Guest post by Kevin Young and Kasi Martin
On January 10th, 2015, the future of the North Franklin Street corridor was put into the hands of over 2,000 attendees, multiple media outlets, and city planners. Tampa’s first Better Block Project, on North Franklin Street, kicked off the Tampa Heights Civic Association’s efforts to revitalize one of Tampa’s most historic neighborhood corridors and bring principles of tactical urbanism to the city on a grand scale.
Recognizing a need
Downtown Tampa is standing on the threshold of a major redevelopment boom. Forty acres of Tampa’s oldest suburb – Tampa Heights – are ripe for development. Bordering the northern edges of downtown, the neighborhood used to enjoy a bustling corridor on North Franklin Street. Long-forgotten, this corridor functioned as a neighborhood gathering place with restaurants, a theater, and public transportation. Now, it is home to vacant storefronts and abandoned lots. Recently a few trailblazing entrepreneurs have gravitated to the corridor, foreseeing Franklin as Tampa’s next beacon of urban development.
Seeing the potential for development, a Better Block Planning Committee formed. A group of young professionals active in local policy came together with Tampa Heights residents and business owners in the summer of 2014 to present the Better Block project and host the city’s first visioning exercise. Through concept boards, planning exercises, and group discussion, the neighborhood expressed their long-term vision for North Franklin Street. It included:
- Mixed-use development
- Redevelopment with an emphasis on low-rise residential buildings
- Pedestrian/bike friendly thoroughfare
- Locally-owned restaurants and retail
- Expansion of artistic and creative offerings (The Rialto Theater and Franklin St. Finest Woodworking have already set up shop)
Significant obstacles to this vision were also identified during the planning exercise:
- Exclusion of the corridor from Community Redevelopment Area special funding districts and a general lack of city redevelopment attention.
- The lack of a neighborhood identity (no district name)
- Perceived safety issues associated with a large homeless population using North Franklin Street to travel to social service offerings in the neighborhood.
- A lack of transportation planning including no bike lane, needs for traffic calming, lack of foot traffic, lack of bicycle racks, no bike share stations, and no streetcar stop.
A new neighborhood identity
Unlike other bustling neighborhood corridors in Tampa, this area of North Franklin Street had lost its identity. Taking their cues from the street’s distinct, blonde brick buildings and utilizing the power of social media, the Planning Committee rebranded this corridor as Tampa’s Yellow Brick Row district. False store fronts were built to mimic the blonde brick architecture, reflecting the neighborhood’s desire to keep the development aesthetic uniform on the street. Yellow bricks were also painted in the street and on sidewalks to reflect this vision.
Hello…#YellowBrickRow, A bustling corridor unveiled
The planning group worked from the Better Block open source model, infusing it with distinctive local flair and ideas. The day-long event transformed five blocks of North Franklin Street into a prominent corridor of Tampa’s future.
Tampa’s offerings included:
- Local Cuban art and food showcase inside an old dance club
- Handmade building facades to mirror the unique yellow brick buildings on Franklin Street
- A “Retail Row” featuring pop-ups from local jewelers, bakers and artisans
- Handmade wayfinding signs
- Local food truck park and outdoor cafe space
Beer garden with up-and-coming brewery previews and local bands
- Temporary bike station by Coast Bike Share
- Metalwork sculptures from a local artist (one was permanently donated to the area)
- Interactive parklets with gardens, games and rest areas
- Interactive “Imagine____ on Franklin Street” chalkboard wall
- Temporary transformed streets with painted crosswalks, parking and footsteps
- Temporary greenspace
- Artwork in street windows to reimagine vacant storefronts with tenant options
Another distinguishing element of Tampa’s Better Block was inclusiveness of the existing neighborhood and establishments. During the event, the homeless population mingled with 2,000 attendees, showing that the presence of social services in the neighborhood needn’t stall efforts to revitalize the corridor.
Better Block attendees were excited about the neighborhood, with many asking “What is next?” Business owners attended and told stories about their entrepreneurial efforts. Neighborhood residents strolling through said they were eager for a day when families could walk the sidewalks of North Franklin Street again. The most telling feedback came from an owner of Robertson’s Billiards, the oldest establishment on Franklin St. “I never thought it would take four generations to see my grandparents’ vision for this street come true.”
Follow #YellowBrickRow for continuing developments on Franklin St and the Tampa Heights neighborhood
In its inaugural Better Block, The Tampa Heights Civic Association, Congress for New Urbanism, and Urban Charette are teaming up to bring a historic block on Franklin Street back into the city’s focus. The project will take place on Saturday, January 10th from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Franklin Street between 1-275 and Henderson Avenue.
“By bringing Better Block to Tampa Heights, we will simulate what a thriving and lively corridor would look like on Franklin Street,” said Brian Seel, president of the Tampa Height Civic Association Board. “The block is part of a Tampa neighborhood where we are starting to see urbanization. Our project builds on this momentum and gives the community a voice in the development of Franklin Street.”
Using Better Block’s principle of creating small-scale, short-term improvements to encourage lasting change and bringing the community together to build and improve their neighborhood, the group hopes to transform the block into Tampa’s “Yellow Brick Row.” The event will feature local vendors, retailers and residents hosting pop-up storefronts, local breweries will be offering beer samples, and the street will be reimagined with Cuban art and music, parklets, street art and entertainment for the one-day demonstration.
Earlier this year, Tampa Heights neighborhood members participated in a visioning exercise with the CNU, sharing their preferences and desires for the future of historic Franklin Street, and the Better Block is the group’s opportunity to see their ideas in action.
On November 15th, the City of Fresno, California launched its first Better Block effort on East Ventura Avenue, spotlighting ways to make a more pedestrian friendly street. The project was part of the Revitalize Ventura / Kings Canyon effort, funded by an Environmental Justice grant from CalTrans. Team Better Block worked with the Fresno Council of Governments, Placeworks, and various community organizations to develop and implement a rapid community-built streetscape plan utilizing locally sourced materials. The temporary measures demonstrated how proposed street improvements will bring more vitality to the corridor.
Beginning in September, community groups gathered to walk portions of the blocks of Ventura Avenue to review ways to address issues with the street. Like many commercial corridors, Ventura Avenue is uninviting and generally unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. Ideas like creating more landscaping, improved crosswalks, and areas for outdoor cafe seating were all included in the initial planning process. In order to repair a portion of the street’s missing historic edge and create human scale, Team Better Block made plans to install a shipping container with vertical architectural elements. The temporary structure was designed to fill in the gaps in the urban form caused by excessive setbacks and parking requirements.
Working with teams of community volunteers, work was set out the day prior to the Better Block with construction of multiple parklets, pallet furniture, and crosswalks. On the morning of the event, landscape crews from Tree Fresno arrived and set out landscaping based on plans provided by Broussard Associates Landscape Architects. The landscaping created a canopy and soft edge that invited pedestrians to linger and enjoy the space.
Local school bands, mariachis, and a classic car show were programmed for the event to create additional opportunities for the community to re-take their block. By the project’s conclusion, hundreds of residents and stakeholders visited and lent support to the effort. Local news services including NPR and Telemundo covered the Better Block event.
As a result of the Better Block, Placeworks was able to collect valuable feedback from the community about the proposed changes to the Ventura Avenue. Although the changes, including curb bump-outs and landscaped improvements, had been discussed at community meetings, this was the first opportunity for area residents to see them in action. Placeworks can now take the community’s feedback from the event and parlay it into their plans for permanent changes in the corridor. The Fresno Better Block yet again demonstrated the power of temporary improvements to energize a community and fast track change.
The Knight Foundation and Team Better Block have begun laying the groundwork for their first collaboration with the city of Akron, Ohio. The community of North Hill has been selected for the city’s first Better Block and residents, business owners, and city staff have all partnered to start preparing the Cuyahoga Falls and Main Street area for a project that will combine efforts with local organizations like the International Institute, Urban Vision, and AMATS.
A large group of stakeholders attended the Community Walk kick-off for the project on Monday, and ideas were submitted for potential pop-up businesses in the area.
If you’d like more information on the project, or would like to sign up to take part, visit the Akron Better Block facebook page. More details to come soon!
After successful Better Block projects on 35th Street and in the Arts District in Norfolk, Virginia, Norview Five Points community members and business owners are leading a third Better Block on the 6100 block of Sewell’s Point Road.
The event was catalyzed by organizer Austin Loney’s attempt to relocate their pawn shop business to a building on the street. They found that strict zoning laws regulated, and often prohibited, certain viable businesses from operating on the block.
Therefore, with funding from the Hampton Roads REALTORS © Association, the City and the community are coming together on November 14th and 15th to install pop-up businesses of local Norview entrepreneurs in the vacant storefronts and program the street with activities, outdoor cafe seating, landscaping, live music and food trucks. This, Loney says, will hopefully spur economic development and zoning changes to allow for new businesses to move to the block, reducing crime and making it a more inviting place to live, work and play.
The event will take place from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday, November 14th, and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, the 15th.
The Better Block has been hard at work on our upcoming project in Fresno, California. In partnership with the Fresno Council of Governments, Placeworks, California Department of Transportation, Fresno Center For New Americans, Southeast Fresno Economic Development Association, Sigala, Inc., Centro La Familia, and Ventura Kings Canyon Merchants Association, we’re bringing the Better Block project to the 3600 block of Ventura Avenue as part of a larger effort to revitalize the corridor.
From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on November 15th, the street will be transformed with street landscaping, live music, mobile food vendors, outdoor seating, an outdoor market and classic car show.
As with all Better Block projects, the Fresno project aims to help area residents and business owners see the potential of the block by temporarily improving its infrastructure, adding programming, and making it a more lively, pedestrian-friendly environment. These temporary improvements will hopefully one day become permanent ones.
The Better Block team will be hosting workshops leading up to the event to build parklets, pallet furniture, and work to repair the street. If you’re in the Central Valley area and would like to participate, you can sign up for workshops here. We are also still accepting vendors to take part in our outdoor market. The sign up form is online here.
Better Block Fresno Schedule of Events:
Friday, November 14th
6 – 9 p.m. : Community Build Workshop onsite
Saturday, November 15th
8 – 10 a.m. : Community Build Workshops onsite
10 a.m. – 1 p.m. : Classic Car Show, Outdoor Market, Outdoor Dining
10 – 11:00 a.m. : Sunnyside High School Marching Band
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. : Roosevelt High School Mariachi Band
Greater South Bend/Mishawaka Association of Realtors, in connection with the Latin American Chamber of Commerce and La Casa De Amistad, organized a Better Block along Western Avenue in South Bend, Indiana on October 17th and 18th. With the help of a $15,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors secured by the Greater South Bend/Mishawaka Association of Realtors, the team transformed the block to draw attention to the small businesses housed there and to encourage community involvement in the area.
While the project was funded mainly by NAR, the project had a larger focus than simply selling property. “We need to expose the local community, the local businesses that are doing well to the greater community and really help give the local community a greater sense of pride in what’s going on here,” said Myron Larimer, Chief Exec. Officer of the Greater South Bend/Mishawaka Assoc. of Realtors, in an interview with WNDU.
A largely hispanic area, the Western Avenue project spotlighted the area businesses such as Taqueria Chicago and La Rosita, an ice cream and popsicle shop. It set up a pop-up art gallery featuring works from children at La Casa De Amistad youth center and other area artists in a building that had been vacant for six years. The team reported that throughout the event, many people requested information about leasing the building.
The group also encouraged multi-modal transportation to the event by painting temporary bike lanes on the block and narrowing traffic lanes with hay bales to create a safer atmosphere for pedestrians. They spruced up storefronts with paint and banners, and relocated the area farmers market to the block as well.
Sam Centellas, Director of La Casa de Amistad and one of the event organizers, called their work “grassroots economic development.” “We really would like to see local investment and the little things like more people coming out here for dinner and knowing that the West Side is an option for them to come out and eat,” Centellas said in an interview with WNDU.
Though the weather was cold and rainy, the event was a success overall and one that had a significant impact in the community of Western Avenue. The Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, attended the event and said the bike lanes on Western Avenue may become permanent if the public supports it. Many of the vendors and participants in the event agreed that it should become an annual project.
The National Association of Realtors has been a long-time supporter of the Better Block projects, working to promote economic development and walkability in neighborhoods around the U.S.
The Park to Pacific Association in Sydney, Australia is planning a Better Block project to be showcased during the Walk 21 Conference, an organization that exists to promote walkable and livable communities throughout the world.
As Sam George, a member of the Park to Pacific steering committee, wrote: “Following the first Better Block last year we formed a community association to promote positive change along the whole street, and organize this second, even bigger Better Block.”
Due to the impact of their 2013 street transformation, which brought out over 2,000 attendees and 150 volunteers, October 19th’s Better Block was able to secure funding from City Council and their neighborhood Rotary Club.
The project will utilize street trees, gardens, public art, street furniture, urban design presentations, live music, a parklet and kids activities to create a lively community gathering space on an otherwise underutilized block.
While the October Better Block will be a one-day event, Park to Pacific is working to convert the project elements into permanent fixtures. The group formed after the 2013 Better Block project, and has since conducted detailed research and neighborhood surveys to illuminate desired street improvements that would reimagine Clovelly Road, from Centennial Park to Clovelly Beach, as a greener, safer and more sustainable street.