Category: Better Block Projects

National Association of Realtors Awards Grant for South Bend Better Block

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Western Avenue in South Bend, Indiana. Source: South Bend Better Block Facebook page

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.

Source: South Bend Tribune
The Urban Farmers Market relocates to Western Avenue on Saturday, Oct. 18th. Source: South Bend Tribune

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.

The community came together to re-paint blighted buildings along Western Avenue. Source: South Bend Better Block Facebook page
The community came together to re-paint blighted buildings along Western Avenue. Source: South Bend Better Block Facebook page

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.

You can read more about the South Bend Better Block project at the South Bend Tribune and WNDU.

Better Block Detroit Revitalizes The Airport District This Weekend

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On October 25th, Better Block Detroit will take over the Airport District to promote green design, walkable neighborhoods, and human scale development. To do this, the project will implement sidewalk cafe seating, community programming, landscaping, storefront repair, and improved wayfinding signage along Gatriot Avenue between Conner and Rosemary from 12 to 7 p.m.
According to the event organizers, Khalil Ligon, CEO of Vista Vantage Consulting Group, and the USGBC Detroit Regional Chapter Emerging Professionals, the Airport District has undergone population decline, massive school closures and high structural blight. Despite this, Ligon and the USGBC want to highlight the neighborhood’s many amenities, including the Detroit City Airport and Conner Creek Greenway.
The district is a predominately residential area surrounded by many underutilized commercial corridors and thoroughfares. The social and physical infrastructure in the district presents unique opportunities to explore sustainable redevelopment practices. With its close proximity to downtown, the riverfront and 8 Mile, the Better Block team thinks the Airport District is well-suited to become Detroit’s next emerging neighborhood.

Sydney Showcases Second Better Block Project During Walk 21 Conference

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2013 Clovelly Road Better Block

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.

Sticker HWhile 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.

 

Better Block Brunswick – A Case Study From Down Under

Guest post by William Coogan

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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.

ASP 185Better 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.

ASP 132The 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.

More info at http://www.moreland.vic.gov.au/building-and-planning/strategic-projects-moreland/wilson-avenue-brunswick.html

Portland Builds A Better Block In Old Town/Chinatown This Weekend

Photo from Better Block PDX Facebook page
Photo source: Better Block PDX Facebook page

Boris Kaganovich, along with his team of Better Block PDX volunteers, have been busy for the past month organizing their largest Better Block project to date, the Old Town/Chinatown Revitalization. Known as “the bad part of town,” the group hopes that the addition of sidewalk cafe seating, protected bike lanes and a pedestrian plaza will help change that perception, even if only for the weekend.

After plenty of meetings with neighborhood groups and City departments, the team was eager to get the project started. Luckily, the City was on their side; “At every meeting we went to, we heard not a single “No” to our project and only constructive criticism of how to make it better and tweak things a bit,” said Boris in an email to the Better Block team.

A concept plan was created with the help of the Fat Pencil design team and Nick Falbo of Alta Planning, a bike lane designer. After that, the team was ready to go.

The project is a big one with an immediate deadline — the group gave themselves a month to create four blocks worth of materials, including 150 planter boxes to carve out the protected bike lane and pedestrian plaza. Boris said he and his team purchased all of the Kreg 1″ screws in Portland and cleaned out two Home Depot’s worth of astroturf for the project.

With so many materials, the group still kept the project budget around $8,000, which they  covered with the help of sponsors who stepped up to support the project. Now that they have all the tools and props from this project, said Boris, future projects will be cheaper. They also had a large amount of volunteers step up to the plate, starting with three at the very beginning of the project and ending with more than 30. Volunteers worked every evening in the weeks leading up to the project to complete the planters in time for the demonstration this weekend.

This project, along with Better Block PDX’s other two projects (a parking space plaza during Parking Day and a temporary plaza in a former turning lane), embodies the Better Block model of giving yourself a deadline, assembling a community team, working on a budget, increasing the perception of safety and encouraging bicycle and pedestrian activity. Though it takes time and dedication, Portland is another example that quickly improving your neighborhood is a very reachable goal.

The Old Town/Chinatown Better Block takes place along 3rd Avenue in Portland today through Sunday. Make sure to stop by if you’re in the area!

Minneapolis Better Block Transforms a Corner with a Parklet

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On September 20th, Sam Newberg, along with some neighbors and local businesses, transformed a corner in Minneapolis into a vibrant community gathering space using only a few roll of sod, a bench, some trees, a bike rack, and a shelf filled with books and board games.

According to Newberg’s post on his blog, Joe Urban, the difference to the street was immediate, with kids naturally gathering under the shade, morning coffee-drinkers sitting on the curb with friends, and families settling on the grass (a former parking space) with board games.

The team purposely chose the location because of its proximity to two popular businesses, Angry Catfish and A Baker’s Wife, allowing the energy from the businesses to animate the public space, and vice versa.

Newberg also noted a drastic reduction in speed from the passing traffic, as drivers would slow down to check out the parklet or hear the live music. Simply having more activity on the street made it a safer, more pleasant place for locals to gather.

To see more pictures and read the whole story, check out Newberg’s post here.

Better Block South Bend Seeks to Change Local Perspective of Western Avenue

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According to a recent feature on WSBT 22, The South Bend Better Block organizers have been busy gathering support for their upcoming project along Western Ave. on Oct. 17th and 18th ever since Andrew Howard led a catalyzing community workshop there in June. Their project, sponsored by the National Association of Realtors®, has a trifold goal of encouraging long-term investment, supporting small local businesses and creating awareness for the Western Ave. corridor.

While many vacant storefronts and empty lots line the stretch between Liberty and Camden streets, there are a handful of successful businesses that the event will spotlight and use as event anchors. The community says those businesses offer a glimpse at what Western Ave. could look like in the future, hoping to spark not only interest from investors, but from other small business owners as well.

The organizers are also hoping to incentivize people to explore a new area and support some new businesses. “They don’t tend to go outside of their comfort zone and so we want to get people to go out of their comfort zone and try a new neighborhood. Try a new diner. Try a new place to eat. See what exciting things there are really happening right here in South Bend,” said organizer Sam Centellas.

Better Block South Bend will feature live music, art galleries and good food. For more information, check out their website and Facebook page. 

Source article by Patrick Roth of WSBT 22: South Bend Better Block program rallies support for west side corridor 

More Lessons Learned from Better Block Projects

After rolling out an impressive series of 4 projects in 4 weeks time, the Better Block founder’s were able to add to their past list of “Lessons Learned” to inspire and help others looking at pulling together a project. Here are their most recent notes:
1) All Better Blocks should focus on four elements: an Edge, a sidewalk, a street, and a lab space.
 – The edge should have small retail, a minimum of 5 shops that line two sides of a street to show how these edges engage each other.
 – The shops should have a morning beverage option (coffee, etc), a restaurant, a locally made products shop (Etsy), a flower shop (to maintain street landscaping), and the Better Block Lab space. optional: bike shop, music store, book shop, kids space. This creates enough diversification of use to allow the area to sustain activity over a full day.
2) Ideally, there should be two vacant spaces in buildings, but must have at least one vacancy that acts as the Better Block lab and build space. This is where the volunteer groups can meet, complete construction, and store materials.
3) Create a concept plan for your block that notes all of the improvements you’d like to accomplish. Develop workshops to help construct the concepts, but don’t create more than 2 per day if building. The Better Block team leads should focus on construction work. If changing a street with straw wattles, plants, crosswalks, et cetera, create a street-build class that begins 2 hours before the event. Be sure to have all materials assembled and ready to install prior to workshop. If working in the heat, provide shade!
4) The basic tools required for all projects: 4 automatic screwdrivers (1 with drill bit), extra batteries, 2 circular saws, 3 hammers, 1 crow bar, and as many pallets as you can acquire.
5) Focus on parkletts at a bare minimum. Line two sides of the street with these if possible. Also, include shade. They give the semblance of a front porch, which acts as a social gathering space, and street activator.
6) If project is at night, pull an alcohol permit. Build a beer garden when possible with solid edge. String lights at a minimum. This creates the small social gathering space that can be the center of gravity for the project.
7) Combine rented scaffolding and used billboard vinyl to create a new street edge. Install small pop-up retail in these spaces.
8) The Better Block project should be thought of as a “Hardware Project”. The “Software Project” is the programming of the space itself. Partner with an outdoor market, or work with an event manager onsite to coordinate vendors, communication, and marketing of programming and activities. Taking on both pieces can stretch resources if volunteer turnout is light.
9) Look at shopping malls as an analogy for creating a smartly scaled street…small retail spaces at 18′ or less with strong edge detail, two-sided, common space (food court) which is shared and activated by food court, single elevation.
10) Focus on scale! Work to create a 1:1 ratio on sidewalk to road space.
11) Both edges must feel safe.
12) It must be comfortable for people to linger…If it’s hot,  incorporate shade. If it’s cold, incorporate heaters/blankets.

Oct. 17 and 18 : Better Block in South Bend, Indiana

This Better block will take place in South Bend’s west side, probably at Camden and Libery streets, but the location is not certain yet.

La Casa de Amistad, which mission is to empower the Latino/Hispanic Community by providing educational, cultural and advocacy services, and the Latin American Chamber of Commerce are helping to coordinate the event, which will feature retail, dining, entertainment, cultural and artistic activities for local residents and the wider community.

Sam Centellas, executive director of la Casa de Amistad, says: “A lot of time has been spent catering to the big developers and trying to attract big businesses to the area, and we forgot all that our small businesses can and already do to grow our city. For me, this is about creating a better environment for our families, and more importantly, for our children.”

Juan Hernandez Jr., president of the Latin American Chamber says: “”The most comments received from the residents near the Western Avenue corridor is that traffic needs to slow down, sidewalks are too narrow and need widening, and street lighting needs to be improved.”

South Bend city leaders have started working on identifying possible corridor improvements that can happen in the weeks, months and years ahead at Western Avenue and Lincoln Way West to improve the quality of life for those who live and work there.

Local organizers of the effort, which also has proven successful in communities across the country, are working on obtaining grants and fundraising to make the October event possible. But Centellas says it’s not a big-dollar event. Rather, it’s designed to show what can be done on a budget to demonstrate that growth and change can be easy.

Source article by Heidi Prescott for South Bend Tribune: http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/business/bringing-new-life-to-south-bend-s-west-side/article_e3cb368e-13dd-11e4-87d8-0017a43b2370.html

Better Block in Lafayette, Louisiana, on July 19th

Better Block Cameron, set for July 19, will bring Cameron Street down to two lanes between Poydras and Martha streets, with the third lane set aside for foot and bike traffic in a one-day demonstration project.

The block is just east of the so-called Four Corners intersection of University Avenue and Cameron Street, once a center of commercial and cultural activity.

Rachel DeCuir, who is among a contingent of residents working to revitalize the Cameron Street corridor in that area. “One of the major goals of Better Block … is to show them what we envision Cameron Street could look like,” she said.

This Better Block will focus attention on the local neighborhood economy and the need for a more suitable road for pedestrians and bicycles. Existing businesses and pop-up shops will offer food, crafts and other wares.

Three neighborhood organizations are involved in the planning: the Bridge Neighborhood Association, Townfolk and LaPlace Coterie.

For information on the July 19 event, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., including how to participate, email info@ascowc.com.


Source article by Richard Burgess for the Advocate:  http://theadvocate.com/home/9670119-125/cameron-street-to-be-transformed