Cities have always been built by their citizens. For millennia this was literally so and our cities have grown though myriad forms of participation and creativity into a brilliant synthesis of the ideas and actions of millions. The exponential growth of the modern city has also inadvertently estranged us from a role in shaping it. For many, the city seems just too big, too intractable, too inaccessible. But around the world, scores of people and organizations are intervening directly in their own environments, bringing incremental improvements to their streets, blocks, and neighborhoods. These acts of micro-urbanism, of informal urban design, are characteristically small in scale, and often temporary—the opposite of the qualities we traditionally associate with good design—yet their power resides not so much in their forms as in their impacts, in their immediate ability to infuse places with value and meaning.

Spontaneous Interventions celebrates a movement for democratic change in cities in the United States, inspired by a kindred activism around the world. The actions—planting abandoned lots, occupying and reprogramming public spaces, and generally making cities more beautiful, inclusive, productive, and healthy—are planning at its most direct, expressions of a desire for good places that cannot simply await the sanction of the “authorities” to find their form. As these small but powerful works multiply and coalesce, a just and sustainable city, a city of all its communities, is being born. This is a celebration of a long and vibrant history of urban activism and takes particular pride in representing the U.S. during the tenure of a president whose career began as an urban community organizer.

Curators: Cathy Lang Ho, David van der Leer, Ned Cramer
Advisers: Michael Sorkin, Erik Adigard, Anne Guiney, Paola Antonelli, and Zoë Ryan
Organization: Institute for Urban Design on behalf of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs