We wanted to take a moment to catch you up on a project we worked on last year. In September 2017, we held the Kenmore Better Block in Akron, Ohio. The demonstration helped create momentum in the neighborhood to spark redevelopment and activation of Kenmore Boulevard. Since the Better Block, a Community Development Corporation has been created with support from the Knight Foundation, and is working to host events on the Boulevard. The group holds monthly Busk Until Dusk events featuring local musicians performing on the streets. The group has also created Live Music Now!, a local concert venue in a previously empty building that hosts four shows a month, to help reassert Kenmore’s brand as a music district.
We created a report detailing the process and the stories of the Better Block to provide the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance with guidance on how to move forward and build from the successes. You can read the report here. But before you do, read this opening letter from Tina Boyes, the Block Captain of the Kenmore Better Block and head of the newly formed Kenmore Neighborhood CDC.
When I first came across the concept of Better Block, I knew it was tailor-made for a place like Kenmore, an area with so much untapped potential but a degree of self-loathing it doesn’t deserve. Kenmore is a community of hardworking, blue-collar people, a great history, and a beautiful streetscape. It’s also one begging for a new identity as its grip on the old one is slipping away.
Over the summer of 2017, the Akron Public Schools announced its plans to close Kenmore High School, a mainstay in the community for 100 years, and merge it with a rival high school. Having been our own city decades ago, the community rallied around its high school much like a small town would. Unfortunately, the school still closed. It felt like that part of our identity was being stripped away. Several months later, Huntington Bank, Kenmore Boulevard’s only commercial bank, announced it would be closing its doors, a punch in the gut to the business owners already weary of disinvestment in the area.
Yes, Kenmore needed an identity, but it also needed hope.
Conceiving of Kenmore Better Block was not an easy task. Some people saw things as being simply beyond repair, a lost cause. Still, others wanted to help but couldn’t visualize themselves moving beyond small efforts to something bigger that engaged both citizenry and the business community. Still, others (myself included) didn’t quite know where it was all going but were committed to fumbling through the messy Better Block process to figure it all out. (And—believe me—if you do it right, it is messy.)
Kenmore has creativity and craftsmanship in its blood. A prime example is Lay’s Guitar Shop, a fixture here for more than 50 years. They have built, repaired, and modified guitars for the likes of Dan Auerbach, Joe Walsh, and—unwittingly—Jimmy Page. The storefront is an unassuming one known mostly by those in the industry, underappreciated by neighborhood passers-by. What if Lay’s were celebrated for the community asset it is and something residents could be proud of?
Then there are the eight recording studios in the neighborhood. They’re quiet, unknown even to one another. But during Better Block, we uncovered how these quiet giants can be the key to our neighborhood’s resurgence. These very same artists are now meeting and brainstorming ways we can harness the Better Block energy into ongoing pop-up, and, perhaps permanent, creative spaces.
Yes, Kenmore is a music neighborhood, but not the showy kind with big lights and fancy stages. We’re just people who like to get together with friends on a Friday over a beer and some good music, something we continue to do with our Busk Until Dusk events and pop-up venue, Live Music Now!.
We are rock and roll, and it’s a brand that was just waiting to get out. With the help of fantastic sponsors like 427 Design and Evolve Creative Group, Better Block enabled us to create a brand that transcends any one business or entity and harness the energy of a community that, when knocked down, gets back up over and over again. Now we know it. There’s a little more spring in the step of the kids walking down Kenmore Boulevard, and people all over the city and county are talking about Kenmore, not with noses turned up, but with eagerness to see what’s next. And we’re excited to show them.