Ideas // July 21, 2014

Tactical Urbanism for Authentic Engagement


The starting point is oftentimes a sidewalk, block or street in your neighborhood. Then, you add local ideas for increasing engagement and social vitality. That’s when you’ll start to see tactical urbanism, a community-powered spin on traditional urban planning, in motion.

JXTA's tactical urbanism at Northern Spark 2014

All of the Lights: our bike-powered carts created a dazzling effect at Northern Spark 2014. Photo by Kory Lindstrom.

Using people-focused interventions like light up carts, art-making, bubbles, and games – tapping into people and local assets – to infuse vitality into public space, is the main premise behind the Juxtaposition Arts tactical urbanism projects. Beginning last year, we’ve had an influx of people hiring us to initiate engagement and place-making projects on the Northside and throughout the city, as a strategy to increase connections between people and boost safety. This summer we have taken our carts, bikes, surveys, and activities to bus stops on Nicollet Mall downtown, and to sidewalks and places where people gather in North Minneapolis.

We’re using tools like bicycle-powered carts that light up and play music, both to create welcoming, positive spaces in public places and to gather feedback from community members for a variety of development projects that are being planned. From our carts, JXTA apprentices and adult organizers play dominoes, spades, chess and Jenga with people who are passing by and ask folks for their take on the state of the neighborhood and city. We also have art-making activities that people can try, like designing buttons, or creating custom backpacks while listening to music and watching bubbles blow down the street.

tactical urbanism

Observation+engagement: feedback from neighborhood participants showed differing wants and needs in the social context of nearby urban spaces. 2013

One question we habitually ask ourselves in doing this work is both present tense as much as it is prospective: “what can we do to involve a range of people who have a stake in this place in meaningful ways in deciding the future of the place?”  The Trust for Public Land is working with community members to increase social connections and access to being active outdoors in North Minneapolis. The West Broadway Business and Area Coalition hopes to identify strategies that will make West Broadway a more inviting, safer place to be a pedestrian and shopper. We’re also working with the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, which is part of the Downtown Council, to create spaces along Nicollet Mall that are more welcoming, creative, and fun, especially for young people who tell us they need more things to do downtown. 

Join us at FLOW on July 25 and 26 to see the JXTA tactical carts and much more!

Big ups to Roger Cummings, Sam Babatunde Ero-Phillips and Caroline Kent and their Creative City-Making project which informed many of the projects that we’re utilizing this year. Also shout out to our partners, youth apprentices and artist organizers, Roxxanne O’Brien, Tish Jones and Shelley Martin.