Reclaiming Our Cities from Corporate Rule



The Official Guide to Tactical Urbanism

City Lab (2012)

Free PDF: Tactical Urbanism 2

Book Review

The Official Guide to Tactical Urbanism is an encyclopedia of tactics employed by community activists (worldwide) to reclaim city streets from cars and corporations. The goal: to create more public spaces to facilitate community engagement and interaction.

Young people in the US and other industrial countries have been abandoning cars for public and active transport. Yet city authorities (plagued by budget problems since the 2008 financial crash) have been extremely slow to undertake the infrastructure upgrades necessary to facilitate a transition to car free neighborhoods. Many activists, fed up with the futility of lobbying municipal authorities, are employing guerilla tactics to undertake these infrastructure upgrades themselves.

This publication offers a detailed history (dating back to the 1500s) of  “unsanctioned” uses of public space, most of which go on to be legitimatized by local authorities. Among many other tactics, The Official Guide to Tactical Urbanism describes the creation of

  • Play streets – in which neighborhoods make their own signs and designate streets car free to create play areas for kids (and parents)

play-streetA London play street


Jackson Heights (NYC) car free play space

  • Guerilla gardening – in which activists garden on public or private land without permission


  • Pop-up cafes – tactic to promote public seating in the parking lane and to promote local businesses

pop-up-cafeTrading parking space for outdoor seating improves the public realm

  • De-paving – removing pavement to reduce storm water pollution and increase the amount of land available for habitat restoration, urban farming, tree planting, native vegetation and social gathering.

depavingDepaving in action

  • Chair bombing – creating impromptu public seating to improve the social well-being of
    neighborhoods, both by salvaging waste and activating the public realm.

chair-bombingChairs placed adjacent to Brooklyn’s Blue Bottle Cafe

  • Intersection repair – repurposing community intersections for community space rather than vehicle traffic.

intersection-repairAn intersection repair project in Los Angeles

  • Reclaimed setbacks (aka lawn liberation) – creating a more engaging streetscape by activating the space between the street and structures.


Grave Danger of Falling Food

Grave Danger of Falling Food

Tony Gailey (1989)

Film Review

This documentary is about Australian Bill Mollison, the father of the international permaculture movement. The title, which is ironic, refers to air drops of food aid (by the industrial north) to compensate the third world for destroying their food production systems. Mollison defines permaculture as a design system for housing, energy, water management, waste recycling and food production that follows nature’s engineering principles. Permaculture purposely mimics natural systems to create a permanent, sustainable culture for human beings.

In addition to exploring Mollison’s personal history and philosophy, Grave Danger of Falling Food offers a good introduction to permaculture design and the concept of permaculture zones.

Lifestyles that Restore the Planet

Despite Mollison’s lifelong concerns about the environmental devastation wreaked by industrial agriculture and multinational extractive industries, he has reservations about the war mentality of the environmental movement. Instead of “fighting” to save rain forests and endangered species, he thinks it makes more sense to get people as many people as possible to adopt lifestyles that naturally restore the planet.

The purpose of industrial agriculture, in his view, is to create profit rather than food. In their single minded search for profits, corporations essentially declared war on soil in 1940. In sixty years they have destroyed 70% of the planet’s topsoil by deluging it with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and killed off the wealth of microorganisms that make it fertile.

Applying Forest Principles to Food Production

Beginning his adult life as a lumberjack, he got fed up with destroying pristine forests to build homes for rich people and went to university to study and teach forest management. In 1972, it suddenly came to him that applying forest principles to food production would substantially increase yields, while simultaneously repairing the environmental destruction caused by 150 years of industrial capitalism.

He coined the term permaculture in 1978. From 1981 on, he has devoted his life to helping people to design farms and gardens based on permaculture principles.

Mollison has a special interest in urban permaculture, as it has the highest productive potential. By becoming self-sufficient in food production and water management (ie eliminating stormwater runoff and recycling gray water from showers, laundry etc and where possible, sewage water), cities offer the greatest potential energy and resource savings. By eliminating transport and packaging costs, locally grown food is automatically 95% cheaper.

Lawn Liberation

A strong believer in lawn liberation, Mollison has a special distaste for suburban lawns, which he considers a tremendous waste of water and energy. A food forest in the front yard uses 50% less water, is far less work and provides a continuous supply of healthy, chemical-free food. In the video below, a Denver woman has transformed her front lawn into a mini-food forest using permaculture design. According to Juliet Schor in The Overspent American, by 1995 were spending $7.6 billion annually on residential lawn care.

World Change Starts in Your Neighborhood

LiberatedLawnA liberated lawn

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not – Dr Seuss

Through the re-localization movement people are taking back power from corporations and reconnecting with nature and other human beings. An inspiring film from Australia describes how to make your own block a Super Hood.

We’re building our own Super Hoods here in New Plymouth (check us out at our Transition New Plymouth Facebook page). I started one in my street by liberating my front lawn to plant potatoes and silver beet (chard).

If and when summer arrives, we’re going to close the road down for a street party.

Photo credit Manawatu Harvest Festival