Exploring the potential of tactical urbanism as a tool to leverage and accompany rapid urban sustainability transitions: the case of temporary walking and cycling infrastructure related to Covid-19

Research background: The decarbonisation of urban mobility patterns has proven difficult, since carbon-intensive modes of mobility have shown to be anchored in habits, the spatial organisation of cities, and infrastructural arrangements. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, mobility patterns around the globe were heavily disrupted. Furthermore, in response to the social distancing measures necessary to contain the spread of Covid-19, cities around the world have implemented ephemeral infrastructural projects inspired by tactical urbanism with the intention to favour cycling and walking.

The aim of this project is to analyse the potential of tactical urbanism-inspired measures deployed in a context of crisis and disruption to leverage transitions onto low-carbon urban mobilities, by opening up new perspectives for urban sustainability transitions.

Research strategy: We explore different tactical urbanism interventions that were implemented in response to Covid-19 in Geneva and Lyon. We adopt a process perspective and focus on different and interrelated arenas. Specifically, we analyse the processes through which such interventions were initiated, implemented and appropriated and made use of, by focussing on the spatial arena (the interventions in the urban context), the political arena (decision-making processes and involved actors) and the social arena (the practices and perceptions of the people using the concerned urban spaces). We apply methods from urbanism, mobility and transport research to explore the spatial arena, methods and approaches from political science to explore the political arena, methods and approaches from mobility research to explore the social arena, and approaches and notions from sustainability science to explore the interrelations between these arenas.

Contribution: This project contributes to a better understanding of how tactical urbanism can leverage and accompany urban mobility transitions in the context of a rapidly changing environment that will increasingly confront urban settlements with situations of crisis. By doing so, this project responds to the need to identify or develop approaches that can bridge between spatial and temporal horizons and dynamics. It analyses the potential of an approach to intervene in urban mobility practices that is based on ephemeral and small-scale interventions (tactical urbanism) to prefigure longer-term and larger-scale urban sustainability transitions.

Team: The project is led by Mariana Fernandes Mendes and Franziska Meinherz. Mariana Fernandes Mendes is a postdoctoral researcher in the LaSUR lab. She is a geographer. In her recent work, she analysed issues related to cycling in cities both in the global South and North. Franziska Meinherz is finalising her dissertation with the HERUS lab and will continue working with this group as a postdoctoral researcher. She is a sociologist and works on issues related to urban sustainability. In her recent work, she analysed the dynamics of urban commuting habits.

Livia Fritz and Maria Hecher reinforce the team as collaborators. They are postdoctoral researchers in the HERUS lab. Livia Fritz is a political scientist and works on participatory research. She has recently collaborated in a participatory research project that explored the impact of the Covid-19 sanitary crisis on the Swiss population. Maria Hecher works with an interdisciplinary approach that creates a link between the social sciences and environmental engineering. She works on energy transitions.


Mariana Fernandes Mendes – LASUR / IA

Franziska Meinherz – HERUS / IIE