DIY Urbanism: One Block, One Shipping Pallet at a Time

Mike Lydon's picture

Jim Kunstler once said that if the 20th Century was about getting around, the 21st Century is about staying in places worth staying in. A prescient statement, it seems, as demographic, cultural, environmental, and economic trends continue influence the recovery of walkable urban neighborhoods where live, work, and play happen in close proximity. But despite ongoing, substantive market shifts, conventional city making processes continue to lag behind the demand for places worth staying in. Nonetheless, from Dallas to Brooklyn, Do it Yourself (DIY) urbanists are taking it upon themselves to institute place-based change at the scale urban dwellers understand best: the city block.


The Better Block Project

If you are a blogosphere surfing urbanist, then you have likely stumbled across "The Better Block Project." Carried out by Dallas, Texas urbanists Jason Roberts, Amy Cowan, and a cadre of local change agents, the Better Block effort takes (PARK)ing day one step further by effectively demonstrating how a simple vision and a little sweat equity can ably transform an auto-dominated city block into a vibrant, people-oriented neighborhood center-even if only for a single day. The installation, which cost less than $1,000 to produce, has gone viral across the country and may have seeded more permanent change in the Oak Cliff neighborhood. As always, a YouTube video speaks more than a thousand words:


DoTank:Brooklyn seeks to catalyze local intellectual capital. Yet, rather than dwell on navigating the myriad of political structures that eventually institute change, this informal group of Brooklyn based urban planners, artists, and public space advocates directly produce positive urban interventions at the block scale. 

To date, DoTank: Brooklyn has created a digital community board, re-purposed work pallets into fully functional, zero waste urban Adirondack chairs, and have taken to sharing films of New York City's most seductive public spaces. Each project is designed to raise awareness and contribute to a better built environment. And like The Better Block Project, the work of DoTank: Brooklyn demonstrates how harnessing technology, ingenuity, and everyday community resources point the way towards realizing a more livable block, street, neighborhood, and city.


DoTank:Brooklyn - Chair bombingat North 5th and Berry from Aurash Khawarzadon Vimeo.

Whether a temporary café,or a sidewalk installation project, North American cities would do well to view these two efforts not as disruptive code violations, but as signs of true vitality; the presence of an engaged population; a reason to push a more progressive planning agenda; and a mandate to break through the conventional planning process to provide innovative and low-cost solutions that lead to long term, positive change. 

Mike Lydon is Principal of the Street Plans Collaborative and co-author of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Actions for Long-term Change (Island Press, 2015).



The Block Project

Mike, thanks for your posting on this - it was really impressive to see the "can do" attitude trump the $ being spent to produce such a genuine community feeling (definitely not a "forced" look).

DIY Urbanism Philadelphia

Thank you Mike for drawing attention to this exciting national trend to improve livability at the block level. I am a member of Planning Collective, LLC, a civically-minded planning firm in Philadelphia that is seeking to pilot the "Pavement to Parks" concept right now at a chaotic, auto-dominated intersection in South Philadelphia. The City of Philadelphia has signaled interest in progressive projects like these, but in a time of tight budgets, great ideas can fall by the wayside. Fortunately, both the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities (which owns the space) and the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District (which represents local business owners) are joining us to make this project happen.

Advocates of these types of projects can help reclaim concrete for people by supporting this project and voting here:

Prepare for the AICP* Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $245

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.

Wear your city with style!

100% silk scarves feature detailed city maps. Choose from five cities with red or blue trim.

Brand new! Urban Grid City Collection

Each city has its own unique story. Commemorate where you came from or where you want to go.