Just how fast can a blighted block be revitalized? Some cities are doing it in days, not years according to a survey recently conducted by Team Better Block Intern Ashton McDonald of Cornell University. The survey asked Better Block project leaders in seven cities how their efforts advanced revitalization.
The Better Block approach to revitalization begins with temporarily transforming a single block into vibrant destination that illustrates the potential for new business, safer streets and improved livability. Built with community talent and resources over a weekend, the result is a vision for an authentic place and the momentum needed to make it happen permanently.
Dating from 2010 to 2013, the projects surveyed represent cities from 600,000 to towns of less than 10,000. All of them are at different stages of redeveloping into more livable places, but all reported positive outcomes within days of the Better Block. Most notably the demonstration projects are bringing investors with their checkbooks. Within days after a project was completed in Norfolk, VA, REALTOR Patrick McGill of CBRE, announced a 15,000 sqft building,that had been on the market for years, sold for $1.1 million. Investment doesn’t end after the dust has settled. Memphis, where an estimated 13,000 people visited the Better Block, approximately $8 million in new investment has occurred.
Half of our respondents indicated that economic development was their primary goal. They were successful. 100% of the projects surveyed revealed overall increased sales revenue. Some businesses in St. Joseph, MO; Brownsville, TX; and Norfolk, VA reported the highest sales numbers they had seen since they opened while 80% reported increased sales revenue even after the project.
Perhaps most importantly, 71% of these projects have helped change, or are in the process of changing, city ordinances that allow for more complete streets and neighborhoods. For example, Duncan, SC project leaders say Better Block set the stage to draft pedestrian overlay zoning that would make it easier and safer to get around on foot.
Rapid change is possible in our cities, when citizens are leading the way and responsive governments take notice, sanction these projects and use the momentum to make permanent change. The How-To manual for urban revitalization is being rewritten, co-authored by everyday individuals and the urban specialist! Want to tell us about your city’s Better Block? Email us at info@TeamBetterBlock.com.
For more information, view the full case studies report