We’re always looking for unicorns at the Better Block, people who have a vast array of skillsets and are willing to try the impossible. We get a lot of interest in internship positions, but haven’t been able to take one on. But when Aaron Greiner emailed us, we knew he was a unicorn, and we asked him to spend some time in Dallas.
Aaron brought so much with him—talent, energy, and ideas. We’re still talking to him weekly for projects we need help with. And we’re brainstorming how we can continue to work together.
A huge thank you to the Jessica Jennifer Cohen Foundation for making this internship possible.
Learn more about Aaron’s summer below.
The other day, I was walking with three friends toward Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when I spotted a separated bike lane. I made everyone wait for me as I snapped a picture and professed the merits of separated bike lanes. I did, however, note that this bike lane was separated only by flexible bollards and not a hard barrier, leaving room for improvement. I didn’t always think like this.
When I flew into Dallas Fort-Worth Airport on June 7, I was fresh off a semester abroad and my first introduction to urban design. Much like the buildings and bridges of Dallas that seemed miniature from my bird’s-eye view, in Copenhagen, I learned the theory of urban design from afar. I studied the teachings of Jan Gehl, William Whyte, and Jane Jacobs. I learned about bike infrastructure, what makes public spaces work, and even about Better Block. All that theory changed my perception of the world around me, but I still had little sense of what urban design looked like in practice. When my plane touched down was when my work on the ground started.
In my (way too fast) summer as a design intern at Better Block, I got to work on many different projects, from redesigning the Better Block Manual to forming a concept plan for Better Block in Kenmore, Ohio. For four exciting, tiring, and transformative days I got to help out with a Better Block event in Barberton, Ohio. The event was a two-day temporary transformation of an underused downtown street. Over the course of four days, the street went from an under-used strip of asphalt to a vibrant public space full of people. With a few community-inspired changes, the street became a space people wanted to stay. The happy expressions on the residents’ faces said it all.
Among many other lessons, this summer, I leaned to be confident in my own work and to try tasks I was not yet good at. The Better Block team welcomed me into their process and encouraged me to share my ideas. Some of my favorite moments were when we would brainstorm some crazy ideas, and then actually do them.
I have always been passionate about design and improving lives, but I never really knew that those two things could be one in the same until coming to work at Better Block. It has been empowering to apply my design background to improving the built environment. I have designed in the social sphere before, but never on the city scale. After my summer at Better Block, I have seen the positive impact that well-deigned spaces can have.
My experience at Better Block has inspired me to continue to pursue urban design in my last year at school and after I graduate.
When I returned to Boston a week ago, it looked nothing like it did when I left. Few things have physically changed, but I see my city through a completely different lens. I notice pedestrian islands, transit-oriented development, and bike lanes. I see empty plazas and imagine interventions that would make them into vibrant public spaces. I am excited about the possibility of making the built environment more livable for all, and even more excited about the possibilities I have yet to see. My internship at Better Block gave me a pair of glasses through which to view the world, and I will never be the same because of it. —Aaron Greiner