This week, our 'Explainer' series considers the term 'urban acupuncture'. Chinese acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine involving needles being inserted into the body to relieve stress. In a rapidly modernizing world, urban acupuncture embraces the concept of Chinese acupuncture and opens the door for creative freedom, by creating project collaborations between designers and communities.

A section of San Francisco is turned into a temporary community-run farm, image by Flickr user Inhabitat via Creative Commons

While urban renewal projects have the power to bring transformative change to neighbourhoods, small-scale interventions can have a similar impact on the socio-environmental fabric of a community. The concept of urban acupuncture, conceptualized by Barcelonan architect Manuel de Sola Morales and further popularized by Finnish architect Marco Casagrande, fuses urban design and traditional Chinese acupuncture with the goal of relieving stress in the built environment. 

In an age of austerity and budgetary constraints, surgical and strategic manipulations of the cityscape are becoming more commonplace around the world. Rather than redeveloping entire blocks of property, ad hoc exercises can pump new life into vacant lots, unsightly street medians, and disused public spaces. Pinpointing specific areas of need allows for the tactical tailoring of revitalization programs. New pocket parks can be created relatively quickly and cheaply, benefiting the local architects and designers. Former mayor of Curitiba Jaime Lerner is a champion of urban acupuncture, describing its ability to cause positive ripple effects throughout neighbourhoods. 

'Little Free Library' movement is an example of urban acupuncture, image by Flickr user Matthew Matheson via Creative Commons

Urban acupuncture is rooted in the participatory planning process by letting urban dwellers utilize space freely and democratically. This bottom-up approach of eliminating urban blight is practiced globally, though the concept is applied differently depending on local conditions and community objectives. Something as small as a 'Little Library' installed in front of a house allows residents to bring life to their own stretch of sidewalk. Temporary sheds within Mexican slums are often converted into simple houses with room for additional features in the future. South African applications tend to focus on the entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity of the individual, empowering communities that don't have the same infrastructure as large cities to improve their quality of life. 

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From 2015 to 2017, UrbanToronto and its sister publication, SkyriseCities, ran an occasional series of articles under the heading Explainer. Each one took a concept from Urban Planning, Architecture, Construction, or other topics that often wind up in our publications, and presented an in depth look at it. It's time to revisit (and update where necessary) those articles for readers who are unfamiliar with them. While you may already know what some of these terms mean, others may be new to you. We are publishing or updating and republishing Explainer on a weekly basis. This article is an update to one originally published in 2017.

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