Tensions and Synergies Between Tactical Urbanism and Social Sustainability : A Case Study of the Sunset Triangle Plaza
Abstract: For the past several years, the term ‘social sustainability’ has gained a strong foothold within urban studies and has now become a pervasive and trendy term that seems to be on everyone’s lips. ‘Public space’ is widely acknowledged as an important urban feature, often in association with the term ‘social sustainability’, and as cities around the world are experiencing rapid population growth, creating meaningful and enjoyable public spaces is more important than ever. The heightened interest in social sustainability, public spaces and placemaking as a physical manifestation of social sustainability, has lead to the emergence of several urban intervention movements, such as Tactical Urbanism. In 2012, for the first time in Los Angeles’ history, this approach was used to turn a car trafficked street in Silver Lake into a pedestrian friendly public space: the Sunset Triangle Plaza. The aim of this thesis is to study the use and function of the plaza after this Tactical Urbanism intervention to highlight how a broad concept such as social sustainability can be understood from a relatively small-scale public space intervention. The case study was conducted during the spring and summer of 2018, using a variety of data sources including interviews and observations of the plaza during February and March 2018. Two interviews were conducted with managers of businesses directly adjacent to the plaza. Moreover, street surveys were conducted on two different occasions to ask the general public about their use of the plaza. The results illustrate the real life experience of the theories about social sustainability, public space and “whose public space?” when applied to the Sunset Triangle Plaza, and is further divided into three categories: usage (which activities were enabled due to the installation?), users (for whom?) and change (indicators of how the site has changed), reflecting the notions of Tactical Urbanism. It became evident that while certain changes have been merely “tactical”, others were more substantial; businesses flourished, traffic safety increased, and the space got an identity and became a meeting place for the community. Immediate change was evident in the process of the actual, physical change when the plaza was constructed, but what has also followed is a constant chain of change. Even though the plaza with its painted dots may not look like much, a new space for engagement and interaction has been created, both physically and mentally. In addition, converting a street for the cars into a plaza dedicated to pedestrians is especially symbolic in Los Angeles, a city where the automobile has been the predominant mean of transport for the last 60 years and instrumental in shaping its city layout. However, the case study also showed that it is one thing to start a Tactical Urbanism initiative and provide fun activities, and another thing to maintain it. This study has shown that the examined concepts and the models are not always useful; the space has changed but it is a continuous change – for better and for worse. It is evident that the idea of the “organically emerged” city can be both an opportunity and a difficulty.
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