Under the right leadership and with proper resources, public spaces can be transformed into clean, safe areas that bring life to struggling neighborhoods. Unfortunately, not all city officials have the intent or funding to take on these kinds of projects.

Luckily, urban communities are more than the public officials that often call shots: residents may have more power than they realize. Those that have tapped into their communal potential have banded together to achieve extraordinary things in ordinary spaces. Their efforts often yield more than just pretty parks and happy passerby: they can organically enhance the entire DNA of a community, building in new character and joy where there are deficits.

DIY Urbanism: Reclaiming space

When community residents take on their community with such projects, it’s what some people call “DIY Urbanism.” Also referred to as “hacktivism” or “tactical urbanism,” the idea is the same: community members alter their environment in ways unofficial ways to add value to underutilized space, or fix existing issues.

DIY urbanism comes in a variety of forms limited only by imagination and ability. Some examples include swings and seats for relaxation, gardens for growing, games for playing or “yarn bomb” instillations for texture and color. Any element that makes a bland, public place more interesting, fun or useful qualifies as DIY urbanism.


Jam_232 via Flickr

Even better, these types of project are creative outlets that benefit residents, attract tourists, and stimulate local businesses and area traffic. All it takes is ingenuity, organization, and able volunteers.

Common targets for DIY urbanism are empty lots, highway underpasses, idle storefronts and other public spaces that lack purpose or aesthetic. Because the projects are both low-risk and low-cost, it takes minimal commitment and participation to yield huge rewards.

Why DIY?

While we’d all love our public representatives to spruce up our neighborhoods, there is only so much control we have on their decisions beyond our votes. And when the government does take on projects, they may not always be in residents’ best interests, let alone take individual opinions into account. Government-sponsored public projects sometimes appeal more to outsiders or prioritize financial return over the existing community.

So when communities get together to brainstorm community fixes and upgrades, then coordinate to make them happen, it improves the overall health of a neighborhood by fostering productive communication. Instead of sitting by idly as green spots whither and corners gather garbage, residents are prompted to demonstrate an active interest in the state of their community and work toward a common goal.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.39.14 PM

Latest Art Photography via Flickr

This is what makes DIY urbanism so useful, not just for residents, but for local governments as well. When community members adopt this role, governments can focus on larger-scale projects while also gaining a more intimate understanding of community needs.

DIY urbanism allows residents a voice in the future of their neighborhood, which government and developers can listen to when making larger decisions. This way, city spaces accurately represent the people’s interest and authentically influence direction moving forward. Not only are neighborhoods beautified and made functional with such projects implemented, but the community and government are more in sync for it.

Whether it’s “seed bombing” green spaces or building self-serve pop-up libraries, the opportunities are limited only to the will of the people. When that will is strong and innovative, the value will be apparent in every flower, nail and paint stroke.

Featured image: Steve Rhodes via Flickr