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Tactical Urbanism in Costa Mesa

Members of the Costa Mesa Bikeway & Walkability Committee,


Thank you for allowing me to come in and speak on tactical urbanism during your meeting. I hope that my talk helped us better understand what tactical urbanism is, and how we might use it as a tool to further our shared vision of a more bikeable and walkable Costa Mesa. Below are summaries of the main points I wanted to get across, along with some helpful links to resources.


The problem is speed. Simply put, cars go way faster than everything else that moves about in a city. And because they go way faster than everything else moving about in a city, they need dedicated space. This dedicated space is the roadway – the depressed space between curbs. And because of the inherent spatial inefficiency of cars, they need a lot of space. We’ve given them a lot of space. Almost all of it. And don’t forget about the collateral damage along the edges of these spaces. The incessant noise, exhaust, and speed of cars rolling by tends to turn the spaces around each roadway into spaces that no one really wants to be.


Our vision is a public realm that is safe, comfortable, and convenient for people of all ages and abilities to be in and move through. This does not seem like it should be controversial, or too much to ask for. The realization of this vision does not necessitate that cars be banned, nor that actions need to be taken that result in ridiculous traffic jams. But it does necessitate that cars be put into check on our city streets, which means reducing their speeds, and trimming much of the excess space they’ve been given.


Tactical urbanism can help us move in the right direction. This is a bottom-up approach to city-making, where people use inexpensive materials to apply short-term changes to the public realm, often infusing life into otherwise neglected space. It is tactical in that the action is not only an end, but also a means to 1) test the improvement and gather feedback from the community, 2) engage neighbors in collaborative place-making, and 3) demonstrate that our streets can be better, and better for everyone. To get anywhere near the realization of our vision for Costa Mesa in our lifetimes, there is more work to be done than our staff could ever possibly handle. Tactical urbanism is a way to mobilize all of the residents out there who want their neighborhoods to be better, but don’t know how to help. Here is the Tactical Urbanist’s Guide. Your welcome ;)


Cities are beginning to embrace this tool. Portland, OR, Snellville, GA, Fayetteville, AR, Burlington VT are a few examples of cities who are enthusiastically (and responsibly) embracing the idea of partnering with their residents to improve their communities in creative and tangible ways. They have laid down tracks (permit processes) for individuals and community groups to carry out such projects with minimal city resources required. Some of them even help with funding. Notice the language on these city(!) websites:


The city is proud to announce the creation of its Tactical Urbanism Program, an effort to get residents and business owners more involved with the planning of the city. (Snellville)


The City of Fayetteville encourages citizens to develop their own Tactical Urbanism projects using our Guide and Permit Application. Projects completed by citizens will help to inform the City's planning and development processes. (Fayetteville)


It's an exciting direction for Burlington -- these short-term projects can influence long-term change by providing an opportunity to test projects, collect data that could expedite projects, widen public engagement and deepen our understanding of community needs at the smallest scale, and strengthen relationships by encouraging people to work together in new ways. This has the potential to build community excitement while drawing attention to perceived shortcomings of policy and street design. (Burlington)


Costa Mesa needs to be on the map. There is a demand to live here. We have a cool culture. We have a major community college. We, unlike many other Orange County cities, have a good “bones” – our street network lends itself nicely for us to mature into a beautiful, functional, interesting city. Last month Costa Mesa was on the map by being one of only a handful of California cities to formally endorse Senate Bill 127 (we should also be on the map by being on the list of cities that formally endorse the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide – something the BWC can really help with). It is true that tactical urbanism in its current form is a relatively new phenomenon for which there is not much local precedent. But Costa Mesa should be the city to blaze this trail. Blazing a local trail does not mean reinventing the wheel - there are good, established precedents out there for us to learn from and to use as templates.

Thanks for reading, and if you’d like, you can sign up to receive our bi-monthly news blast here.


Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets

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