Students practice 'guerrilla wayfinding' with signs

Club members from the Students for the New Urbanism spent a Saturday morning posting signs throughout the Mill Avenue District directing passersby to various public hotspots, such as Tempe Town Lake.

Urban environmental planning graduate student Maggie Soffel is the club’s founder and president.

“It’s a very informal group," she said. "We really didn’t get a lot of people up front, so it’s really just the four of us. There is no real hierarchy."

Soffel said member roles may become more definite next semester as more people join.

Students for the New Urbanism was inspired by its parent organization, Congress for the New Urbanism, she said. Soffel said she attended one of its meetings and learned that there were affiliated student organizations.

The club was founded partly to provide a niche for students interested in new urbanism rather than just urbanism in general, Soffel said. Urbanism is based around interaction with urban areas, and new urbanism focuses specifically on making urban areas more pedestrian-friendly.

“We saw a missing hole, and we wanted to fill it,” Soffel said.

She said tactical urbanism, a part of new urbanism, was something with which the group members wanted to work.

“It’s a form of taking to the streets, and it’s like a commentary on the built environment,” she said.

The club officially started in October 2012, Soffel said. It then took about five months to obtain permission from the city of Tempe to post the signs for their project, she said.

Soffel said the group had fun looking at Google maps to figure out which way the arrows on the signs should go.

The club’s cofounder and vice president Marissa McKinney, designed the signs.

The urban environmental planning graduate student said club meetings began as a way to coordinate group efforts for the project in person, rather than only through an electronic medium.

McKinney has done similar projects in new urbanism. She said, as an undergraduate, she set up a mini-park in the parallel parking spaces on Mill Avenue.

Urban environmental planning graduate student Daniel Barusch said the club met every Friday to pound out the details of its project.

Barusch interned with the city of Mesa’s planning and sustainability staff, and he said this allowed the club the opportunity to approach the city with its ideas of “guerrilla wayfinding.”

Guerrilla wayfinding began in Raleigh, N.C., when a group posted signs without permission around the city to increase pedestrian traffic, he said. Naturally, they got in trouble for not getting permission, Barusch added.

“The benefit for us is we’re not just on here going to classes, doing boring student stuff," he said. "We’re actually engaging in the community."

Barusch said the club intends to gain future visibility by collaborating with the ASU Student Planning Association, which he helped to revitalize this year.

Editor's note: Mitchell Bobman, a contributor to The State Press's Arts and Entertainment section, is a member of the Students for the New Urbanism. He was not involved with the reporting or writing of this story.

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