Give it a whirl, let’s suck it and see!

Trying stuff out, seeing what works, giving things a whirl – it’s the best way to change streets cheaply, quickly and lightly. Urbanism wonks call it “tactical urbanism” (secret: it’s the same thing!). Here’s the great talk that inspired Braden’s post Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper.


If our streets are a bit meh for humans (and let’s be honest, most Wellington streets are), how do we make them better?

How do we make them better when making car-centric streets is just what we’re used to, and have done since the 1950s?

Traditionally, retrofitting our streets to be good for people is an expensive process led by designers.

You generate options, go to consultation of some kind, pick the one that pisses off the fewest people, cross your fingers and IMPLEMENT for real – and everyone hopes like hell that it actually works.

You’re typically spending much more money and energy than you needed: design, consultation, heaps on building, and especially (with extra angst) on fixing mis-conceived ideas.

Instead, what if we could learn together: try stuff to find out what’ll work to make this street work better? 

You implement the physical changes co-designed with locals, using cheap, cheerful, fun materials. Then you ask loads of questions, measure and monitor closely, ask more questions – tweak bits that don’t work great, add bits, take bits away, adapt it in response to what people are experiencing.

And keep asking and trying – until people have had a really good feel for what it is like in real life, in different seasons, under different conditions.

Here’s the great talk that “give it a whirl and see” expert Steven Burgess did last week (from which guest poster Braden drew out those tasty nuggets in his post). 

Have a listen, Burgess is a really engaging speaker.

In the words of one local government official:

“We like to think we’re innovative in NZ but giving stuff a try is really hard. Really hard. Because there are heaps of rules, but also because we’re used to being the Experts who Respond To Public Feedback, not this “learning alongside” business. And the public aren’t used to it either.  But if you take it seriously, it bloody works.”

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Image credit: Tara Roberts, on

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