Campus Life

Architecture Students Transform Campus Walkway Into A ‘Tactical’ Urban Garden

May 2, 2017

Environmental design student Mackenzie Anderson sets up food.
Environmental design student Mackenzie Anderson sets up food.
By Sarah Wilson, Texas A&M University College of Engineering

A multidisciplinary group of Texas A&M students installed a temporary garden to transform and revitalize an otherwise mundane campus space as part of an April 26, 2017 tactical urbanism experiment staged in the paved area separating buildings A and B of the Langford Architecture Center.

Tactical urbanism, also called “guerilla urbanism,” entails the staging of incremental, small-scale improvements to an urban space — sometimes sanctioned, sometimes not — in order to test design concepts that enhance the area’s function or habitability.

“It’s a rapid way of prototyping ideas,” said Jeremy Merrill, an assistant professor of landscape architecture whose students designed and constructed the garden installation that included several types of edible plants. “I thought ‘If it’s being done in big cities, why not here?’”

Jeremy Merrill talks with a student about plants.
Jeremy Merrill talks with a student about plants.

The project involved designing and installing the garden on a well-traveled route, experimenting with alternative configurations and measuring the installation’s impact on the surrounding environment and pedestrian behavior. The multidisciplinary tactical team that altered the space was composed of 19 students from five differed academic programs taught by the Texas A&M College of Architecture: environmental design, landscape architecture, urban planning, visualization, and university studies.

“We wanted to see how adding plants could influence the pathway in a positive way,” said tactical team member Sharon Schafer, a landscape architecture major from Brownsville, Texas, who expressed “a passion for community gardens.”

“Often when you’re around concrete, you’re in a food desert,” she said. So, “a group of girls and I really pushed for using edible plants, so people could experience what it’s like to have food growing nearby. Something like this garden could help with that.”

People mill about the tactical urbanism garden.
People mill about the tactical urbanism garden.

The public event also included music, free snacks and a farmer’s market booth with The Howdy Farm, a student-run organic, sustainable farm at Texas A&M, selling food grown on campus.

Due to several factors, the installation didn’t quite alter pedestrian behavior as the team anticipated, Merrill said, however, the lessons learned will influence and enhance the planning of future installations.

“This experiment is not a culmination of our work, it’s a first step,” he said. “We learned a lot for next year. The tactical urban agriculture group will strike again.”

Next year’s class, he said, will stage a pop-up garden somewhere on campus that will stay up for most of a semester for the students to study and people to enjoy. This year’s garden experiment, installed April 1, was dismantled at the end of the month.

“I think a lot of people really enjoyed it. Something like this is great for stressed students,” said Mackenzie Anderson, an environmental design student from Montgomery, Texas. “People were writing on the whiteboard every day and saying we should make it a permanent installation.”

The plants were donated to The Howdy Farm.


This story by Sarah Wilson was originally posted on ArchOne.

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