Great public spaces do not have to be design-heavy, multi-million dollar projects situated in city centers. In fact, sometimes the most exciting spaces are low-key, low-cost, and in the most unexpected locations.
The Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper approach to placemaking involves making temporary and relatively inexpensive alterations to a public space. These projects can, and often do, get off the ground while more long-range projects grind through the lengthy development pipeline (as seen in the widely-discussed Under the Elevated plans in NYC). LQC interventions are often temporary and informal, and they are meant to challenge more “top-down” or privatized approaches to city planning. The process has many guises around the world, such as pop-ups, guerilla urbanism, and DIY urbanism, but no matter what label these projects use, they reflect the public’s desire to reclaim the public spaces in their cities or neighborhoods.
Below, we have highlighted 5 of our favorite LQC projects, each featured in our Lighter Quicker Cheaper Resource Page. Each of these examples powerfully demonstrates how quick, low-cost implementations can generate positive and visible change in public spaces, while simultaneously addressing multiple community issues such as education, accessibility, safety, public health, and wellness.
In order for LQC projects to be successful, they need to be flexible, adaptable, and subject to necessary changes. It's a bonus if they can be easily replicated! We see this in the case of Portugal’s Umbrella Sky Project where every year since 2011, during the hot summer months, a handful of Águeda’s narrow streets gain colorful umbrella canopies that provide shade for the pedestrians passing through. Programming underneath the umbrellas, such as outdoor workout classes, give this shaded area an added layer of functionality, enabling high-energy and fitness activities despite high summer temperatures. Since the project began, it has been reproduced (and developed a near-cult following) in cities throughout Portugal and around the world.
LQC projects allow for experimentation and creativity. An out-of-the-box approach was at the heart of the Think Micro project in Izmir, Turkey. In 2014, with help from the Izmir University of Economics, the effort involved lining the city’s waterfront with small floating parks. The modular and multi-functional docks were lightweight, easy to assemble, and encouraged citizens to interact with their waterfront in new ways.
LQC can be a great conversation starter - it is a way for communities to engage with both their neighbors and local government, to plan and contribute to the potential success of projects, and to help initiate further change and investment. This is apparent in the Jewell of Brunswick project in Melbourne. In 2014, after a successful event in which a portion of Wilson Avenue was closed to cars for one day, the Better Block program spearheaded a pop-up park initiative in the neighborhood, closing the area off to cars for eight weeks. During this time, the organization worked with the community on DIY seating and a street mural, along with the planning of several events, activities, performances, and workshops. Due to the success of the project, Moreland City Council conducted a public consultation for the future of the site, and it later became a permanent public space.
Often, there is a lack of available funding for public space improvements. LQC projects are appealing not only because they are relatively cheap, but also because they are quick to implement. Case in point: In Portland, the City Repair Project has transformed ordinary intersections into vibrant public spaces. Working with communities and volunteers to paint giant murals onto intersections, they focus on turning car-centered roadways into lovable places. In this process, community members of all ages and walks of life are invited to paint together, often over the course of a weekend. The resulting mural then turns the intersection into both a gathering place and a point of pride for the neighborhood, and ultimately helps in calming traffic and making streets safer.
LQC is about building capacity, which requires cross-sector collaboration and a hands-on approach to learning and experimentation. We see this in the case of Mmofra Place—a transformed two-acre plot of underutilized green space in Accra’s growing Dzorwulu neighborhood, run by the Ghana-based Mmofra Foundation. The foundation wanted to design a place that nurtured joy and play while also addressing the rapidly urbanizing city’s large population of young people, and the lack of safe public spaces for its children. To do this, they partnered with an international network of architects, planners, engineers, educators, artists, as well as local experts, community leaders, and teenagers, while hosting public meetings and charrettes to develop a vision, site plan, and range of strategies for enhancing the space.
All LQC projects can have an impact, no matter how big or small. Creative and community-led, the process of implementing an LQC project shows how small-scale and low-cost change can have a strong impact on the spaces in a community and the people who use them. In many ways, LQC projects are at the core of what makes Placemaking work. You can continue to see how by checking out some of our other examples of inspiring LQC projects on our Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper project board - part of our ongoing project of documenting the world’s Great Public Spaces.