The Tactical Urbanist Toolbox

From the TransAlt archives, early tactical urbanists at work.

Also known as guerrilla or D.I.Y. urbanism, tactical urbanism is an umbrella term for low-cost, temporary changes to a street. Giving neighborhoods the tools they need to improve public space is fun, effective, and hands the power of city planning back to the people.

Case in point: In New York City, a group of anonymous mischief-makers calling themselves the Department of Transformation have been placing rows of orange traffic cones along the edge of painted bike lanes that drivers tend to park and drive in. With the cones in place, drivers stay out of the lane. It sends a message to the traffic engineers at the New York City Department of Transportation that those bike lanes should be protected.

From Santiago to Miami, tactical urbanists have developed and tested a diverse toolbox of everyday objects that make passersby think twice about how we use public space.

Traffic Cones

Taking a cue from summer block parties marked by a car parked horizontally across the street, tactical urbanists change behavior with unofficial blockades, using traffic cones to mark where cars aren’t welcome.


Tactical urbanists in Chile have used green paint to lay down temporary bike lanes; the lanes were packed, and eventually made permanent. From New York to Sydney, white paint helps old bicycles become powerful roadside memorials.


The urban planners at New York City’s Department of Transportation use plants and planters as a quick curb extension, forcing drivers to turn slowly. Anything that can hold soil could be a planter, even an old tire or a five-gallon bucket.


Got something to say? D.I.Y. street signs and sidewalk A-frames are tactical urbanists’ favorite choice to ask drivers to slow down, gather perspectives on the speed limit, or make people notice an unsafe condition.


Tactical urbanists in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, have been known to roll sod across Bedford Avenue. That bit of green helps people see how the street could be better utilized, and quickly inspires folks to take off their shoes and stay awhile.

Parking Space

There’s a rectangle of public space outside of every apartment. Sure, there’s usually a car in it — but tactical urbanists in San Francisco learned that if they arrive first, a parking space can be their “park” for the day. Just don’t forget to relocate before the street sweepers arrive!


Add a burst of color by scattering flower seeds. In Miami, tactical urbanists use neon spray paint to turn overgrown sidewalk weeds into public art. In England, they grow moss into letter shapes for a form of green graffiti.


Scrap wood, or milk crates and zip ties, can be used to build chairs. The earliest version of Times Square’s public plaza was stocked with cheap lawn loungers. One chair is a seat, but two chairs is public space!


Obstructing traffic and defacing public property is illegal and not endorsed by Transportation Alternatives. Transportation Alternatives does not condone the Department of Transformation, nor do we have any idea who they are.

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