Sustainable Missoula: Tactical urbanism in Missoula puts people at the heart of urban design

Franklin to the Fort Neighbors in Action organized a community paint night to beautify a quick-build traffic circle in their neighborhood. (Jenny Vader)

Public spaces that are designed for people rather than cars can help reduce our dependence on single occupancy vehicles, freeing us from the volatility of global gas prices and encouraging those who need to drive to do so at slower speeds. Our built environment can not only make us more resilient, but safer and happier too.

At Missoula in Motion we’re always thinking about how our transportation system functions, how people use it and what they need in order to feel empowered to leave their cars at home and choose another mode such as walking, biking, riding the bus, or carpooling. You could say we’re obsessed.

Our coworkers are even in an urban planning book club – this month we’re reading Happy City: Transforming Lives Through Urban Design, by Charles Montgomery. The emphasis here is that we should be shaping our cities not only in ways that we need them to function, but in ways that can make us happier.

There are a lot of factors that lend themselves to individual happiness, but it seems that transportation is often the key. After all, we’re always going somewhere – to work, school, the store, a trail head. We’re constantly on the move so how we get places matters. Designing cities and providing enough options so that it’s quick, easy, and safe to get somewhere without a car is critically important.

A robust sustainable transportation system has a multitude of benefits that increase our happiness – lower levels of stress, more opportunities to connect with your community, improved health, improved mood, more time to spend on hobbies, and significantly lowered risk of injury and reduced fatalities from car crashes to name a few.

Missoula in Motion’s Sunday Streets program embraces this notion each year, closing off 1 mile of roadway to cars and opening it up for people of all ages and abilities to recreate, engage in activities with local organizations, and experience their streets in a whole new way . The parklet program, which occurs on Frist Fridays downtown from May – September, offers something similar by converting on-street parking spaces into temporary people places that are more comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists passing by.

A people-first approach can transform our lives, making it easier to choose a sustainable mode of travel thus reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions and creating a more vibrant, healthier community.

Picture, for a moment, that you’re taking a stroll down your street catching up with a friend and enjoying the afternoon together. Maple and fir trees shade your way and spring blooms are popping up everywhere. A group of kids bike past on their way to the park. Bees buzz on by and you take a seat at a bench along the side of the road in your block’s new parklet that was once a parking space, but now hosts a garden and room for people to unwind. A goldfinch chirps its evening song. When a car comes along it’s traveling so slowly that you can say hi to your neighbor as they drive by.

What’s happening behind the curtain to set such an idyllic scene? If you’re in the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood, your neighbors collaborated with city planners to install quick build traffic calming infrastructure, including traffic circles, parklets, and planter boxes, to help reduce vehicle volumes and speeds. They also applied for grant funding to add their own unique touch to these temporary installations by painting murals and planting native plants.

In fact, you’re walking down your Neighborhood Greenway on Kemp Street and the plan is to make these installations permanent over time. (The Franklin to the Fort Neighbors in Action are planning a paint night for a second traffic circle this spring. If you live in the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood and want to be involved, email f2fneighbours@gmail.com.)

This group of neighbors employed tactical urbanism to make meaningful change. tactical urbanism is a city and/or citizen-led approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost and scalable interventions to catalyze long-term change. It provides a vision of how our spaces could look if they placed people first and foremost, inspiration to help us achieve our long-term goals around safety, mobility, health, and sustainability.

It’s a technique that’s long been used by Missoula in Motion (MIM) and Missoula’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. Permanent traffic calming solutions are expensive and take a long time to install. Temporary installations enable a program with limited funding and capacity to install necessary solutions now and work towards making them permanent in the future.

Missoulians are starting to embrace tactical urbanism in a variety of temporary projects meant to catalyze long-term change throughout the city. It’s been so effective at creating safer and more climate-friendly streets that these two organizations are putting together a toolkit to help community members navigate this process in their own neighborhoods.

How we design our public spaces determines our quality of life. Inclusive, climate-friendly design can make us happier by improving our health and building a more connected and resilient community. The toolkit will make it easy for our neighbors to be involved in making a positive lasting change.

Be on the lookout for when the community toolkit drops this summer! Missoula in Motion will post it on our social media, website, and newsletter as well as the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program page on Engage Missoula. Looking for other opportunities to bring about more sustainable and people-friendly transportation options? Weigh in on the proposed options for the Higgins Avenue Corridor Plan, now through April 3dr. And don’t forget that Bike Month is coming up in May, with the Commuter Challenge and plenty of fun bike-oriented activities happening every month.

In the meantime, find inspiration with this menu of neighborhood energizers – publicly sourced placemaking and engagement interventions for reclaiming and transforming public space.

Alli Kane is the Transportation Demand Management Specialist with Missoula in Motion.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – ​​most weeks by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. For more, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter via their homepage here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market continues in Southgate Mall, Saturdays 9am to 2pm. Until April 23.

April 1. 4:30-6:30 p.m. In-person open house presentation of plans for Missoula’s Higgins Avenue Corridor plan —at Missoula Senior Center, 705 S. Higgins.

April 5. 4-5pm – Indigenous Activism and Environmental Justice, a talk by Rosalyn LaPier, UM Environmental Studies professor. In UM Forestry Building, room 106.

April 6. 12pm – MREA’s Exploring Energy series covers microgrids

April 6. 5:15pm –Climate Smart Missoula hosts Electrify Missoula Series part 2 – Getting off Gas: Why – and How – to Electrify our Homes and Buildings. Via Zoom.

April 7. 7:45pm at the Roxy Theater: Special screening of Spirit of the Peaks, followed by Q&A with indigenous skier Connor Ryan, to benefit UM Enviro. Law Group & Native American Law Student Assoc.

April 21 – 24 – Clark Fork Coalition’s annual River Cleanup – this year is a four-day, DIY cleanup covering over 30 miles of river. Choose the place, day, and time that works best for you.

April 22. 7pm – Project Earth, a multimedia fusion of art, science and community engagement around the climate crisis, featuring UM Music ensembles, TED-style presentations and inspiration for action. At the Dennison Theater on the UM campus. Ticketing and more details coming soon.

April 22 – 23. The 53rd Kyiyo Pow Wow. At the University of Montana Adam’s Center.

April 23. 12-4pm – MUD’s Earth Day Celebration, at the MUD/HomeResource site. The festival will feature an environmental expo, activities and workshops for children and adults, and educational programs, as well as food, drinks, and local music. Details: mudproject.org/events/earth-day/

April 23. 11am-2pm – WildWalk & Wildfest, in connection with the International Wildlife Film Festival.

April 23 – May 7 – International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula – both online and in-person!

April 28. 6:30pm – The Right to a Clean and Healthful Environment: a panel discussion with Held v. Montana youth plaintiffs, the first youth climate case to go to trial in the US. Hosted by Montana Interfaith Power and Light and Families for a Livable Climate. Via Zoom – register here.

Don’t forget – Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

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