Why Communities Need to be Included in Urban Planning

An introduction to Tactical Urbanism

“Urban planning concerns itself with both the development of open land (“greenfields sites”) and the revitalization of existing parts of the city, thereby involving goal setting, data collection and analysis, forecasting, design, strategic thinking, and public consultation.”


The traditional definition of urban planning from Brittanica.com is one that is globally recognised and applied.  It’s notable in this definition that the public, the ‘users’ of the spaces, are not engaged in the development of the solution. The key beneficiaries, those most invested in the solution, are merely engaged to review options and provide feedback through consultation. This urban planning approach applies to a wide range of projects including complex, high risk, multi-billion dollar developments, new cycleways, through to that of restoring a community Memorial or statue.

Deland Chan, a lecturer at Stanford University and co-founder of the Stanford Human Cities Initiative begs the question :

“A great deal of local expertise is forfeited if non-professionals are only engaged when their approval is needed. What if we engaged them in defining goals and priorities from the beginning?”

Over the past seven years, across the globe, there has been a new approach to the community and neighbourhood projects, that of Tactical Urbanism.

Federal Street - Auckland

Federal Street - Auckland

Tactical Urbanism is an inclusive way of activating and developing a neighbourhood by using temporary, low-cost and scalable interventions. The interventions are then used to understand the neighbourhood and community response, and to inform which aspects can be used for long-term urban change.

Public bodies can embrace tactical urbanism as an approach at the very start of the consultation process. This methodology aligns with how in commercial ventures, new products are being rapid prototyped and tested, and now this can easily be applied to urban design.

Tactical urbanism is also referred to as planning-by-doing, DIY Urbanism, or Urban Prototyping. It’s a “citizen-led approach to neighbourhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyze long-term change.”

The application of this methodology globally gives evidence to the merits of this approach. The benefits are extensive and include crime reduction of 40%, increased visitorship for local businesses, 63% safer transit for commuters and visitors, and greater community engagement.

Yarraville Pop-up Park - Melbourne, Australia

Yarraville Pop-up Park - Melbourne, Australia

If you build meaningful, tangible engagement into the process early, you have a greater sense of community ownership of the outcomes. This is also due to the solutions being “fit for purpose” for that specific community, not generalised, and not just focused on able-bodied, or active pockets of the community.

Often in built environments, designs cater to a narrow range of needs, often due to whose voices have influenced the designs. Inviting to the conversation early those with a wider view, those who will also use the space, and embracing thought diversity delivers an immensely positive impact for the public and the professionals involved in these urban design projects.

To undertake tactical urban design requires a shift towards human centred design and agile methodologies. Firstly a much deeper understanding of user sentiment is required as small urban interventions are prototyped and tested.

By crowdsourcing location based sentiment through the Sensibel app, urban designers can capture real-time feedback from a diverse cross-section of the community. The combination of Sensibel and Tactical Urbanism has the potential to engage the community at the very start of the design and decision-making process. The stories and perspectives offered by the community can be ‘crowdsorted’ to provide tangible evidence of consultation from a smart and growing resource of active citizens.

Interested in finding out more about how Sensibel can be used in your planning process please get in touch!