Crowdsourcing Urbanism

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For informations on citizen-financed urbanism, see Crowdfunding Urbanism.

Crowdsourcing Urbanism a collective term for citizen-led and government initiated alteration to the urban fabric. It is an approach to neighbourhood building using short-term, low-cost and scaleable interventions to catalyse long-term change.[1] Other forms and terms of crowdsourced urbanism are guerilla urbanism, pop-up urbanism, city repair, or D.I.Y. urbanism.


Crowdsourcing urban planning puts the future of cities into the hands of the people in all sorts of unexpected ways, from custom-designing new downtown districts to identifying problem areas for cyclists and pedestrians.[2] These are all urban interventions of a sort – quick, often temporary, cheap projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable.[3]

A specific form of crowdfunded urbanism is Tactical Urbanism. It is a term used to describe a collection of low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places.[4]

Key points of Tactical Urbanism are:

  • A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change
  • The offering of local solutions for local planning challenges
  • Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;
  • Low-risks, with a possibly high reward
  • The development of social capital between citizens and the building of organisational capacity between public-private institutions, non-profits, and their constituents.[5]


Although a lot of different urban intervention projects can and have worked in cities across the world, it is clear that not every project is right for every place. What’s needed and wanted in one neighborhood can be wildly different from what would work or be accepted in another. Knowing and responding to locals needs is paramount.

Small-scale interventions are characterized by their community-focus and realistic goals. Maybe the most widespread of these tactics. One example is the annual Park(ing) Day, in which parking spaces are turned into temporary park spaces.

Types of Interventions

Crowdsourcing Urbanism projects vary significantly in scope, size, budget, and support. Projects often begin as grassroots interventions and spread to other cities and are in some cases adopted by Municipal Governments as best practices. A list of common interventions are listed below.

Better Block Initiatives

Temporarily transforming retail streets using cheap or donated materials and volunteers. Spaces are transformed by introducing food carts, sidewalk tables, temporary bike lanes and narrowing of streets.

Chair Bombing

The act of removing salvageable materials and using it to build public seating. The chairs are placed in areas that either are quiet or lack comfortable places to site.


The act of removing unnecessary fences to break down barriers between neighbours, beautify communities, and encourage community building.


The act of removing unnecessary pavement to transform driveway's and parking into green space so that rain water can be absorbed and neighbourhoods beautified.

Food Carts/Trucks

Food Carts/Trucks are used to attract people to underused public spaces and offer small business opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Guerilla Gardening

Guerrilla gardening is the act of gardening on land that the gardeners do not have the legal rights to utilize, such as an abandoned site, an area that is not being cared for, or private property.

Open Streets

To temporarily provide safe spaces for walking, bicycling, skating, and social activities; promote local economic development; and raise awareness about the impact of cars in urban spaces. Open Streets is an anglicized term for the South American Ciclovia which originated in Bogota.

PARK(ing) Day

An annual event where on street parking is converted into park-like spaces.

Pavement to Plazas

Popularized in New York City, Pavement Plazas involve converting space on streets to usable public space. The closure of Time Square to vehicle traffic and it's low cost conversion to a pedestrian plaza is seen as primary example Pavement Plazas.

Pop-Up Cafes

Pop-Up Cafes are temporary patios or terraces built in parking spots to provide overflow seating for a nearby cafe or for passersby. Most common in cities where sidewalks are narrow and where there otherwise is not room for outdoor sitting or eating areas.

Pop-Up Retail

Pop-up shops are temporary retail stores that are set up in vacant stores or property.


Do It Yourself City Manual

The Do It Yourself City Manual is a small booklet that covers a wide range of participatory urban project examples in the city of Vienna. It gives an overview on legal regulations, issues and possibilities concerning interventions and city reprogramming.

Guerrilla Bike Lanes

According to the New York City Department of Transportation, Manhattan's Sixth Avenue is one of the busiest bike streets in the city. But north of 42nd Street, its bike lane comes to an abrupt end. In 2011 the local Community Board's transportation committee considered whether to install a dedicated bike lane up to 59th Street, where the street terminates. After some debate, the committee wound up with a tie vote, an outcome that counts as a no.[6]

Therefore a group of cycling advocates took matters into their own hands, spray-painting white lanes and icons of people on bikes. Some of those got equipped with a pair of wings.[7]

In Seattle a different group of cyclists installed reflective pylons along a painted bike lane on Cherry Street, to demonstrate to the Seattle Department of Transportation "how an incredibly modest investment and a few minutes of SDOT’s time is capable of transforming a marginal, under-utilized and dangerous bike facility into one dramatically safer for cars, pedestrians and bicyclists."[8]

Although the motivation for those interventions seem similar, the outcome for installing illegal bike lanes is very different depending to the city's munincipality. There are possibilities from getting arrested to actually convince the government to pursue the intervention and make it official. Nonetheless it raises awareness on road safety and tries to bring some attention to the issue.

Commuter Buses

The Rinspeed microMAX is a new transport idea from the company Rinspeed who often come up with creative concepts for the automotive industry. Born out of the idea of a collective mind, more specifically, the collective mind featured in science-fiction novel The Swarm, microMAX aims to provide a travel experience greater than the sum of its parts.

Despite its outward appearance of the minibus, the it houses some intelligent insides. It would rely on a multitude of data points including current traffic conditions, known choke points and various other piece of information to generate a straight shot to your destination.

Using an app microMAX users would be able to find out if there was a vehicle in your area with spaces, where its next stop off point would be and how long it would take to get you to your destination, almost like a personalised bus.[9] The project is still in the concept phase and tries to fund the realization.

DIY Crosswalks

This project's aim is to solve public safety issues by painting crosswalks at dangerous interesection points in the city. For citizens who deploy these tactics, the goal is not simply to provoke or disrupt. Ultimately, it’s to assist cities in identifying problems and implementing changes that make sense in the local context.

Some city officials see in those changes potential threats to people's safety. It also creates costs for maintenance and repair. Some may consider this activism and others vandalism with the potential for serious health consequences for citizens, particularly pedestrians. There is potential liability and risk management claims to both the city and the individuals involved.[10]


  • Neuhaus, Fabian (Ed.): Studies in Temporal Urbanism. The urbanTick Experiment, 2011, ISBN 978-94-007-0937-9.
  • Jeffrey Hou, Benjamin Spencer, Thaisa Way,Ken Yocom (Ed.): Now Urbanism: The Future City is Here, 2014, ISBN: 978-0415717861.