Sanctioned Guerilla Wayfinding: ASU Students for the New Urbanism utilize public approval for Walk Mesa & Walk Tempe

Tactical urbanism often fails to receive the credit it deserves due to its frequent use in guerilla urban demonstrations. While many communities have succeeded from a failure to consent municipalities, "renegade" planning techniques can benefit from obtaining the good graces of public officials. A group of urban planning students in Arizona recently proved just that.

Phoenix, like most cities developed after the Second World War, uses its infrastructure as a crutch for autocentrism. The negative impacts of this practice act against the triple bottom line of any successful community. The combination of an automotive lifestyle and alcohol also proves detrimental, as Phoenix ranks among the worst cities for drunk driving in the nation. Decreasing these incidents by advocating for a more walkable downtown can maintain travelers by increasing pedestrians while simultaneously decreasing automotive trips. Recently, CNU’s student chapter at Arizona State University decided to tackle this issue with its recent guerilla wayfinding project.


Arizona State University Students for the New Urbanism

Inspired by CNU 20, recent ASU graduates Maggie Soffel and Marissa McKinney founded her university’s chapter in the fall of 2012. Despite a lack of funding and only enough members to count on one hand, the determined students used the success of [Walk] Your City as a blueprint for their first major project.

[Walk] Your City

Matt Tomasulo, an urban planner and community advocate from Raleigh, NC, first began the [Walk] Your City project in January of last year. He posted 27 signs at 3 intersections in the city, providing pedestrians with information about the time it takes to walk to certain nearby destinations. In an effort to reclaim urban spaces for pedestrians and begin a dialogue about the walkability of Raleigh, he installed the signs first and “asked for forgiveness” later. After the eventual approval by city officials, the project has inspired more than 20 other cities across the nation to undergo their own wayfinding projects.   


Walk Mesa & Walk Tempe

Instead of asking for forgiveness, the students asked for permission by meeting with city officials fr om the cities of Mesa and  Tempe. The arduous process took months, until both municipalities gave the green light to install over 20 signs through out their respective downtown regions. The approval process revealed that both cities had the desire for wayfinding, but lacked the dedication to execute it. The advocacy by the students provided the extra push needed to turn these goals into realistic projects.

The signs, made of coroplast and attached to street poles by heavy-grade zipties, feature directional arrows, estimated travel time, and distance for public spaces. Pedestrians can see these signs occupying downtown Tempe's Mill Avenue, one of the most popular nighttime districts in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, and downtown Mesa's Main Street, which is quickly becoming a premier cultural destination for the Valley.

By providing an aesthetic alternative to each municipalities own transportation wayfinding signage, these signs aim to bring social, economic, and environmental benefits. Pending the community's reaction to the project, city officials have the option to request more permanent signage or commit their own funding into the project.


These aspiring urban planning students, like many others across the nation, decided to make a tangible impact in their community through the successful implementation of new urbanist practices. Their dedicati on, from paying for the projects out of their own projects to installing the signs in the heat of the Arizona summer, shows how legal tactical urbanism can prove as an easy and effective tool for any type of community advocate.


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