Planning by experimentation
It's no secret I'm a big fan of what is now called Tactical Urbanism - the movement to experiment and shape streets, public spaces and buildings with quick and inexpensive interventions. Far too often we try and create "perfect" long-term plans without actually field-testing some simple ideas first. A more experimental approach allows cities to see success (or failure) quickly and make better-informed decisions about what should become permanent. We used to practice this technique in various civic activist ways in Kansas City with the Urban Society of Kansas City and some neighborhood-driven approaches.
The idea of actually getting out on the ground to inform planning projects is spreading further, in some exciting ways. Eric Jaffe writes about one such effort in transit planning in Vancouver:
This time the planning firm Nelson\Nygaard took a different approach: they decided to intervene with the 99 Broadway lines in real-time. So they brought a few basic tools to the site — some sidewalk tape, a few stanchions, chalk — and over the course of a few morning rushes tested out which queuing methods got the best rider response. The situation made for a perfect testing ground, because every few minutes brought a new experimental sample of riders.
"Sometimes you need to think about a problem differently or approach the way you collect information about a problem differently to come up with the right result," says Paul Supawanich, senior associate at Nelson\Nygaard, who worked with colleagues (as well as Liana Evans and Michelle Babiuk from TransLink) on the project. "It's not always just about before-and-after data. Sometimes it's about getting out there and observing things in real-time."
This specific project aside, Supawanich says the live trial-and-error intervention helps push the boundaries of standard planning approaches. "Sometimes it's easy for us to be armchair planners and look at maps and data and this other stuff and attack a problem," he says. "But this is one of those cases that just by being there and observing over the course of a couple hours how people react to something, it became clear what was going to work and what wasn't."
The article also has some videos of the on-site experiments.
If you or your city is looking for some quick, hands-on experimenting, contact me about scheduling a Main Street Makeover - a program to move ideas into action.