The Park to Pacific Association in Sydney, Australia is planning a Better Block project to be showcased during the Walk 21 Conference, an organization that exists to promote walkable and livable communities throughout the world.
As Sam George, a member of the Park to Pacific steering committee, wrote: “Following the first Better Block last year we formed a community association to promote positive change along the whole street, and organize this second, even bigger Better Block.”
Due to the impact of their 2013 street transformation, which brought out over 2,000 attendees and 150 volunteers, October 19th’s Better Block was able to secure funding from City Council and their neighborhood Rotary Club.
The project will utilize street trees, gardens, public art, street furniture, urban design presentations, live music, a parklet and kids activities to create a lively community gathering space on an otherwise underutilized block.
While the October Better Block will be a one-day event, Park to Pacific is working to convert the project elements into permanent fixtures. The group formed after the 2013 Better Block project, and has since conducted detailed research and neighborhood surveys to illuminate desired street improvements that would reimagine Clovelly Road, from Centennial Park to Clovelly Beach, as a greener, safer and more sustainable street.
Guest post by William Coogan
The Better Block movement has gained traction in Australia, and Better Block Brunswick is an engaging case study. Following a visit by Jason Roberts to Melbourne in 2013, communities and planners began to see the potential of the approach, and at least three Better Blocks sprung up.
Better Block Brunswick is interesting as the approach was initiated by the Local Government – Moreland City Council – as a vehicle to explore the potential of a key street. Wilson Avenue is a short street which connects a railway station to a busy high street, Sydney Road, Brunswick. Starting small, with a Park(ing) Day, the process moved from a one day “Better Block” to a 56-day “Better Block Pop Up Park” within the space of six months. This approach helped to build momentum and genuine community buy-in, even though it was driven by a Council “Place Manager”. A bewildering myriad of activities and local partners were actively invited to contribute to “make their place”. Activities included street painting, food trucks, bollywood dancing, reggae discos, climbing walls, tai-chi, drumming workshops, live music and community protest marches.
The aim of this process was clear at the outset – transform an unloved and poorly used street into a thriving public space that people love to visit. The challenges were significant – secure political and financial support for a permanent public space where there was once a road for vehicles. The approach used could be described as community strengthening plus design. Benefits of the approach were clear from the formal public process to close the road which was held directly after the “Pop Up Park” – 356 persons made submissions and 94% advocated to close the road and establish a permanent public space as a result of “Better Block Brunswick”. The challenge now is to close the road and build a permanent space, whilst retaining the buzz, energy and buy-in of the Better Block Brunswick program.
Boris Kaganovich, along with his team of Better Block PDX volunteers, have been busy for the past month organizing their largest Better Block project to date, the Old Town/Chinatown Revitalization. Known as “the bad part of town,” the group hopes that the addition of sidewalk cafe seating, protected bike lanes and a pedestrian plaza will help change that perception, even if only for the weekend.
After plenty of meetings with neighborhood groups and City departments, the team was eager to get the project started. Luckily, the City was on their side; “At every meeting we went to, we heard not a single “No” to our project and only constructive criticism of how to make it better and tweak things a bit,” said Boris in an email to the Better Block team.
A concept plan was created with the help of the Fat Pencil design team and Nick Falbo of Alta Planning, a bike lane designer. After that, the team was ready to go.
The project is a big one with an immediate deadline — the group gave themselves a month to create four blocks worth of materials, including 150 planter boxes to carve out the protected bike lane and pedestrian plaza. Boris said he and his team purchased all of the Kreg 1″ screws in Portland and cleaned out two Home Depot’s worth of astroturf for the project.
With so many materials, the group still kept the project budget around $8,000, which they covered with the help of sponsors who stepped up to support the project. Now that they have all the tools and props from this project, said Boris, future projects will be cheaper. They also had a large amount of volunteers step up to the plate, starting with three at the very beginning of the project and ending with more than 30. Volunteers worked every evening in the weeks leading up to the project to complete the planters in time for the demonstration this weekend.
This project, along with Better Block PDX’s other two projects (a parking space plaza during Parking Day and a temporary plaza in a former turning lane), embodies the Better Block model of giving yourself a deadline, assembling a community team, working on a budget, increasing the perception of safety and encouraging bicycle and pedestrian activity. Though it takes time and dedication, Portland is another example that quickly improving your neighborhood is a very reachable goal.
The Old Town/Chinatown Better Block takes place along 3rd Avenue in Portland today through Sunday. Make sure to stop by if you’re in the area!
As early as the 1970s, Brazilian politician and urban planner Jaime Lerner has emphasized the importance of mobility and sustainability within cities. With a focus on multi-modal transportation, reduced carbon emissions, and mixed-use spaces, Lerner has been a proponent of quick, affordable changes that can improve a city in less than three years. Like Better Block did in his wake, Lerner developed early on a series of guidelines to follow to stimulate economic development and encourage livable, accessible cities:
Make it cheaper
In his much-lauded TED talk, Lerner said, “Creativity starts when you cut a zero from your budget. If you cut two zeros, it’s much better.” Here at Better Block, we’re also big proponents of the “lighter, cheaper, faster” school of thought. Expensive, unwieldy projects take decades to plan, and are likely to become forgotten or ignored as the plans are passed through generations.
For example, his Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system revolutionized public transportation in Brazil, and cost a fraction of the amount of a light rail or trolley system. BRT simply took the idea of subway transit and combined it with a bus system, making buses more efficient and convenient to use, and encouraging multi-modal transport in the heart of his city, Curitiba. The buses run every minute, have their own lanes, never competing with vehicular or subway traffic, and mimic the loading and unloading of subway cars. Today, BRT systems have been implemented in 83 cities worldwide.
Do it quickly
When projects can be done for less money, they’re more likely to be done more quickly. Lerner also recognized that planning and hypothesizing cannot overpower the end goal of a more sustainable, lively city. When you start, he says, you can’t be insistent on having all the answers. Just do it, collaborate with the right people, and they will let you know if you’re on the right track. He calls his quick, inexpensive method “urban acupuncture.”
The Better Block team has its own way of getting things done quickly: blackmailing ourselves. When you blackmail yourself, you create pressure on yourself to make something happen by a certain deadline. To do this, make posters, a website, or a Facebook page to promote your event, even if it’s not fully planned. Tell your friends that it’s happening, and contact people in your network with whom you want to collaborate. That way, you know you need to make it happen by the date on the posters, and, in all likelihood, it will.
Lerner noticed a perennial problem in large cities: most people work in the city, but live outside of it. This wasteful structure increases carbon emissions from its heavy dependence on cars, and makes the implementation of public transportation systems impractical, decreasing mobility within the city. Instead, he said, successful, sustainable cities are those where you can work, live and find leisure all in the same place.
To do this, spaces within cities need to be flexible and multipurpose. “You can’t have empty places for 18 hours a day,” Lerner says; sections of the city can play different roles at different hours. For example, a quarry can double as a public park, or a business district can become an outdoor marketplace on the weekends. This variety of use encourages people to live where they work, and work where they live, thereby saving energy, time and the environment.
Better Block implements this multi-use model into all of its events and demonstrations, encouraging organizers to program the street, have activities for all ages, and give attendees a reason to be there all day: a coffee shop for the morning hours, a sandwich place and independent shops for midday, alcohol and live music for the evenings, and outdoor gathering spaces throughout the day to create a perception of safety and a place for neighbors to exchange ideas. If the City and the community see the value in the Better Block project, the block can quickly become a place where people want to live, work and hang out, decreasing the likelihood of urban sprawl and its negative environmental impacts.
On September 20th, Sam Newberg, along with some neighbors and local businesses, transformed a corner in Minneapolis into a vibrant community gathering space using only a few roll of sod, a bench, some trees, a bike rack, and a shelf filled with books and board games.
According to Newberg’s post on his blog, Joe Urban, the difference to the street was immediate, with kids naturally gathering under the shade, morning coffee-drinkers sitting on the curb with friends, and families settling on the grass (a former parking space) with board games.
The team purposely chose the location because of its proximity to two popular businesses, Angry Catfish and A Baker’s Wife, allowing the energy from the businesses to animate the public space, and vice versa.
Newberg also noted a drastic reduction in speed from the passing traffic, as drivers would slow down to check out the parklet or hear the live music. Simply having more activity on the street made it a safer, more pleasant place for locals to gather.
To see more pictures and read the whole story, check out Newberg’s post here.
According to a recent feature on WSBT 22, The South Bend Better Block organizers have been busy gathering support for their upcoming project along Western Ave. on Oct. 17th and 18th ever since Andrew Howard led a catalyzing community workshop there in June. Their project, sponsored by the National Association of Realtors®, has a trifold goal of encouraging long-term investment, supporting small local businesses and creating awareness for the Western Ave. corridor.
While many vacant storefronts and empty lots line the stretch between Liberty and Camden streets, there are a handful of successful businesses that the event will spotlight and use as event anchors. The community says those businesses offer a glimpse at what Western Ave. could look like in the future, hoping to spark not only interest from investors, but from other small business owners as well.
The organizers are also hoping to incentivize people to explore a new area and support some new businesses. “They don’t tend to go outside of their comfort zone and so we want to get people to go out of their comfort zone and try a new neighborhood. Try a new diner. Try a new place to eat. See what exciting things there are really happening right here in South Bend,” said organizer Sam Centellas.
Source article by Patrick Roth of WSBT 22: South Bend Better Block program rallies support for west side corridor
This Better block will take place in South Bend’s west side, probably at Camden and Libery streets, but the location is not certain yet.
La Casa de Amistad, which mission is to empower the Latino/Hispanic Community by providing educational, cultural and advocacy services, and the Latin American Chamber of Commerce are helping to coordinate the event, which will feature retail, dining, entertainment, cultural and artistic activities for local residents and the wider community.
Sam Centellas, executive director of la Casa de Amistad, says: “A lot of time has been spent catering to the big developers and trying to attract big businesses to the area, and we forgot all that our small businesses can and already do to grow our city. For me, this is about creating a better environment for our families, and more importantly, for our children.”
Juan Hernandez Jr., president of the Latin American Chamber says: “”The most comments received from the residents near the Western Avenue corridor is that traffic needs to slow down, sidewalks are too narrow and need widening, and street lighting needs to be improved.”
South Bend city leaders have started working on identifying possible corridor improvements that can happen in the weeks, months and years ahead at Western Avenue and Lincoln Way West to improve the quality of life for those who live and work there.
Local organizers of the effort, which also has proven successful in communities across the country, are working on obtaining grants and fundraising to make the October event possible. But Centellas says it’s not a big-dollar event. Rather, it’s designed to show what can be done on a budget to demonstrate that growth and change can be easy.
Source article by Heidi Prescott for South Bend Tribune: http://www.southbendtribune.
Source article by Richard Burgess for the Advocate: http://theadvocate.com/home/