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.