Dr Steve Millington Talks about Tactical Urbanism in Response to Social Distancing in the Time of Covid-19

As a director of the Institute of Place Management and researcher for High Streets Task Force, Dr Steve Millington is committed to making places better through evidence-based decision making. Last year, he presented an introduction to ‘tactical urbanism’, which is an umbrella term for community-led, low cost and scalable place-based interventions.
With requirements to manage social distancing on the high street, he suggests local government and other place managers might apply some of these principles in relation to creating safe, but also more attractive temporary interventions. Having got to know Croydon through his PHD research on city marketing, Dr Steve Millington spoke to Croydon BID about the rise of tactical urbanism and some of the examples that he’s seen which may be applied to Croydon in the future.
 Dr Steve Millington
Dr Steve Millington admits that it is not easy to adapt the streets in the UK for social distancing measures and it is often difficult to see how they could be repurposed to accommodate the extra space needed. For example, pavements are often not wide enough and they’re often cluttered with bollards, billboards and litter bins. There are often defunct, dilapidated phone boxes, or street furniture that is no longer in a suitable position for use. Even when the roads are wide enough for drivers to be able to stop, this is often made impossible by double yellow lines, which have been imposed as streets have become busier and the need to speed traffic flow has taken priority.
In fact, as Dr Steve Millington points out, a lot of the space of most city centres is given over to one form of transport: cars. This form of transport is famously greedy in terms of space; the average car parking space is 11.5 square metres, which is the equivalent of 10 bicycles. In Croydon, we are fortunate to have a fantastic tram line (the only one in London), which does help reduce traffic in the town centre. However, we still experience cluttered pavements and the difficult issue with the main road cutting straight through the city centre; making it difficult to walk from one side to the other, without having to cross busy roads, either under or over ground.
During lockdown, there has been a reduced traffic flow, with many more people now walking or cycling. Dr Steve Millington asks “Could the new normal be a better normal?” as we see the transformation of public spaces accelerate. Tactical urbanism, also known as ‘Pop up’ urbanism is where communities take short-term, low cost action that serve a larger purpose, and overcome the difficulties of waiting for authorities to respond (who, in turn, are often caught up in by laws and planning permission). 
Dr Steve Millington says tactical urbanism offers:
Immediate reclamation, redesign and reprogramming of public spaces
Communities a way of quickly making spaces safer and more liveable
Professionals a method for collecting design intelligence and data
Government to put best practice into practice – quickly
Dr Steve Millington has seen many great examples of tactical urbanism, which have resulted in lighter, cheaper place-making. For example, in Bogotá and Berlin, many new bike lanes were created and in Bristol, during lockdown, residents spray painted runners’ lanes. Dr Steve Millington has identified the success of these grassroots’ campaigns and asks “What can be done to facilitate more flexibility?” The ability to, as Gehl suggests, to “dynamically repurpose” streets quickly, may prove vital to supporting the recovery of retail and hospitality as lockdown restrictions ease.
In Croydon, we have seen the positive effect of activations like Wimbledon Live, where a big screen and many deckchairs (surrounded by low-level picket fencing) were placed in the pedestrianised part of the High Street, or the Beach, where tons of sand temporarily created a beach where children could play. These considered activations enhanced place experience, allowing people to enjoy the outdoors and summer weather. In the future, we may well see more of this tactical urbanism as communities come together to make the most of their own space, more interest is taken in local landscape and we adapt to the social distancing restrictions that will remain a part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

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