Do-it-yourself urbanism: A history

Emily Talen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


In the last several years, interest has surged in the idea of small-scale, incremental, ‘‘do-it-yourself’’ (DIY) urban improvement. Also known as ‘‘tactical,’’ ‘‘pop-up,’’ or ‘‘guerilla’’ urbanism, this brand of urban intervention is resident-generated, low budget, and often designed to be temporary. The approach is distinguished by being in direct opposition to top-down, capital-intensive, and bureau-cratically sanctioned urban change of the kind most often associated with urban planning. The purpose of this article is to review the broader, historical rootedness of these efforts. DIY urbanism has been energized by a recession and a ‘‘right to the city’’ spirit of guerrilla tactics, but it is actually rooted in a deeper tradition of nineteenth-century civic engagement. Focusing on the American experience, I show that the idea of bottom-up, tactical, DIY urbanism forms an essential tradition in American urbanism, an impulse that runs counter to the narrative of urban abandonment, and as such forms an essential platform upon which notions of any ‘‘back to the city’’ movement draw support.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-148
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Planning History
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2 2015


  • DIY urbanism
  • Planning history
  • Tactical urbanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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