Permission Giving Urbanism

The best loved places, are filled with permission giving activities. This bottom up approach to placemaking and urbanism, starts at the smallest increment of development. I come across these moments in my work and in my travel, where ordinary people do the most extraordinary things to enhance the places they live and work.


Across the street from my office, a bike share program emerged. This program did not require the management of a national chain, was not debated through endless meetings, permits were not required, and in fact no rules were broken. This smallest scale of urbanism was an experiment or test, to provide a need within our community.

A business owner and group of volunteers saw the need and heard the desire for more bicycles in our community. They shared this vision with other like minded and passionate community leaders, and took the risk to purchase a half dozen bicycles through a grant from the community bank. This investment inspired the city to invest in a couple of bike racks. Within a month, a free bicycle sharing program emerged on this street corner.


While traveling this fall, I stopped for a coffee within a new development project I had previously worked on. It was a national donut shop and one of only three national restaurant franchises in the community. Within the seating area, I came across a Little Free Library. The milk crate library was adorned with a nice note and was full of books. Clearly, this little corner of the restaurant was loved by a passionate literary lover.

This smallest increment of urbanism is an illustration of loved placed. The community, with something as simple as a milk crate, humanized and localized this establishment. What would be a chug and go coffee shop anywhere else, is a place where residents can spend time as a community to find and read a good book.

Again, this little additive intervention did not require corporate approval or a committee to initiate. It probably was a simple as asking the manager if a crate of books could be placed in an unused corner of the dining area. However, this small gesture strengthens the bonds of community and reflects the vision for this community. What would be a national chain anywhere else has become a third place to the community.


Not every great project requires a top down approach. The best urban projects are the smallest that are initiated from the bottom up. These are permission giving places that encourage and inspire innovation. Great places, and places that are loved, are filled with these tiny movements. These small projects become infectious and inspire the next phase of incremental growth.