Barberton Better Block


At 4:55 pm, five minutes before the ribbon cutting ceremony, we stepped outside of our volunteer center at Faith Gym and saw a downpour washing away our week of hard work. We watched as purple and white tempera paint, used to create sharrows, crosswalks, and bumpouts, ran into the storm drains. The gaff tape used to extend the curb and outline crosswalks peeled up and followed the paint. After 30 long minutes, the rain subsided, and soon, Second Street became the lively downtown strip that the community hoped it would be. Community members shopped at the outdoor market, listened to local music, and played cornhole in the beer garden until well past the scheduled event times. Locals told us that is was the busiest Second Street had ever been, and restaurants sold out of food. With the help of our incredible volunteers, early the next morning, we were able to touch up some of the painted elements to prepare for the second day of programming. Despite the setbacks, the Barberton Better Block was a success, and achieved our goal of showing the potential of Second Street.

Through a partnership with the Barberton Community Foundation, a Better Block was implemented on Second Street at the end of July. Barberton, which is right outside of Akron, built off the momentum of three previous projects in the area. During the Barberton Better Block, we worked with the community to transform Second Street to an activated, lively, and pedestrian friendly street.

Why Second Street?

Second Street is in a great spot: it’s in the middle of downtown and a block away from Lake Anna. Despite its convenient location, public life on Second Street has been low. It’s not seen as a destination. People either go to Second Street for a specific purpose and leave, or pass through on their way to a different part of the city.

Bicyclists test out the newly painted infrastructure during the Barberton Better Block.

After surveying the community, we found that the nearby Tuscarawas Avenue was loved by the local residents and a popular spot to visit in Barberton. We studied the differences between the two and found that Tuscarawas Avenue had many elements that made life on the street safer and more enjoyable, including a mid-block crossing, curb bumpouts, and public seating.

The Interventions

Taking the information we had from the surveys and our observations of Tuscarawas Avenue, we worked with the community to create a concept map that highlighted local businesses, addressed the large empty parking lots and spaces, and created better pedestrian infrastructure to bring public life onto the street.

Despite the presence of beloved local businesses and a small urban scale, there was little public life on Second Street. There were few spaces for people to linger, interact, and enjoy themselves. To address these issues, we created a pop-up beer garden in partnership with Magic City Brewing Company, complete with pallet benches, Wikiblock cafe sets, cornhole, and lighting. The beer garden, located in a parking lot alleyway, brought people into a space that was never before activated. We also created parklets and cafe seating in front of restaurants, and encouraged local businesses to expand onto the sidewalk to increase building permeability, or the ‘openness’ of the building to the street. Building permeability is an important aspect of urban design. By incorporating large, open windows and outdoor displays, businesses can attract pedestrians into their store and create a sense of transparency on the block.

Volunteers press down the tape on the intersection.

We also implemented streetscape renovations to prioritize pedestrians over cars. A mid-block crossing connecting the pop-up market and a coffee shop was created using tempera paint. Also, bumpouts were built at the intersection to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians, and to narrow the street through the intersection to slow down traffic. These interventions were created using gaff tape, toilet plunger bollards, tempera paint, and volunteers’ creativity. We used radar guns to quantify the effectiveness of these interventions. As seen from the graph below, the trend, as the interventions were implemented, shows that traffic slowed while traveling down Second Street.

During the Better Block, we also worked with volunteers to collect age and gender counts of the attendees. The distribution of men to women before and during the event is an important statistic in analyzing the perception of a space. The more women present, the safer the space feels. In bringing public life onto Second Street and slowing down traffic, we were successful in making it a safer space.

Despite a few obstacles throughout the process, including broken-down CNC routers and rain washing away some of the temporary paint, the Barberton Better Block was successful in reimagining the street. We cannot thank the Barberton Community Foundation (especially Amber Genet) and the City of Barberton enough for making this happen. While it was not the largest or most complex Better Block ever created, it showed the benefits of the intimacy of public space. Barberton Better Block served as a reminder that it is not the complexity of the interventions or the built environment that makes a place great, but rather the people and the community it serves.

Volunteers create a kiosk for a pop-up coffee shop.