Tactical Master Planning.

We have been thinking about our different city experiences during lockdown. Isthmus designers; Oriane Merindol, Stefanie Graze, Brennan Baxley, and Frank Hoffmann have developed a tactical master plan that could help re-inhabit the city while maintaining some of the new things we liked. This initiative aims to provide a framework for innovative change by supporting the work of many different groups advocating for a more people friendly Wellington. In this Thinking article Nick Kapica describes how a systematic approach to tactical urbanism could be a catalyst for change.

Physical distancing has been reduced, but does that mean we can forget creating more space for people? We need to re-inhabit the city, connect with each other and support local shops, bars, restaurants and venues. During lockdown we discovered new ways of moving around the city; less cars, more cycling and walking. What can we retain from these new experiences to make a more people friendly city centre?

‘The 15 minute city is the very simple idea that Parisian people should be able to meet their normal needs within 15 minutes’ sustainable travel from home. Work and school and third places and eating out and groceries and health services and a library, accessible within 15 minutes on foot, bike, scooter or wheelchair.’
—Isabella Cawthorn, Talk Wellington

Re-inhabit the city

Many people enjoyed more space to move through the city, more space on city transportation has been a pleasure. If the virus spreads again we may even need to return to level 2 or 3 and need more space again. Finding this space provides a great opportunity to explore what city spaces designed for people—not traffic—would look like. Temporary, low cost interventions—tactical urbanism—allow design changes to be tested, and adapted in real time, rapidly exposing what works and what doesn’t. Small interventions using simple tools—such as cones, planters, and paint—challenge users to rethink how they see and use space, contributing to the larger goal of creating safe, liveable streets for people. Ideas can be tried in a way that is simply not possible if undertaking a permanent public works project.

The Agile Manifesto adapted for Urban Design

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable city spaces.

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the citizens advantage.

Deliver working solutions frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

City Officers and designers must work together daily throughout the project.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Working ideas are the primary measure of progress. Agile processes promote sustainable development.

The sponsors, designers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Mindset for radical transformation

City improvements typically take a long time; problems need to be identified, ideas developed, public consulted, negotiations undertaken—before any detailed design, procurement, and implementation can take place. Often when all this has happened the idea has shifted and the solution is no longer fit for purpose. Agile is an approach to product development in which needs and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. While it is primarily used for software development we have adapted the Agile Manifesto for Urban Design. This provides the right mindset for radical transformation. Agile promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continuous improvement, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change. This approach provides an open and continuous communications strategy, that shares ideas quickly and uses feedback effectively. With this mindset this tactical master plan can quickly deliver useful improvements to the city that will also help us learn where the next interventions need to happen.

Master planning tactical urbanism

While individual improvements and modifications are good—a systemic city-wide approach to finding more space for people will be the most effective. Central Wellington is an ideal laboratory to prototype ideas for the future city through ongoing tactical urbanism interventions. We have drawn on our city shaping urban design expertise and developed a ‘tactical’ master plan that supports the integration of many tactical interventions. The founding principles of the tactical urbanism movement to reclaim, re-design and re-programme city spaces can be applied citywide to discover what a people friendly city would look like for Wellington. The best master plans provide the right balance of certainty and flexibility to realise a clear vision. Through interrogating existing and potential amenity this tactical master plan will provide more space for people, create better connections, and improve the central city experience. This tactical master plan is focused around four key moves that provide the framework for smaller detailed ideas to take place as tactical explorations.

Four principles

Change is hard and resources are limited so prototyping small interventions within an overall plan will help citizens understand the opportunities and benefits.

Streets are public spaces enabling vital social interactions, not only traffic corridors.

Efficient and safe movement of people and goods is key for a sustainable and economically thriving Wellington.

The best ideas will emerge from active and continuous participation with Wellingtonians.

Four key moves 

Define a tactical zone with legislation that allows continuous tactical interventions.

Redefine priorities of transportation modes and strengthen routes for active transportation.

Move cars to the city edge and re-consider the wide range of uses that could inhabit this space.

Involve users in continuous idea generation and feedback, start small, test and refine, expand the projects one step at a time.

1. The tactical zone

This tactical master plan defines a ‘tactical urbanism zone’ within which tactical interventions can be continuously tested. This zone is a planning tool—embedded within the unitary plan—it enables many ideas to be tested, and adapted in real time.  Extending from the Railway Station to Oriental Parade to Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, all roads, existing systems and priorities, kerb-lines and property boundaries have been ignored. Buildings are the hardest thing to move—so we are re-imagining all space beyond the building. With tactical urbanism we will test projects on the ground with real users rather than focusing on desktop studies, opinion and speculation. We will build projects around motivated individuals. The tactical zone provides the environment and support needed to try ‘safe to fail’ ideas. We can verify what works and what doesn’t through continuous feedback loops with real users and city authorities.

2. Redefine priorities

Improving the city experience for people requires redefining priorities. Pedestrian priority, bike priority, and vehicle priority. City transportation, cycles, scooters, skateboards, pedestrians, delivery vehicles, and private vehicles may need dedicated routes that provide an optimised experience. Improved pedestrian networks and bike routes, integrated with public transportation and reimagined parking. Local parking relocation will make space for other activities. Some businesses and local residents will switch to alternative and efficient delivery systems. More space means additional public transportation vehicles can freely flow, offering a better service and encouraging people to leave the car at home. Improved cycling routes will attract more users who may be reluctant to use city transportation. Some people will still need to drive so staggering work start and finish times will enable a better use of the system. Within the tactical zone priority is given to people walking, cycling and using other micro-mobility devices. This requires lower vehicle speeds and will encourage those in a hurry to avoid driving through the city and use routes on the edge.

3. Make space 

Finding more space for people and city transportation requires something to give. This tactical master plan moves as many cars to the city edge as possible. Finding ways to move on street parking out the inner city center will also reduce private car traffic. Encouraging drivers heading north or south and not intending to visit the city centre to actually avoid it. For those visiting the city we suggest providing easy parking at the city edge with optimised walking, cycling, scooter, or micro-mobility routes. Some of this new space will help avoid crowding on footpaths at critical points. More space means businesses can expand their activity in the public realm to safely accommodate physical distancing. This will encourage people to spend time in the city with events and activities and keep the local economy recover and grow.

4. Continuous participation

Tactical urbanism enables the testing of ideas in public space in real time. It is a way to involve communities, gauge feedback and see in real time what works and what doesn’t before investing significant time, energy, resource and capital in long-term changes to a community. Tactical urbanism empowers communities—because it is temporary—people do not need to decide if future planned works will work—they can see what works, and become invested in the solutions. Continuous participation through Social Pinpoint, or similar, will gather knowledge to evolve and adapt interventions in a sustainable manner and help create unique spaces and projects for Wellington. Social media will help communicate change, and foster interest in new ways to use and experience the city. Through continuous participation we can incorporate rich local knowledge, skills and aspirations, and express local stories and narratives.