Pop-up urbanism has taken its place in the spotlight in recent months, as communities across the globe put pressure on their civic leaders to install temporary bike lanes, small parks and outdoor dining. But a word of caution from someone who’s championed such projects as a citizen in their hometown (please do enjoy the leafy fruits of my labour on Oxford Street in Perth, Australia) and also worked with community members on behalf of a city hall. I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when enthused residents build infrastructure without proper advice from professional city-makers – think parklets left to gather rubbish on uninviting streets and unprotected bike lanes installed on major roads.
Which begs the question, what’s the best way for active citizens and city hall to work together? Buffalo, New York (pictured) might have just provided the perfect model. This week the cycling activist group Gobike began to paint its own pedestrian crossings and other markings on streets already earmarked by the city for infrastructure development. Though the move was driven by frustration with the city government for not following up or funding its own strategy, it’s still a move that builds on the carefully considered work of Buffalo’s urban planners. The result is a pop-up project that’s appropriate for its context and also serves the long-term ambitions of the city.
The message here is that, for citizens looking to take action, the best place to start might be by building on your own city’s existing plans. These are more likely to receive support and might even be the tipping point that gets your mayor moving. Let’s hope that’s the case in Buffalo.