English | Español
There is growing momentum to get “back to the basics” of what makes cities thrive. Many of the most effective and immediate solutions are lighter, quicker, and cheaper than traditional top-down approaches to improving cities.
The quality of a public space has always been best defined by the people who use it. The growing success of “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” (LQC) projects all over the world is proof that expensive and labor-intensive initiatives are not the only, or even the most effective, ways to bring energy and life into a community’s public space.
United under the core principles of community vision, cost-effectiveness, collaboration, and citizen-led change, this exciting movement goes by many names—action-planning, guerilla urbanism, pop-up projects, city repair, D.I.Y. Urbanism, and Tactical Urbanism. We see each of these efforts as important tools and catalysts for larger community-based Placemaking processes.
“Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” is a phrase we borrowed from Eric Reynolds to describe the simple, short-term, and low-cost solutions that are having remarkable impacts on the shaping of neighborhoods and cities. PPS began to chronicle many of these solutions in the 2007 book: The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Placemaking. Since we began our work in 1975, we have used Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper interventions to address all kinds of public space challenges, and the impacts of these projects have been lasting and profound. We launched our focused advocacy around Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper in early 2011 with an event featuring Marcus Westbury.
The proliferation of LQC efforts all over the world signals the emergence of a powerful, networked, and creative movement, and it shows that more and more people are beginning to see how communities can be created and transformed by making a series of affordable, human-scale, and near-term changes. Although many of the challenges facing today’s cities go well beyond the scope of these individual interventions, taken together they demonstrate that incremental and place-led change is possible, even in the midst of ongoing social, economic, and political obstacles.
One of the greatest advantages of LQC is the ability to create and test a project immediately and with direct community involvement. Initial LQC projects are often temporary—relatively inexpensive alterations to a public space that take place while more long-range projects grind through the lengthy development pipeline. Bringing multiple and wide-ranging benefits to communities, the early implementation of LQC projects can help:
Although a Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper approach is not for every situation (it may not be the right solution, for example, for large infrastructural projects like building a bridge—though that would surely be interesting!), it can be a creative, locally-powered alternative to the kind of capital-heavy and top-down planning processes that so often yield end results that are completely detached from the needs and desires of the communities they are meant to serve.
Generating support for public space improvements is not always easy; but having a one-time event can be a great way to generate support and awareness for a project. Ranging from street closures and block parties to guerilla or DIY activations, these temporary events can help kick-start a campaign by showcasing the potential of a particular public space. There are many ways to make this happen. Most cities have clauses in their planning and design manuals for street fairs and community events, for example. While the permitting and execution processes can be lengthy, this interim time can be used for event planning, fundraising, or developing partnerships with adjacent private property owners.
At the end of a sweltering Louisville summer in 2014, a City Collaborative initiative called ReSurfaced used a Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper approach in temporarily transforming a 16,000 square-foot vacant downtown lot into a pop-up beer garden, café, and outdoor space. From Thursday to Sunday, from September 19th to October 25th in 2014, the lot became an all-day event site and public destination—with businesspeople flocking to food trucks for lunch, young people swarming to see local bands, DJs, and poetry slams in the evening, and families and couples arriving for outdoor movies and table tennis at night.
The event, inspired by a similar project in Memphis called the Tennessee Brewery Untapped, aimed to create not just a unique destination for the city, but a point of departure for projects and conversations about revitalizing Louisville’s underused spaces. In addition to its vibrant retail and exhibition spaces, the site also became a classroom for innovators. BlueSky Network, for example, showed up with their “maker-mobile”—a mini tech shop on wheels—to help to inspire creative action among visitors. The commercial success of ReSurfaced also demonstrated the economic potential and benefit of incrementally activating a community’s underperforming spaces.
Other relevant projects: Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia; Williamsburg Walks, Brooklyn, New York; Better Blocks Philly, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ; Better Blocks Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii
In cities of all sizes, public art has long been a source of pride, and it can play a major role in residents’ sense of place. As an important catalyst for Placemaking, the success of public art initiatives relies heavily on both the level of community engagement, and the design of the public space in which they are located. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, publicly engaged art can help build community morale, and it can become central to the cultural identity of a place. In creative communities that are rich with local talent, LQC public art projects are a great tool for animating public spaces and promoting citizen engagement.
Like so many other rust-belt cities, the city of Hamilton, Ontario witnessed serious emptying and decline with the fall of the once-lucrative steel industry. Looking to reinvent the city in the early 2000s, a group of community organizers and local businesses looked to Hamilton’s emerging art scene and instituted a monthly
, where the street is shut down for a day-long festival of music and activity. In 2013, the event brought in over 100,000 visitors. By incorporating art and LQC strategies, Art Crawl has had profound impacts on the social and economic life of Hamilton’s once-struggling downtown, which now houses numerous art shops, bookstores, galleries, and cafés. Today, James Street is both a source of local pride and an arts destination.
Other relevant projects: ArtFront, Auckland, New Zealand; Camden Night Garden, Camden, New Jersey ; Shipping Container Parklet, Montreal, Quebec; Awakening, Charleston, South Carolina
The community is always the expert! Regardless of timeframe or scale, the success of any Placemaking project depends on community involvement at every stage of implementation—from idea development and implementation to post-project follow-up. This kind of sustained participation also makes it easier to build partnerships, raise money, avoid criticism and backlash, build audiences, and ensure the site’s continued maintenance and management.
The importance of participatory Placemaking is highlighted in the
to help develop plans for a Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper project that would engage students from start to finish. AMPA also reached out to artist collective La Jarapa to involve children in creating artwork throughout the courtyard. Students sketched ideas and layouts for the projects in class, and later implemented them with murals on the courtyard walls, drawings on the shade structure, and a labyrinth on the central patio. In 2013, after two years of design and deliberation, students and alumni collaborated to equip the playground with a pergola with fabric awning, two shade trees, and a self-designed tree made of scrap lumber. Along with giving parents a unique opportunity to share their skills and get involved with the school, this LQC playground project also helped to create a sense of pride, ownership, and creativity among the students.
Other relevant projects: Placemaking Palmerston North, Palmerston, New Zealand; Intersection Repair, Portland, Oregon; The Garden Library, Tel Aviv, Israel; Better Block Clovelly Road, Sydney, Australia; Benches Collective (BankjesCollectief), Amsterdam, Holland
A public space cannot flourish with a single-focused design or management strategy. An LQC approach can help ensure that places thrive year-round by creating season-specific programs and events. Many people live in places that are deprived of outdoor social activities during parts of the year, and planners, policymakers, and citizens should incorporate these challenges into their site designs and programming.
The city of Buffalo, New York, endures some of the longest and harshest winters in North America, with snow and sub-zero temperatures often stretching from October to May. Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper projects, however, can work to celebrate these conditions, bringing people outdoors for gathering and activities even in the darkest of winter.
—a project in which PPS was involved in early development stages—uses LQC strategies to turn the city’s downtown waterfront into a multi-use, year-round destination. In partnership with Healthy Buffalo and recreational sports organization Game On!, the Canalside Management team turns the winter waterfront area into a hub for social activities like pond hockey and ice skating, broomball, curling, ice bike rentals, winter-themed walking tours, and seasonal artisan markets and food trucks. These activities draw visitors of all ages to the location, with the tropical sounds of Bob Marley offering a fun musical backdrop to the frozen landscape. Annual events like January’s 2015 Winterfest—a joint venture between Canalside and the professional hockey team’s Harbor Center arena—have local businesses in the Larkinville neighborhood bring in even more food trucks and entertainment, which gives a boost to the city’s off-season economic development. Once the snow begins to melt and spring finally arrives in Buffalo, local residents can board a ferry and head up the Erie Canal to the terminal harbor park, where new programming includes beer gardens and waterfront concerts. Together, these layered activities ensure that Buffalo’s social and economic life remains vibrant year-round.
Other relevant projects: Summer on Queen’s Wharf, Auckland, New Zealand; The Lawn on D, Boston, Massachusetts; Resurfaced, Louisville, KY; Umbrella Project, Agueda, Portugal; Paris Plages, Paris, France
Traditional top-down planning processes are not only time consuming, but they also have highly unpredictable outcomes. LQC projects, on the other hand, allow communities to experiment with short-term pilot projects before investing in larger, more permanent public space alterations. These interim projects generate creative participation in the community, and they can also invite new sources of funding for the future of the project. Using LQC as a first step towards long-term change is a great strategy for communities that recognize the need for improvements but lack immediate resources, and/or for those who wish to take direct, incremental steps towards executing a long-term community vision.
component, which stimulated long-term investment, soon expanded to rural centers around the metro area as well. Using LQC strategies to activate storefronts, to make streets safer for bikes and pedestrians, and to bring the community together with creative programming and events, this program had lasting effects on the physical and social character of a downtown Memphis neighborhood.
Other relevant projects: 78th Street Play Street, Queens, New York; Boxpark, London, England; Haenggung-Dong EcoMobility Festival, Seoul, South Korea; Autoridad del Espacio Publico, Mexico City, Mexico ; Picnurbia, Vancouver, British Columbia
LQC projects vary greatly in terms of goals, duration, and budget. Simple actions like adding planters or benches to a sidewalk, painting a roundabout at an intersection, or installing a community suggestion board on a blank wall, are all examples of LQC place-interventions. Some of these projects are “lighter” than others in terms of their flexibility and cost. Communities facing severe funding limitations or permit issues must consider short-term, or “ultra-light” transformations, using inexpensive or donated materials to activate their public spaces.
With their ephemeral pavilions celebrating a country’s unique artistic and cultural contributions, some of the best LQC projects have emerged in the context of World’s Fairs or festivals. At the 2013 Jakarta Biennale—a global contemporary art festival held in the Indonesian capital—architects Csutoras & Liando collaborated with Jakarta nonprofit
to construct a temporary outdoor cinema, MISBAR. Using common materials like agricultural shade cloth, galvanized piping, and sheets of plywood, the designers drafted plans for a large but ultra-light amphitheater with quick setup. Consisting of a large steel-frame structure from which hung long sheer curtains, the LQC theater also had a colorfully painted wooden partition, which separated the screen from a distinct foyer and bleacher seating area. There was overhead lighting in the front-of-house ticketing area, and between films visitors could congregate or enjoy a snack on one of the many picnic tables lining the theater’s perimeter.
The story behind this amphitheater is as inspiring as the LQC strategies used in its construction. Open-air cinemas, once a regular fixture of Indonesian cityscapes, have in large part migrated indoors to Jakarta’s affluent downtown shopping centers. For many who lack access or funds, the pleasure of movie going has become a rarity, and the Biennal’s temporary amphitheater worked to revitalize this tradition. Just behind the structure, overlooking the event, stood an important national monument—a 20th century obelisk dedicated to the country’s struggle for independence—and the screenings themselves highlighted the country’s rich history and culture. As a reflection of a place’s unique culture and history, the Jakarta cinema shows how the significance of an LQC project can go well beyond its physical components.
Other relevant projects: Think Micro, Izmir, Turkey; Hampden DIY Crosswalks, Baltimore, MD; Poster Pocket Plants, Toronto, Ontario; Crosswalks for Life (Cebras por la Vida), Bogota, Colombia; Denver Pop-up Bike Lane, Denver, Colorado
Sometimes the need to improve or transform a public space is especially urgent. While more permanent changes can remain a long-term goal, with LQC you can begin making changes now. There are many ways to temporarily transform an underperforming public space, and in finding the most appropriate strategy, it is important to look for particular cues or clauses in ordinance manuals (for 24-48 hour closures for a community event, for example, or for transforming residual space or underused parking). Communities and organizations wishing to make public space interventions will be able to strengthen their case, for both approval and funding, by providing supporting documentation, such as master plans or traffic analyses.
A recent project in the Grays Ferry district of Philadelphia showcases how a few dedicated volunteers, working with neighborhood organization
—the city’s first conversion of a full right-of-way to public space. After more than nine years of planning and pushback, in the summer of 2013 the team made headway by successfully hosting a series of jazz concerts and an outdoor movie night in this space—events which worked to demonstrate the place’s full potential as a public gathering site. Along with the organization’s steady outreach efforts to local businesses, these events helped them to gain support from the South Street West Business Association. Monthly volunteer-led cleanups of “The Triangles” provided further proof that this plaza-to-be had many dedicated supporters who would ensure its continued upkeep and positive impact. With growing support from business owners and residents, SOSNA began offering donors the opportunity to purchase named plaques acknowledging their support, which would be affixed to chairs, planters, and other furniture throughout “The Triangles.” This simple fundraising tactic yielded well beyond the $10,000 needed to make all necessary capital purchases—from lighting, bollards, and furniture to the repair of an old public fountain. Excess funds contributed to an operations fund to pay for continued programming like food trucks, film screenings, and live music.
Other relevant projects: The Cube, São Paulo, Brazil; The Flying Grass Carpet (International); A’beckett Urban Square, Melbourne, Australia; Colonnade Freeride Park, Seattle Washington; Pop Rocks, Vancouver, British Columbia
One of the main motivations for Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper projects has been the lack of available funding for public space improvements. The participatory and community-based nature of LQC projects can be helpful in exploring new sources of funding from both the public and private sectors. Nonconventional funding sources include crowdsourcing campaigns, community grant programs, institutions and foundations providing technical assistance, private businesses near the site, and so on. Cities like New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia have excellent models of programs that empower citizens and community groups to transform their public spaces. (See, for example the NYC Plaza Program, Pavement to Parks, and the Pedestrian Plaza program.)
In the summer of 2008, after participating in a PPS Placemaking workshop and bringing together multiple partners and community stakeholders, the
is due to the financial support, donations, and multi-sector partnerships generated through these efforts, and in Summer 2008, more than 1500 visitors attended evening programs at the Plaza. Today, many of RIPTA’s 71,ooo daily users can pass through and appreciate this newly energized public space.
In communities struggling with issues of poverty, crime, or urban decay, public space projects can be especially challenging—in part because these improvements are often lower on the list of pressing issues. The impacts of placemaking in these areas can be wide-ranging and transformative, however, since the need for quality public spaces in which to gather and play in these communities is often especially urgent. LQC strategies are not only cost-effective and flexible, but they can also empower community members to take an active role in the creation and maintenance of their own spaces.
In 2012, a new playground was built outside the
the University of Addis Ababa, Spanish aid workers, and students from the Cervantes Institute. Over a span of ten days, the team designed and built a play structure using abandoned objects found in and around the recess yard along with some locally-sourced wooden pallets and fabrics. Tubing from an old swing set provided a durable frame from which the rest of the structure emerged. Once the construction was complete and its various hideouts, footways, and ladders in place, the team brought each element together with a fresh coat of yellow and blue paint. This single LQC effort paved the way for numerous other projects: Similar playgrounds were built in Maputo, Mozambique in 2013, and in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in 2014. This site-specific and locally-sourced approach to placemaking makes it possible for otherwise resource-poor communities to create shared public spaces that respond to their specific vision and needs.
In many communities, lack of resources and materials can seem like the toughest obstacle to successful Placemaking projects. However, LQC outlines ways to transform public spaces without an abundance of funding or materials. Without relying on big-budget improvements, these projects use inexpensive or reclaimed materials, and a central focus is on providing quality programming within each space.
In response to New Zealand’s massive earthquake in September 2010, an organization called
—a public venue for spontaneous dance parties. The site quickly became a popular destination for city residents, and soon local salsa troupes and dance instructors began gathering there to practice and hold classes. Anyone could pay $2 to play music on the jukebox, and based on these coin-box revenues, Dance-o-Mat supplied over 600 hours of entertainment in its first three months of operation (that’s almost seven hours of activity per day!).
Other relevant projects: RUS Playground, Lima, Peru; Proxy, San Francisco, California; Autoparque, Lima, Peru; Greening the Rubble, Christchurch, New Zealand
For LQC efforts to succeed, stakeholder collaboration is as just as important as the project’s physical elements. Effective partnerships help to ensure that public spaces can thrive in the long term, and have lasting impacts on the community. When the management structure of a placemaking project emerges organically (between community organizations, BIDs, city agencies, and local volunteers, for example), there tends to be a deeper investment in the project’s growth and preservation.
, involves a series of pop-up strategic interventions and art installations that transform underutilized alleyways in the city’s core from May through October. For these projects, Chicago Loop Alliance partners with local artists, performers, and institutions to put on free events, which are financed by SSA funds, local sponsorship, and revenues from beer and wine sales. The popularity of these events has had an important economic impact on Loop businesses, generating nearly $400,000 over the course of the series. Beyond this boost to downtown businesses, this programming helps support local talent and it encourages the public to interact in and reimagine many of its overlooked public spaces.
Many Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper initiatives function as primers for larger projects, and the temporary improvements can help generate popular and political support for more long-term placemaking projects. Early projects can also help show investors that their contributions will add value to the place and will not become a liability for the local community. The greatest benefit of Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper projects, however, comes from the connections they help foster between people and their environment.
In Medellín, Colombia, the transformation of a main boulevard into a pop-up pedestrian space is a key example of how LQC strategies can pave the way to more extensive urban visions. Between November 26, 2014 and January 30, 2015, a group of organizers hosted
(“Beach Days”) as a way of introducing the corridor as a new kind of community destination. Swaths of asphalt were covered over with sand and filled with potted palms, beach chairs, and inflatable pools for children, and programming for the event included yoga, sewing, movies, lectures, holiday vendors, and various local art installations. Beyond its contribution to residents’ sense of community and place, Días de Playa would also reap year-round benefits for the local economy. The project’s diverse partnerships between city agencies and local business owners helped make a strong case for city funding, and eventually helped to push the plan up through city administration. Although the campaign, hindered by election year politics, was unable to generate a long-term redesign, the city did adopt LQC strategies for additional projects around Medellín.
Other relevant projects: The Minhocao Freeway, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Días de Playa, Medellín, Colombia; Haenggung-Dong EcoMobility Festival, Seoul, South Korea; Market Street Prototyping, San Francisco, California; The Beach at Campus Martius, Detroit, Michigan
Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper interventions are less about the end product, and more about cultivating a participatory placemaking process. Building a community’s capacity for innovation requires cross-sector collaboration and a hands-on approach to learning and experimentation.
In Mumbai, an organization called
,” where they can learn about and discuss urban revitalization efforts in a series of workshops facilitated by experts in planning, design, and real estate. At the end of the session, the group’s vision becomes reality as they implement a practice construction project in one of the vacant lots.
Other relevant projects: Pop-up Rockwell, Cleveland, Ohio; Pop-up Mango, Chicago, Illinois; Market Street Prototyping, San Francisco, California; Better Blocks Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii
It takes more than a handful of LQC interventions to generate lasting change in a place. The process requires a careful synergy between multiple components. Successful projects must find the delicate balance between physical components like spatial organization and arrangement; process and implementation; collaboration between partners and stakeholders, and establishing quality programs within the space.
In 2011, Toronto’s Ward 27 Councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam commissioned KPMB Architects and Greenberg Consultants to prepare a vision for the area’s future growth, including detailed development and design guidelines. The report, delivered that June, recommended testing various lane reductions to improve the pedestrian experience on Yonge Street—which then inspired the
(BIA) helped develop a cohesive plan for the event. The plan would balance the needs of the local community while also proposing counter-measures for negative impacts on traffic, transit, waste management, emergency services, and commercial deliveries. With Councilor Wong-Tam spearheading these efforts, city council approved the BIA’s proposal for a partial closure of Yonge Street for one month—from August 17 through September 16, 2012.
For the event, planners divided the four blocks into eleven themed zones, six of which used temporary curb extensions and planter-box-protected bulb-outs to create new pedestrian space. The planter boxes also became an area of collaboration, with professional garden design firms competing for the title of “best public display.” These themes helped diversify the promenade’s appeal, and adjacent businesses offered special promotions for “Celebrate Yonge” visitors. Through this well-organized, multi-stakeholder endeavor, advocates for a better Yonge Street were able to contribute in various ways, and the project marked a turning point in the movement for livable streets in one of Canada’s busiest metropolis.
Other relevant projects: NoHo Plaza, Los Angeles, California; Tashmoo Biergarten, Detroit Michigan; Museum of Image and Sound installation, São Paulo, Brazil; Livable Laneways Project, Vancouver, British Columbia ; MEMShop/ALTShop, Memphis, Tennessee
Much of the world is facing a major epidemic of obesity and chronic disease, and these issues are fueled in part by a lack of safe public spaces for physical activity as well as uneven access to healthy food. Along with their contribution to the economic vitality of communities, inclusive public spaces where all people feel safe to play and relax are important for both the physical and social health of its residents—particularly for those living in crowded urban areas or informal settlements. As numerous studies have shown, crime rates and gang activity decrease when more people participate in public activity and know their neighbors. When people feel a sense of ownership and community within their cities, they are more likely to take better care of both the environment and themselves.
, which includes a downloadable walkability toolkit where visitors can customize these well-tested signs in order to launch similar small-scale interventions in their own communities.
Other relevant projects: Raahgiri Day DIY Crosswalk, New Delhi, India; LA Green Grounds Gardens, Los Angeles, California; Dekalb Market, Brooklyn, New York; Shade Stands, Kampala, Uganda