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Contingent Urbanism: When Tactics Become the Strategy

Monday, April 21, 2014 at 5:30pm

Lawrence Hall, 177
1190 Franklin Boulevard, Eugene, OR

The July 2013 edition of Architect magazine featured an article entitled ‘Newest Urbanism.’ In their word play on what design praxis might succeed the popular late twentieth century New Urbanism movement in the United States, Architect introduced to the uninitiated the concept of tactical urbanism. Their narrative rooted tactical urbanism’s contemporary origins in 2005 in the transformation of a parking space into a small park in San Francisco by the firm Rebar. Defining tactical urbanism as ‘temporary, cheap, and usually grassroots interventions—including so-called guerrilla gardens, pop-up parks, food carts, and ‘open streets’ projects—that are designed to improve city life on a block-by-block, street-by-street basis,’ the article claims that it took this approach to shaping the city less than a decade to mainstream into the practices of U.S. cities and firms alike.

While Architect used the term tactical urbanism, to characterize this effort (borrowing it from the Street Plans Collaborative and their guidebook Tactical Urbanism 2: Short-Term Action, Long Term Change), other terms abound: participatory urbanism, open-source urbanism, pop-up urbanism, minor urbanism, guerrilla urbanism, city repair, or DIY urbanism. This talk will use the term contingent urbanism to discuss how ordinary people are engaged in making place and how designers and planners might learn from it.

B.D. Wortham-Galvin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture at Portland State University and a Faculty Fellow with the Center for Public Interest Design. Holding degrees from Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Maryland, and MIT in a variety of disciplines (including American Studies, Anthropology, Historic Preservation and Architecture), Wortham-Galvin’s scholarship focuses on how theories of cultural sustainability and the everyday can be applied to the design and stewardship of the built environment. As a member of the Maryland Urban Research Studio, she helped lead the team in their award winning, invited, competition entry for The History’s Channel’s, The City of the Future Challenge. She also works in multi-partner community design charrettes.  Recent publications include: “Making the Familiar Strange: Understanding Design Practice as Cultural Practice” in The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs, and “An Anthropology of Urbanism: how people make places,” and “The Woof and the Warp of Architecture: Assessing the role of the figure ground in the design of the urban fabric” both in Footprint: Delft School of Design Journal.

Event Type

Lectures & Presentations, Lecture


College of Design, Department of Architecture

Target Audience

All Students, Faculty/Staff, General Public, Graduate Students


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