Guerrilla Placemaking

Guerrilla placemaking brings unconventional, radical, or under-the-radar approaches to creating or enhancing public spaces. It meets unmet community needs, brings underused places to life and can provide a tool for public engagement. Guerrilla placemaking also tends to be low cost, but high impact.

I had the opportunity to attend sessions devoted to this topic at the International Downtown Association conference this fall in Minneapolis. Examples from St. Paul and Phoenix were highlighted. While the actual guerrilla placemaking initiatives varied from place to place, they exhibited some common themes: they were low cost, low bureaucracy, context sensitive, and had a magical, unexpected quality.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, a group called Irrigate has taken an artist-driven approach to guerrilla placemaking.  Many of their installations have been short-lived since permits are not always obtained, but the impact is immediate. Projects have included a “Before I Die” chalk wall by artist Candy Chang, art bike wayfinding signs and numerous pop-up events.

In Phoenix, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership has undertaken a variety of activities that add pops of color in a “greige,” or gray-beige colored, city. Through the “Little Library” program artists have adorned small wooden boxes throughout Downtown that serve as free book exchanges to promote reading. Poetry day was celebrated by clipping pieces of poetry to trees and writing passages in chalk on downtown sidewalks.

As these few examples demonstrate, guerrilla placemaking initiatives are creative and inexpensive ways to inject some fun into the cityscape and engage the community.