Seven days in Memphis: boot camp puts tactical urbanism to work in the city

High Ground News

May 7, 2014

It was a week of “what if?” in Memphis as the partners promoting Boot Camp Memphis welcomed Chuck Marohn, president of Strong Towns; Mike Lydon, principal of the Brooklyn-based The Street Plans Collaborative; and Joe Minicozzi, principal of Ashville, N.C., Urban3 LLC consulting company, to town to conduct workshops on tactical urbanism.

Participating partners included the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, the Urban Land Institute, the Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Community LIFT, Livable Memphis, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis and the Hyde Family Foundations.

Following an executive session at the Bioworks Foundation on Tuesday, April 22, the day-long workshops, more hands-on and intimate, were held at No. 2 Vance, a fitting locale in a rehabbed warehouse overlooking the Riverwalk, Vance Park and the Mississippi River. Nightly recap presentations were made at the opposite end of downtown in the Pinch District.

The idea behind Boot Camp was to address issues surrounding city sprawl and discuss ways to create opportunity within core neighborhoods to facilitate action that might lead to improved communities.

While the executive session was intended for the “generals,” it was the “colonels,” Marohn said, “that I really want to have an in-depth conversation with.”

“If you’re ever going to lead a revolution or a mutiny or a change in established order,” he continued, “it’s never the people in charge who do that. It’s always the next tier down, the ones that can see the dysfunction and see also what change needs to happen; they’re the ones who come in and change things.”

Leah Dawkins is the Community Redevelopment Liasion for the University of Memphis, working toward neighborhood revitalization and building capacity within those neighborhoods. She is a planner by trade and attended both Boot Camp sessions. She says she was happy to see so many of these colonels on hand.

“I thought it was interesting that the people participating were really practitioners in the city,” she said.

“Tactical urbanism,” a term coined by Lydon, is the idea that citizens can come together to participate in low-risk, high-reward approaches to instigate change in their communities. And theory as practice could be seen throughout that week in the city. The week was bookended by two successful events that put tatical urbanism to use. On Saturday, April 19, City of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Overton Park Conservancy Director Tina Sullivan and other civic and nonprofit representatives gathered on the eastern edge of Overton Park to formally open the Bike Gate sculpture and the park’s new pedestrian entrance from East Parkway.

More than just a way for bikers, joggers and walkers to safely enter the park from the protected Hampline bikeway, the Bike Gate is a monument to the citizens who, in the 1970s, fought the federal government, which sought to lay asphalt through the park as a means to extend Interstate 40. The Gate marks the one spot in the country where the roadway is interrupted, the people unwilling to accede to the imminent domain of federal projects . . . (read more)