Tactical Urbanism for Urban Design Interventions: in Conversation with Fabrizio Prati

Tactical Urbanism for Urban Design Interventions: in Conversation with Fabrizio Prati

Fabrizio Prati is an urban designer with 10 years of international experience in safe and sustainable urban design, mobility, street and public spaces design. He joined NACTO in 2015 and as the Associate Director of Design he helps oversee projects and activities under the Bloomberg’s Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) program and the development of new publications. He is one of the authors of the Global Street Design Guide. He graduated from the post-graduate Master of Urban Design at UC Berkeley and previously obtained a Master in City and Regional Planning from the Paris School of Planning. Fabrizio is a city enthusiast and avid urban explorer.

Q: What are the main pros and cons of both tactical urbanism interventions and traditional urban design interventions?

FP: Tactical urbanism allows the opportunity to demonstrate bold ideas and helps communities experience change quickly. These low-cost, short-term interventions are meant to inspire and enable more permanent changes. They also create opportunities to test multiple designs prior to capital investment, thereby reducing the risk of the project’s failure. Using easily accessible, low-cost materials makes transformations not only cost-effective and implementation quicker but also more scalable and replicable, so many more projects can be implemented in a faster time frame.  A significant advantage of tactical urbanism is the opportunity to engage the community and refine the design based on their insights and how the new space is used.

Not everything can be (nor should be) tested using interim materials, some physical changes can only be done in capital construction, and in some locations, it may be more appropriate to use more permanent materials, especially when there is already buy-in. Another challenge is the maintenance of these spaces, whose quality can deteriorate faster than traditional projects. For this reason, it’s important to create a long-term plan and to think about all process steps from the beginning: incorporating maintenance, upkeep, and the replacement of paint, materials, and elements, as well as planning for the capital construction phase.

Q: How to monitor the effectiveness of the proposed interim interventions (e.g., how to collect data – methodology, and how to integrate quantitative and qualitative data, etc.)?

FP: Monitoring is a fundamental part of the success of any project. For decades, streets have been evaluated based on the efficiency and capacity of moving motor vehicles. Still, proper mobility and road safety improvements should focus on a combination of street users and data types. In addition to motorists, understanding the impacts on pedestrians, cyclists, people doing business, and freight and service operators will give a greater understanding of the value of the project. But streets are public spaces, the most commonly available type.

Cities should collect quantitative and qualitative data looking at existing data and research, technical drawings, measurements, counts, surveys, observational data, and interviews or focus groups. The same data should be collected before and after the project is completed to analyze the impact and strategically use the data to improve the final project checking against initial assumptions and expected challenges.

Communicating this information visually and concisely is key in advocating for the project to become permanent and to learn valuable lessons from the process.

Q: What are the differences and analogies in tactical urbanism interventions among EU, US, and other countries?

FP: Great question. In our experience, tactical urbanism is very contextual, and almost every country or even every city uses slightly different solutions, materials, or elements in their interventions. This makes complete sense because the idea is to find easily available, accessible, and affordable elements and materials and find site-specific solutions that adapt to local culture, needs, and challenges.

There are differences in raw materials and labor costs that make some solutions more affordable in certain contexts and almost prohibitive in others. For instance, a modular element that can be affordable in certain parts of the world might be very expensive somewhere else because it’s not produced locally. 

There are a lot of similarities too, definitely in the approach and sometimes even in the material used or the elements. Cities get inspired by each other and try to find creative solutions to transform their streets and public spaces.