How one planning department has embraced tactical urbanism

The planning department of The City of Hamilton, Ontario has embraced tactical urbanism as a key part of its strategic city planning. In a series of Tweets to close out 2017, Jason Thorne the City’s planning director showcased a series of planning innovations that the City had adopted, including:

  • Special loading zones for musicians outside concert venues as part of the City’s Music City strategy
  • The “Mountain Climber” pilot project – free bus rides up to the Niagara Escarpment for cyclists
  • New creative industries zoning to open up places of worship as performance venues and employment areas for artist studios
  • The Everyone Rides initiative to offer $3 bike share memberships for new immigrants
  • New policy to allow temporary things like planters and seating on the sidewalk without need for legal encroachment agreements
  • Converting part of a parking lot into a seasonal popup park public space downtown
  • A recognition program for the 900+ pre-Confederation buildings across the City
  • Converting on-street parking spaces into seasonal popup patios for restaurants and cafes across the city
  • Allowing conditional building permits so brownfield projects can proceed while waiting for provincial record of site condition
  • Waiving planning application fees for affordable housing projects

In an article on Curbed, Thorne credits the breadth of his portfolio for his ability to implement these innovations. As Alissa Walker from Curbed notes: “Thorne oversees not only urban planning, but also transportation planning, economic development, and arts and culture. This makes Hamilton’s planning department exceptionally collaborative and diverse, says Thorne. “You have all the key pieces of city-building together in one shop, so you can have that synergy between them.”

However, it appears the City of Hamilton wasn’t always as enlightened about the benefits of tactical urbanism as it is today. Back in 2013, the Hamilton-Burlington Society of Architects (HBSA) organised a talk on tactical urbanism by Mike Lydon, a principal at The Street Plans Collaborative and e-book author of Tactical Urbanism and Tactical Urbanism 2. As a guest blogpost by Ryan McGreal over on Spacing highlights, it seems that Lydon’s talk inspired some of the residents of Hamilton to go out and begin applying the lessons directly, including: “a friendly demonstration to promote turning a suburban intersection into shared space; a painted crosswalk adjacent to a pedestrian-unfriendly four-lane arterial; and DIY bump outs at a busy intersection next to a school”. The City of Hamilton at this stage appears to have been less than impressed and swiftly removed the impromptu installations.

Wherever the push came from, the City of Hamilton seems to have come a long way since 2013 and it is refreshing to see a planning department adopt tactical urbanism as an integral part of its approach to strategic planning. The important lesson is that none of these innovations cost a lot, but they are starting to change the face of the city and importantly how the city’s planners interact with residents.

Further Reading:

Walker, A., How a mid-sized Canadian city became the envy of urban planners (Curbed, 12 Jan 2018)

@JasonThorne_RPP, #CoolLittleThings Twitter Thread (Twitter, 31 Dec 2017)

McGreal, R., Report from Hamilton, Ontario: Tactical Urbanism crackdown (Spacing, 10 May 2013)

McGreal, R., Invigorating Tactical Urbanism Talk Inspires Action (Raise the Hammer, 08 May 2013)

McNally, G., City Embraces Tactical Urbanism (Raise the Hammer, 24 Sep 2013)


Image Credit: With bones like this is it any wonder that Hamilton is now Ontario’s second craziest housing market by Jason Paris licenced under CC BY 2.0

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