Tactical Urbanism: the new “Quick Fix” for Urban Policy?

Moving on from my previous post: in “Tactical Urbanism: The New Vernacular of the Creative City“, Oli Mould looks at how the “creative city” discourse has gradually become replaced by a new vernacular, that of “tactical urbanism”. De Certeau’s concepts of urban, everyday “tactics” is one of the relevant concepts in this context, and Mould has a rich set of data to work with, with a global outlook.

Is “tactical urbanism” merely the new “quick fix” for urban policy, as Mould suggests? There is certainly a risk that this is (or will be) the case. De Certeau (and Deleuze & Guattari) have in several instances (and, of course, often in fairly complex language) described just how thoroughly totalizing, profit- and control-driven ideologies can incorporate and appropriate small-scale, everyday counter-“tactics”. It is a disturbing phenomenon that could also be discerned in research on parkour conducted by Sirpa Tani and myself on parkour – as we wrote in the conclusion to our article “Parkour: Creating Loose Space?”: “the potential of unexpected and unintended activities such as parkour to foster a positive atmosphere for other loosening activities should be investigated further and … the perceived subversive character of traceurs … will need closer scrutiny and contextualization.” (Ameel & Tani 2012: 28)

What I missed most in Mould’s text was a the sense that small-scale urban tactics are worth the trouble – the sense that these welcome, and in indeed necessary, elements in the contemporary city, whatever their name and the narrative that is being attached to them (often unwillingly). As researchers, we can sit back and point out how (often white middle class) citizens in the urban trenches put up small-scale activities only to have them incorporated in the neoliberal newspeak they were supposed to upset. Worthwile activities are turned into totalizing tools by way of forceful narratives, and researchers have the potential to work actively towards providing people with a vocabulary that enables them to counter (neoliberal) “creative city” (and other) mantras.

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