I’ve been to a fair number of conferences, but few I have really enjoyed and left feeling like I learned something that I can take back home and apply. I have on occasion, like the man pictured above, lost interest and snoozed. More and more attendees are seeking new means of learning and sharing knowledge through active conferences that rapidly introduce new techniques and then apply them in real-world scenarios. Team Better Block recently partnered with the Oklahoma Main Street Program to host such a conference with over 50 Main Street Program Directors from around the State of Oklahoma.
The conference included a half-day of classroom training on the basics of How to Build a Better Block with examples from past projects in Wichita, Kansas, Dallas, Texas and San Antonio Texas. An hour was spent on the theory behind Better Block that stems from books such as City Comforts and practices like New York City’s Pavement to Plazas program.
Overall the workshop sought to provide:
- Introduction to Team Better Block approach
- How to re-engineer and re-program streets, sidewalks, properties, and spaces for safety, shared amenities, and staying power
- How to rally stakeholders, community, and civic participation
- How to promote the demonstration through marketing, “shared” events, and social media
- How to file for proper permitting for the demonstration
- How to create teams and designate tasks efficiently and effectively
- How to survey public and private spaces of blighted or auto-centric blocks through “on site” visits
- How to design, build, and install temporary re-engineering and re-programming elements safely, economically, and efficiently through “hands on” demonstrations
- How to measure through a set of metrics and reports the successes and failures of the demonstration
- How to continue future efforts and take next steps for permanent change
Moving from the classroom to the street, Better Block co-founders Andrew Howard and Jason Roberts and long-time Better Block Champ Wanda Dye lead the group on process of building a better block:
Community Walk with Private and Public Space Survey
Property owner meeting with Pop-up Shop ideas
City Traffic Engineer discussion with Street Plan
The Main Street Directors had less than six hours to transform a four lane auto-dominated street into a complete street and activate five vacant shop-fronts into destinations. Using the better block principles of BORROW, BUILD and only then BUY the teams set off to make the Kendall Whittier District of Tulsa Oklahoma into an even more attractive destination!
Great places deserve great streets. The project worked with the City of Tulsa Traffic Engineering Department to test a complete street for a one block stretch of Lewis Street. Lewis is currently a four lane arterial with around 10,000 vehicles per day and speeds above 35MPH. However, it is designate in the City of Tulsa Thoroughfare plan to be a two lane main street in the future. So, the Street Team re-oriented the current on-street parallel parking to be back-in angle parking. This treatment sought to reduce vehicle speeds and increase the amount of parking for retail uses. On the opposite side of the street, planters where used to create a European style cycle track that functioned as a bicycle trail in the street.
Concurrently, the Pop-up Team went to work on five vacant storefronts with the idea of creating a coffee shop, art gallery, vintage record shop, vintage clothing store and a hardware store. They focused on the front of the store. Cleaning windows, positioning displays and setting areas close to the windows and dividing the large spaces using horizontal elements. Art was borrowed, friends were called to participate and new relationships with neighboring retailers was formed. In a matter of hours the Pop-up team had created and active and vibrant destination!
The Marketing and Graphics Team meanwhile were documenting the effort, creating wayfinding, signage, uploading pictures to Facebook and creating a video. The result was a block that performed better for the visitor, property owner and retailer.
The experience reminded Jason and I of the first Better Block! The positive energy of the day was apparent. Gone was the powerpoint slides, rubber chicken lunch and boring training manuals often found at conferences. Instead the day was filled with team building, active participation, rapid problem solving and measurable outcomes. The true test of the workshop will come in the application of learned techniques by the participants when they return home.
In our closing session, Jason asked how will you use what you have learned? In Ardmore a vacant storfront is going to become a restaurant incubator with an active cafe area, Altus is looking to restore the “bad” part of Main Street that is South of the tracks with a Better Block, McAlester is going to use the street exercise to illustrate the need for a calmed state highway that is their main street and many others found immediate applications of the lessons learned.
Congratulations to the first Better Block Certification Class! Our next Class is in March, sign up now!