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    Livable Memphis to host community meeting on 'tactical urbanism'

    Thomas Bailey Jr.


    Mounting pedestrian flags at busy crosswalks, like the ones here at McLean at Galloway, is one example of do-it-yourself improvements neighborhoods can make. More ideas will be shared Saturday at the Livable Memphis Annual Summit.

    One bucket of neon-orange flags is stapled to a wood utility pole on the east side of the crosswalk at McLean and Galloway.
    The other bucket of pedestrian flags is attached to the stop-sign pole on the west side.
    McLean is a busy north-south Midtown artery for cars. But Snowden School and the Memphis Zoo create a lot of foot traffic that must cross McLean. There’s no signal to stop vehicles there.
    Seemingly out of nowhere this week, the flag buckets appeared with instructions: “Take a flag to help you cross. Deposit flag on the other side so someone else can use it on the way back.”
    The City of Memphis neither installed nor approved the flag buckets, which have the homemade look of sticks and staples.
    They are an example of “tactical urbanism,’’ which uses a gentler, more community oriented type of stealth than, say, someone who is tagging a building with graffiti by dead of night.
    The small print at the bottom of the instructions offers a big clue on who’s behind the effort: “ Learn more: www.livablememphis.org”.
    It’s no coincidence that folks active with Livable Memphis installed the pedestrian flags leading up to its annual summit on Saturday.
    The nonprofit organization, which supports the development and redevelopment of healthy, economically sustainable communities, has given this year’s free workshop the theme: “DIY (Do It Yourself) Neighborhoods.”
    The event will be 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Spain Auditorium at Christian Brothers University. While admission and lunch are free, registration is required (Contact info@livablememphis.org or call 901-725-3124).
    A big premise of the event is that the days are over when cash-strapped local government will make small additions and repairs to improve a neighborhood. But neighborhoods can still do a lot of small things to make big improvements, said Sarah Newstok, special projects manager for Livable Memphis.
    The summit will cover such topics as:
    — Creative place-making, which includes using art to make spaces like blank walls and vacant lots livelier;
    — Tactical urbanism, which includes using stealthy techniques — like mounting the buckets of pedestrian flags — to improve neighborhoods;
    — And “neighborsourcing,’’ which is using the specific skills of residents and resources of a neighborhood to improve conditions.
    Newstok described a handful of break-out sessions that residents can learn from.
    One covers bigger projects a neighborhood can tackle. They are on the scale of MEMfix events, in which volunteers might use paint and cutting edge urban design to demonstrate how a block of their neighborhood can be improved and “activated.”
    Another session addresses the measures neighborhoods can take to improve safety and security.
    One break-out focuses on building “social infrastructure” instead of physical things like playgrounds and bus stops, Newstok said, adding, “It’s how we can connect to each other, with house concerts, neighborhood movie nights, mini-art walks.”
    Yet another session will cover the nuts and bolts of making things happen: How to convert ideas into reality.
    And a break-out lead by Livable Memphis’s new program director, John Paul Shaffer, will explore the stealthy-but-constructive actions neighborhoods can take, like installing the pedestrian flag buckets.
    “We’re not talking about graffiti or things like that,” Shaffer said. “But things a little more civic oriented.” Other examples of tactical urbanism might be planting flowers on an overgrown lot, and using chalk or temporary paint to beautify a site or create a temporary sign.
    “A lot of these things have been around for a long time,” Shaffer said, “like flyers for a show by bands” being stapled to a utility pole. “We are talking about that and turning it around and making it more neighborhood or civic focused.”
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