2011 was an incredible year for the Better Block project and we look forward to all of the new projects that are in the works for 2012. The Better Block Project is only as strong as its community partners, so the real accolades belong to those who rolled up their sleeves and helped repair their neighborhoods block by block, and to the institutions who carried through on the initial success of these projects to implement long-term, permanent change. If anyone had told us a year ago that this work would be highlighted in the New York Times, receive national awards, and allow us to speak internationally on revitalizing communities we would have never believed them. We’d also like to commend the 15 other communities nationwide who developed their own Better Block projects from Philadelphia to Memphis, and Saint Louis to Cleveland. Your efforts have inspired us to keep moving forward and given us a template for learning how this work can be adopted in communities with regional differences. So with that, we present a list of some of our favorite 2011 Better Block Project highlights:
Memphis installs bicycle infrastructure from Better Block recommendations
Shortly after we published details on our first Better Block project, community leaders in Memphis, Tennessee contacted us about pulling together their own block revitalization effort for Broad Street. Their neighborhood faced similar challenges to our own with vacant buildings, car-only infrastructure, and low investment. Team members worked with their Mayor and city council and held “A New Face for an Old Broad” Better Block project that brought out 13,000 people and revisioned a block with bike lanes, pop-up store fronts, landscaping, and more. The event was a major success, and within months, striping crews made the bike lanes permanent and reinvestment has begun to take hold within the corridor.
Fort Worth installs bicycle infrastructure from Better Block recommendations
Young activists in Fort Worth’s Near SouthSide neighborhood decided to take a block of Main Street that had been vacant and ignored for years, and developed their first Better Block Project. Team members added buffered bike lanes, new store fronts, food trucks, and more to make the block a neighborhood destination. The success of the event led the city of Fort Worth to permanently include buffered bike lanes on the street while ridership levels are continuing to grow throughout the area.
NCTCOG 2011 CLIDE Award
During the Summer of 2011, the North Central Texas Council of Governments recognized the Better Block Project with their prestigious CLIDE (Celebrating Leadership in Develpment Excellence) award. The jury chair was renowned architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.
2011 National ASLA Award for Communications
In November of 2011, Team Better Block alongside SWA Landscape Architects was awarded a National ASLA award for Communications for the Better Block project in Oak Cliff. The noted ASLA jurors heralded the effort as “ “a 21st-century version of what the Chicago World’s Fair did in 1893.”
Walk21 Conference in Vancouver
The Better Block Project was featured in its first international forum at the 12th annual Walk21 Conference held in Vancouver, Canada. The success of the presentation spurred organizers to give the project a more prominent focus at their 2012 expo in Mexico City.
Better Block organizer, Andrew Howard, headed a Nextgen breakout session where the Better Block was featured alongside other models in Tactical Urbanism that are beginning to take hold across the nation.
$1 Million dedicated to area improvements around first Better Block
In December 2011, a city of Dallas TIF board dedicated $1Million to improvements around the King’s Highway area of North Oak Cliff, several of which were direct recommendations from the first Better Block project held in April of 2010. Infrastructure improvements include bicycle infrastructure, a pedestrian plaza, and traffic calming elements.
Ross “Build a Better Boulevard” Challenge
In July, we announced our first “Better Block Challenge” where we invited teams to take segments of an 8 block avenue in Downtown Dallas and revitalize public and private spaces to improve walkability, economics, and safety. The project was also the kickoff to the City of Dallas’s “Complete Streets” effort and brought out hundreds of volunteers who helped revision bus stops, outdoor markets, bicycle infrastructure, and more. At the end of the day, the University of Texas at Arlington won the top prize for most innovative solution for block improvement by developing a large shade structure and music stage using only reclaimed materials. Click here to view a video segment of the project, and here for an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by noted Architect Professor, Ellen Dunham-Jones.