Current models for protrusive motility in animal cells focus on cytoskeleton-based mechanisms, where localized protrusion is driven by local regulation of actin biochemistry1–3. In plants and fungi, protrusion is driven primarily by hydrostatic pressure4–6. For hydrostatic pressure to drive localized protrusion in animal cells7,8, it would have to be locally regulated, but current models treating cytoplasm as an incompressible viscoelastic continuum9 or viscous liquid10 require that hydrostatic pressure equilibrates essentially instantaneously over the whole cell. Here, we use cell blebs as reporters of local pressure in the cytoplasm. When we locally perfuse blebbing cells with cortex-relaxing drugs to dissipate pressure on one side, blebbing continues on the untreated side, implying non-equilibration of pressure on scales of ~10μm and ~10sec. We can account for localization of pressure by considering the cytoplasm as a contractile, elastic network infiltrated by cytosol. Motion of the fluid relative to the network generates spatially heterogenous transients in the pressure field, and can be described in the framework of poroelasticity11,12.