Urban Prototyping

A Global Movement Exploring How Participatory Design Can Improve Cities

Urban Prototyping is a global movement exploring how participatory design, art, and technology can improve cities. Each UP Festival uses its own strategy to uniquely address that city’s specific circumstances – soliciting, testing, and deploying digital and physical projects in the urban fabric.

At its core, tactical urbanism is about using small-scale, often temporary interventions in public space to drive longer-term conversations and changes in a city. We have crafted the model for Urban Prototyping with this principle in mind, leading to three key steps in our approach.

Developed in 2012 by Gray Area and Intersection for the Arts, the widely acclaimed first Urban Prototyping Festival led to the development of very diverse projects such as Pulse of the City, PPLanter, and Urban Parasol that have since then been adopted and deployed in multiple cities around the world. Following this success, Urban Prototyping has become a global movement spreading over 3 continents and engaging thousands of people in participating in the planning and design of their city.


  • Long-term solutions can often be jump-started by building and refining quick working models. Due to their public and temporal nature, festivals are great venues for testing out new ideas, generating dialog and providing opportunities for quick iterative processes. This approach reflects both tactical urbanism and agile software development methodologies.
  • By opening up the designs, source code, materials, instructions, and other resources necessary to recreate each project, UP aims to catalyze a new global community for sharing and scaling citizen-driven urban design and technology work. Lessons learned around the world will be cataloged to help cities find and implement those that are most suitable for their local needs.
  • Creating a real, lasting path for projects to grow and endure takes insight and resources from a large, diverse group. UP is supported by nonprofits dedicated to design, technology, urbanism, and the arts; private firms on the forefront of design thinking and rapid prototyping; and municipal agencies with policy expertise to help integrate projects into the city landscape.


Market Street Prototyping

The Market Street Prototyping Festival of 2014 is a natural progression of the innovation displayed by San Francisco nonprofits Gray Area Foundation for the Arts and Intersection for the Arts as they directed the 2012 Urban Prototyping (UP) Festival. The two-day event spanned Fifth Street from Market to Howard Streets, and included 23 commissioned projects that addressed specific conditions of the UP focus area while meeting the scalable, replicable and affordable requirements.

The 2015 Festival marks the return of Urban Prototyping to San Francisco, whose historic foray into civic innovation in the built environment includes widely acclaimed experiments and initiatives such as its Parklet Program and Living Innovation Zones.

Please stay tuned for further announcements about Urban Prototyping on Gray Area social medias or keep in touch by signing up here.


Urban Prototyping is made possible with the generous support of the Knight Foundation