Applying Tactical Urbansim against Covid-19

Travis Weishaar – GEOG/GD 464F – Dr. Cherie Enns

Over the last several months Covid-19 has completely changed the way we live – our daily routines, our places of work, our social circles, and our way of interacting with one another has been completely broken down on a fundamental level. From every level of government to every individual, we have been shaping our lives to accommodate our new disposition in the best way we see fit. Unfortunately, as many of us have had the best intentions in combating this new virus, there were no guarantees to our methods – some of us have fared better than others. While individual countries tackle this pandemic on a much larger scale, I pose the question – what are the roles and responsibilities our cities should take to help combat this virus and best support our local communities.

For the last couple months, the students of our class – an urban planning studio course – were split into groups and charged with the task of using tactical urbanism to combat some of the city of Abbotsford’s most difficult pandemic challenges. My group took on the obstacle of finding the most effective and efficient way of giving the cities dispossessed an easily accessible way to curb the spread of Covid-19. After we had framed our design challenge, we theorized several solutions; after much deliberation we concluded that placing portable handwashing stations across the city of Abbotsford was our best and most practical solution.

With giving easy access to proper handwashing stations on the streets and in parks of Abbotsford, it would not only help the cities most vulnerable but also be a great benefit to all its citizens. We believe this is a low-cost but high-reward solution and we eagerly await the cities decision on funding this project.

Unfortunately, while I consider this an “easily” scalable project for our city, these types of solutions are not always practical for some. While we tackle these issues and formulate our own ways to combat this pandemic at home, countries around the world have been presented their own unique challenges; it is important to remember that not all countries have the same readily available resources at their disposal. Taking a country like Tanzania, for example – how is it appropriate or feasible to ask its citizens to properly practice physical and social distancing when they have a housing crisis – “over 70% of the population is living in unplanned settlements and 50% of the population being low income earners” (Izar, Priscilla). Many of this country’s citizens must live in tight quarters with other families to help support each other; accessing clean food and water often conflicts with the practice of social distancing. Like Tanzania, many countries across the world are trying to simultaneously deal with their own overlapping issues with Covid-19, and sometimes the solutions that work here in North America are not a viable option elsewhere.

While the world struggles with this pandemic and its many associated problems, what will our future cities look like? There is a strong possibility that Covid-19 will be with us for a long time to come, and there is also the possibility that this pandemic is not unique, and if this is the case how can we be better prepare ourselves for the next one. For all the terrible tragedies that this pandemic has brought, we might have an opportunity here to change the landscapes of our cities to better protect us against future threats. What will the future of our streets and public spaces look like? “Six feet could be the new unit we use when we think about cities and public parks” (Oscar, Holland).

Tactical urbanism is an approach to transform cities using low-cost methods to temporarily transform cityscapes to improve local neighbourhoods and public places. By integrating tactical urbanism into designing and redesigning our cities, we can help alleviate some of the pressure that has been put on everyone as of late, and perhaps even be better prepared if this were to happen again. An example of tactical urbanism would be “play streets” – a way of transforming our streets (that are primarily used by cars) into public gathering areas that can still adhere to social distancing guidelines, such as: “street fairs and bazaars, markets, block parties, and similar temporary events” (Lydon, Mike. Garcia, Anthony). Applying these relatively quick and easy changes to a city can have a profound affect that will enrichen the lives of its citizens – especially in a time where we need it most. Other cities, like Oakland, have already been applying tactical urbanism to its streets – “Oakland has closed 10% of its roadways for more space for pedestrians and cyclists” (Holland, Oscar). By freeing up unused space due to lower volumes of traffic, pop-up markets and street fairs have overtaken the city – just one way in using tactical urbanism to liberate our space within the city.

In conclusion, it is imperative for our cities to interact and involve its citizens with how we handle our responses to this pandemic; as it is also imperative that cities use innovative ways in combating Covid-19, such as portable handwashing stations or using tactical urbanism. Collaboration is key, and sharing our ideas and information is pivotal in how we tackle this virus.

Works Cited

Ababa, A. “Africa is woefully ill-equipped to cope with Covid-19”. Economist. https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2020/03/26/africa-is-woefully-ill-equipped-to-cope-with-covid-19?utm_campaign=the-economist-today&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_source=salesforce-marketing-cloud&utm_term=2020-05-07&utm_content=article-link-2

Chandler, Matthew. “How Covid-19 Has Caused “Pop Up” Bike Lanes to Appear Overnight”.

DiscerningCyclist. April 18th, 2020. https://discerningcyclist.com/2020/04/pop-up-bike-lanes-temporary-covid-19-coronavirus/

“DIY Handwashing Station”. LavaMae. YouTube Video. April 21, 2020.

Izar, Priscilla. “The urban poor in Sub-Saharan Africa under the coronavirus Pandemic”. Columbia. 2020.

Kinney, Jen. “New Design Guide Helps Planners Hack Tactical Urbanism”. Next City. December 12, 2016.

Lydon, Mike. Garcia, Anthony. “Tactical Urbanism”. Island Press. 2015. P1-230.

Oscar, Holland. “Our cities may never look the same again after this pandemic”. CNN. May 9th, 2020.

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