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Hacks and the City

An exhibition opening this weekend in Chicago highlights 99 ways that urban activists have hacked crosswalks, medians, and overlooked urban nooks.

Actions exhibition

Cities, for all their virtues, can sometimes feel like straightjackets, planned more for cars and commerce than the actual people living in them.

That, anyway, is the conceit behind Actions: What You Can Do With the City, an exhibition that opens today at the Graham Foundation in Chicago, and runs through March 13.

Organized by the Canadian Center for Architecture, the various artists and collectives on display all share a preoccupation with turning everyday life–walking, playing, recycling, gardening–into interactive stunts, aimed to get people involved in the city fabric, in unusual ways.

Sure, most of it’s goofy, but there’s an undercurrent of serious urban planning in the show–many of the actions, in the clever way they repurpose cross-walks, medians, and vacant lots, are all about maximizing the ways the cityscapes can actually be used.

Here’s a taste:

In the foreground, stencils for DIY bike lanes, created by Toronto’s Urban Repair Squad, which they’ve used across the city:

Actions exhibition

Sarah Ross created padded, velour suits, aimed to flout Los Angeles’s benches, which were designed to prevent people from sleeping on them:

Actions exhibition

As a protest against the ways cars dominate streets, Hermann Knoflacher created a wearable wooden blockade, that takes up the same amount of space as a car:

Actions exhibition

For the last five years, Michael Rakowitz has been furtively creating tents, shaped like car covers, on the streets of cities around the world:

Actions exhibition

Architect Kengo Kuma designed a geodesic shelter, using nothing more than discarded umbrellas:

Actions exhibition

If you’re intrigued, click here for all 99 actions.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.