Pop-Up Demonstration and Pilot Projects Quick, cheap and short-term ways to inspire long-term, high-value community changes.

Citizen Collaboration & Engagement

Pop-up demonstration and pilot projects collaboratively engage community members to temporarily transform and co-create public spaces, including streets.

Delaware Complete Communities Planning Toolbox shares research and case studies that are intended to empower local planners and citizens to make changes to improve their communities. Often when professionals are hired to consult with a community they can bring in outsider expertise and methods, but they also risk miscommunication with the locals who have a wealth of knowledge to share and enthusiasm to get involved with changes. Pop-up demonstration and pilot projects are a way to reconcile the technical and theoretical expertise of outsiders with the experience and passion of local community members. Many community interventions involve some kind of citizen engagement, but too often that engagement is limited to a few meetings that share plans and allow for a few minutes of input. These kinds of meetings ask residents to react to proposals with little background information about the technical processes and theoretical reasoning behind them. Planning and implementing a pop-up demonstration or pilot project flips the script by putting the power in the hands of the public to make incremental change at a much smaller scale. The temporary, low-cost projects let people get more hands-on involvement alongside the professionals in charge of planning. Designing and implementing these projects allows the community to become co-creators, and breaks down barriers that can get in the way of successful communication and collaboration.

Pilot Projects in Action

Many public spaces are built from formal plans drawn up by experts and executed by employees of the city or a third party. The point of a pop-up demonstration or pilot project is to invite community members to get involved in a more informal construction that reclaims spaces that have previously been overlooked. Pilot projects start with modest, removable interventions that by nature are built to be adapted to changing situations.

Arki_Lab, an interdisciplinary urban design studio in Denmark, uses pilot projects to give citizens the opportunity to co-create, reimagine, and sustainably redesign existing spaces.

A group of schoolmates use soda crates to build temporary places to sit.
Examples of Arki_Lab temporary pilot projects that engage citizens and use cheap and adaptable materials.

Examples in Delaware

Better Block Program in Wilmington

West Side Grows Together is a network of residents, businesses, institutions, and community groups working together to revitalize local neighborhoods. The coalition has hosted a series of annual Better Block events to demonstrate how streets can be transformed to walkable, vibrant cultural corridors. Union Street Better Block was a series of community-designed events to demonstrate a safer, more engaging pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly area through landscaping, outdoor seating, public art, interactive activities, performance areas, redesigned parking, and a bike lane. The Better Block events helped visualize changes that resulted in Union Street redesign improvements.

Better Block Program: Union Street, Wilmington Delaware (credit: West Side Grows Together)

Incremental Placemaking in Middletown

Middletown (DE) Main Street is a non-profit organization working with the community to revitalize the downtown district into a thriving cultural and retail destination while maintaining its historic character. In 2013, Middletown Main Street businesses, the theater’s property owner, and volunteer artists teamed up to spruce up a 450-square foot vacant space into a pocket park on West Main Street between the Everett Theatre and Gilbert W. Perry Jr. Center for the Arts. A former storage space for garbage was transformed with murals, potted plants, and moveable seating. Since 2014, the park has been evolving as small adjustments are made to improve the livability of the space. A pilot project like this can inspire passersby who have ignored an overlooked space. This intervention could lead to future investment in more placemaking initiatives for the town.

Pocket Park on West Main Street, Middletown, Delaware

Pop-Up Mini-Traffic Circle in Newark

A long-standing resident concern over speeding traffic, stop-sign violations, and unsafe pedestrian crossing areas served as the impetus for this citizen-organized demonstration project. Residents from Orchard Road and other areas of Newark (known as the Friends of Newark Neighborhood Streets) initiated this pop-up demonstration project, with support from the City of Newark and BikeNewark, to inexpensively explore a temporary traffic-calming device at the intersection of Orchard Road and Winslow Road via a pop-up infrastructure project. After testing of the mini-circle design by City of Newark officials, residents painted contours of the circle, installed off-set flexible delineator posts, and landscaped the circle’s interior with seasonal plantings. The construction and traffic-calming demonstration period was captured in a time-lapse video by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

Community members tested the Newark, Delaware pop-up mini-traffic circle. (credit: Heather Dunigan, WILMAPCO via Susan Grasso, BikeNewark)
Photo by: Heather Dunigan, WILMAPCO Sent by Susan Grasso BikeNewark - Pop-Up Mini Circle https://bikenewark.org/old-newark-pop-up-mini-circle/
Photo by: Heather Dunigan, WILMAPCO Sent by Susan Grasso BikeNewark - Pop-Up Mini Circle https://bikenewark.org/old-newark-pop-up-mini-circle/
Photo by: Heather Dunigan, WILMAPCO Sent by Susan Grasso BikeNewark - Pop-Up Mini Circle https://bikenewark.org/old-newark-pop-up-mini-circle/
Photo by: Heather Dunigan, WILMAPCO Sent by Susan Grasso BikeNewark - Pop-Up Mini Circle https://bikenewark.org/old-newark-pop-up-mini-circle/
Photo by: Heather Dunigan, WILMAPCO Sent by Susan Grasso BikeNewark - Pop-Up Mini Circle https://bikenewark.org/old-newark-pop-up-mini-circle/
Friends of Newark Neighborhood Streets were actively involved in planning and creating the traffic circle.

Pop-Up, Buffered Bike Lane in Newark

In conjunction with the Wilmington Area Planning Council’s (WILMAPCO’s) Safe Routes to School Program, a Bike-to-School week was planned at Newark’s Downes Elementary School (ES) to pilot and obtain public feedback on a pop-up, buffered bike lane demonstration project. The demonstration project was constructed by the University of Delaware’s chapter of Engineers without Borders (UD-EWB), with assistance from the City of Newark, using stencils, chalk, tape, and orange barrels. In addition, Bike-to-School Week activities were organized in collaboration with Downes ES, DelDOT, BikeNewark, the Newark Bike Project, City of Newark, UD-EWB, and the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) at the University of Delaware. Throughout the week, parents and residents tested safety improvements being considered for the Casho Mill Road bike lanes and were invited to share their ideas via an online survey and via a digital story map.

UD-EWB, with assistance from the City of Newark, constructed the pop-up, buffered bike lane on Casho Mill Road.
EWB-UD's Sarah Snyder (2019) and George Weiber
EWB-UD's George Wieber (CHEG 2019)
Ready to roll during Bike Week on the pop-up, buffered bike lane!

Spark Page created by Haley Stanko, Public Administration Fellow, Institute for Public Administration (IPA), University of Delaware and Marcia Scott, Policy Scientist, IPA.