. By painting a piece of the road and complex walls in vivid colors with the assistance of school kids, the roadway was converted into a dynamic environment. This not only helped in increasing pedestrianization but also resulted in a reduction in traffic congestion. A post-implementation survey showed that 90% of the users who used the street felt an increased sense of safety. 

Before and after of Sringeri Mutt Road_©ITDP

Pedestrian and bicycle mobility, resolving conflicts between mobility and livability, enhanced transit experience, placemaking, and wayfinding are all areas where tactical urbanism may be used. Tactical urbanism provides a number of advantages as a strategy. A fast evaluation of the current issues, possibilities, and restrictions aid in a deeper understanding of users’ requirements at the intervention site. It acts as a proof of concept for a strategy before large investments in a project. Residents, non-profits, local companies, and government organizations are encouraged to collaborate while utilizing the system creatively. This promotes public participation by allowing for more productive dialogues with residents. To be successful, a tactical urbanism project must be a contextually creative answer to particular challenges on a street in a neighborhood.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made discussion about tactical urbanism even more imperative. The pandemic has radically altered daily life as we knew it. Our streets and public spaces must improve their performance at a time when physical distance is essential and group gatherings are restricted to protect public health even in the future.


  1. Itdp.in. 2022. Some paint, few brushes, kids young & old: Sringeri Mutt Road’s tale of transformation -. [online] Available at: <https://www.itdp.in/some-paint-few-brushes-kids-young-old-sringeri-mutt-roads-tale-of-transformation/> [Accessed 10 April 2022].
  2. Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, 2020. A TACTICAL URBANISM GUIDEBOOK. New Delhi: GIZ.
  3. WRI INDIA. 2022. Tactical Urbanism : An adaptive tool for safe distancing. [online] Available at: <https://wri-india.org/blog/tactical-urbanism-adaptive-tool-safe-distancing> [Accessed 10 April 2022].

Rishima is a fifth year architecture student currently interning in Pune. She is an avid reader and occasionally blurts out coherent thoughts. She believes creating an equitable space for all and providing a uniform experience regardless of gender, sexual preferences, age, abilities, class and caste is the responsibility of each architect.

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