Category: News

Myth Busting at Oak Cliff’s Better Block Plaza

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The public plaza, a place to celebrate community

On Sunday, the Better Block plaza project was developed in Oak Cliff at the site of the original effort to celebrate the anniversary of the project, and test the idea of a plaza.

5pointTo understand the history of the project, residents were concerned with a dangerous 5 point intersection at Seventh Street and Tyler Street which held poor sightlines, high speed one-way streets, and overly wide auto-infrastructure. Accidents have occurred in the area and pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers have all complained about the danger on the block. A solution to cut off an unnecessary segment of roadway at King’s Highway was developed and further enhanced by allowing a public plaza for neighborhood residents to engage and enjoy.

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Original 2011 flyer for the first “Safer King’s Highway” meeting

A series of public meetings were held on January 15th, and February 8, 2011 to discuss King’s Highway and making it a safer place for the community. Thousands of dollars were spent on design charrettes, public involvement, and discourse. At the end of the process,  a report was created that addressed concerns of residents and commercial property owners.

Specifically, the idea to demonstrate through three 90 day trial increments would occur and be vetted for the best possible permanent solution. One called for a one-way street (half closure), another called for a full closure (plaza), and a third called for a roll-up street for weekday parking, weekend activation. The demonstration was to work through potential problems.

After the report was delivered, approval was then made by the Davis Garden TIF board to allocate $400K+ to the project. On two occasions, funds were approved.

In 2012, a single property owner issued three concerns for the proposed plaza which included:

  • Reduction of Parking
  • Economic destabilization for existing business
  • Sustainability / Management

Fortunately, the demonstration options allowed for these worst-case assumptions to be tested. Sadly, we learned that the project was stalled and funds potentially re-allocated due to these fear based scenarios.

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Community talent displayed in the public plaza

On Sunday, we set out to test each of these. The advantage of the Better Block project is that it’s done in days to gather data, and use the scientific method to test whether assumptions are right or wrong. No claims of assurance are given on any outcome, but a pedestrian oriented environment is created to watch in real time.

So what happened? Over 500 people attended the event throughout the day and parking was never an issue. Second, businesses in the area were not only not hurt but thrived, in fact, more small local markets were created to give residents the opportunity to test their business ideas in a highly visible area celebrated by the community. The existing businesses which opened for the day enjoyed the space and its high volume so much so that they signed a petition to keep the plaza permanent. Lastly, management of the space was handled by the community with little issue.

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A place for the community to relax, and engage. photo by Stephanie Hindall

Every assumption not only debunked, but proven that the space not only made the area more economically viable, but improved safety at the intersection, while creating a quality of life amenity that the entire neighborhood could use and celebrate in. Local school musicians performed, residents danced, and local markets setup stalls and enjoyed brisk sales. The neighborhood had a center to gather, and people celebrated. This is what makes great public plazas work.

As of yesterday, a petition was forwarded to be signed by residents asking for momentum to continue on keeping the plaza development on task. Sadly, we’re three years into the effort and the intersection is still a danger and funds are in a holding pattern.

To make matters more confusing, an effort to turn the public right-of-way into private space only is now being pursued. This leaves the community at the behest of any individual who may or may not wish to activate the space and permanently changes the legacy of the area. Beyond that, it’s potential to sit as a parking lot only or be held up in land speculation limbo puts the street in jeopardy for years to come. While Dallas might not do the best job of administering public space, the recent additions of Klyde Warren Park, and Main Street Garden prove that it’s beginning to understand the value of these amenities. And while those two examples are larger and less neighborhood focused, an alternative locally managed solution is well within the sights of the Oak Cliff community.

With empty cinder block buildings in the area now selling for $500K+, the chance for locals to continue to create small businesses for the community is diminishing. The public plaza keeps a space open for everyone to keep testing business ideas with small markets, even as the area becomes more affluent.

At a larger level, our city is facing these private developer vs. public space disputes in several areas. Most notably, the toll road effort which is being pushed by commercial endeavors in the Stemmons Corridor which takes precedence over the desires of the community at large’s public space plans. This small, 250 feet unnecessary roadway segment in Oak Cliff presents an identical issue. A community which sees the value of a shared public space verses a commercial ownership that potentially favors an auto or business use.

Team Better Block Intern Needed

Team Better Block has an immediate need for two design oriented interns who can work in a fast paced office environment that serves clients around the globe.

Learning Opportunities:

Hyper Local Social Media
City Planning and Design
Public Space Design
Create Press Packets
Video
Innovative Public Outreach
Complex Project Management
Creating Proposals
Creating Reports
Answering Request from Media,
Magazines and Research Outlets
Travel to project location in US

Qualification:

CS6 Photoshop
Illustrator
Indesign
Working knowledge of HTML and CSS
Wordpress
Great approach to designing print and web concepts
Video and photography a plus
Flexibility to travel on weekends is a plus

Please send resume and examples of past work to info@teambetterblock.com.

Building a Permanent Better Block

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One of the major issues we’re faced with across the United States is zoning and ordinance laws that prevent the type of smart, dense development that was once created around the world before the advent of large “master development” centric planning (ie. 1 owner, 1 massive block). So the question is, how do we rapidly create places again, built by communities, for communities, using limited funds?  Our early goals with Better Block projects were to retrofit, educate and illustrate examples of great places that were prioritized for people (versus cars) and to show how those blocks create greater economics, vibrancy, improved health, and provide a neighborhood destination. Now that we’ve seen enough examples around the world that prove this works, the next step is to build them from the ground up.

For this example, let’s look at a classic “High Street” in London, which is similar to classic US Main Streets and begin breaking down the form:

HighStreetAnatomyFirst of all, notice that this block is only 220′…we have enough gaps in our “suburban” style development to wedge these type of structures throughout our cities. Also, notice that on this span, instead of being owned by one “master developer” there are 12 separate buildings, owned and constructed by 12 separate entities. The buildings themselves are simple 3 story structures with two floors of either office or live spaces on top, and small retail on bottom.

That small retail is of a size that is affordable to a local business owner, and since it’s clustered with multiple businesses around it, it creates an economy of scale along with a mix of retail that makes the place desirable for people to shop, linger, and return. The spaces are only 17′ wide and 28′ in depth…small and affordable enough for the local baker or deli to setup (promoting unique local business), and too small for international conglomerate chains to even bother with (which can destroy unique character in a place and make it less desirable in the long run).

sidewalksizeAlso, notice that the pedestrian space is equal or greater than the space set aside for cars. This is an important reality when making places that people like to visit, and enjoy. If you prioritize cars over people, the place will not be nearly as vibrant or desirable. You want to create as much parity as possible here.

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Both sides of the street have 20′ sidewalks, with a 20′ street for cars. It’s necessary to keep cars in the mix, but don’t prioritize them…doing so, or attempting to make places that have greater space for cars changes the equation of desirability enough to make these landscapes inhospitable.

Now notice where we’ve created similar forms (buildings, sidewalks, and streets) in Dallas:

WestVillage-Good

 

The West Village is often highlighted as an exciting and vibrant destination for Dallas, and the parts of the block that work best, have the highest priority for pedestrians over cars. Notice just one block over where the equation is dramatically shifted for cars:

WestVillage-Bad

 

Sterile, cold, and uninviting. You can’t have places that are great for cars and great for people. It doesn’t work. We’ve all learned by now that it’s hard to find parking in the truly great places that we love around the world, and traffic flow for cars is typically horrible. That’s a reality that we need to look at for creating places that have lasting vibrancy, promote local businesses, and allow for greater local ownership.

WestVillage-Block

The above block required one master developer to create. Compare that to the High Street picture at the beginning of the post. Why did we move away from small individual owners clustering buildings, to giant single owner/developer instead? Far fewer people are invited in the mix to create this, in fact, outside-the-region funds must be injected which ultimately is anti-local banks, local business, et cetera. We’re building our infrastructure in such a way that only a handful of players are able to take part, which is why communities are so reliant on big box development over local.

Notice that other places that we love around Dallas, like the Bishop Arts District, have a similar form where cars and people have closer parity. More dramatically, you can see the change on one block of Greenville Avenue. The streetview picture still shows the old form where sidewalks are small, and cars are given much greater priority:

greenvillebefore

And the re-tooled block with wider sidewalks, pedestrian amenities, and greater parity for cars and people:

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One of the key insights from Councilwoman Angela Hunt was to simply focus on fixing one block only. This is exactly what we’ve learned from our work. Master planning large corridors is a great exercise, but far too reliant on massive funds and conglomerations of hundreds of property owners and area stakeholders to become a reality. What we do know is that many of the great places in our city, and even around the world, are often only a block in size (Bishop Arts), but they have a giant ripple effect on economics for an area, perception of safety, health, and other factors.

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Now looking at the Camden High Street picture again, notice that these places don’t have to be large. One building is only 17 feet wide, 28 feet deep, and 35 feet tall. And if you could gather 12 separate entities to build one each, you could create a viable place with people living in the area, businesses operating, and a vibrant destination. At 220 feet per block, this is attainable, but we have to find ways to create these places with property owners willing to divide their land in a way that promotes this smart density. Also we need financing mechanisms through local banks that understand and support this type of development. Very few have taken on the challenge, but these developments should not be out of our reach.

Lastly, these small live/work blocks which are similar to the streetcar stops that existed throughout the city years ago and nestled comfortably into single family home neighborhoods, are proven models even to this day. Unfortunately, we now require single owners to do the heavy lifting of gathering capital, massive construction contracts, and more to make the same thing today. Our work now should be focused on breaking down the elements that make this “tiny clustered building” type of development more accessible and viable for communities around the country.

 

 

 

Can Retirement Plans Help Shape New Blocks?

Skinny Buildings

An issue we’re beginning to delve into with the Better Block is how can we begin creating places that support and incubate small local businesses, while increasing density so that a large enough population can help keep these places afloat, all while promoting a greater sense of place.

When you look at the above picture of a row of skinny buildings, you might not realize that much of what is shown that we built regularly in the past, is now illegal. One of the major initiatives of the Better Block project is to expose the policies and rules that restrict this type of development and to begin a plan to revise these in order to allow more optimal land use patterns that generate greater economics, and help provide a stronger revenue source for its surrounding infrastructure.

Multiple skinny buildings which were constructed by multiple individuals as opposed to the now typical “Master Developer” process

Two major hurdles we face are that block development of this type is now largely placed in the domain of single “master developers” who create large buildings that will fill the entire block. These developments are typically uniform, and reliant on massive outside capital investments to construct. Also, international fire codes restrict much of this development, preferring to create greater separation of the buildings which diminishes land use potential, increases construction price, and reduces walkability.

Thinner streets, which are more affordable to maintain and construct, alongside skinny buildings with high retail activation and affordable residential on top, creating a more sustainable and walkable neighborhood.

So how can we begin building anew in a form that we regularly created in the past? One area to look at is having large financial groups like pension funds diversify their investments and look at identifying multiple blocks in a community and constructing a single skinny building in these places. Also, work with existing businesses in community to change retirement plans from volatile market based investments, and look at investing in their own communities with additional skinny buildings. These investments, if done properly, could allow the same returns for employees, and also create a vested interest from the shareholders since the health of the buildings future is directly tied to the future retirement of the individual. Also, we’ve heard time and again that real estate is a good bet for long term investment strategies.

Residential tower development constructed with Firemen’s Pension fund. How many skinny buildings, sprinkled throughout neighborhoods could have been built for this same price?

We hope to look at more of these models in future Better Block initiatives and to even help craft our own retirement plan for future employees that does exactly this. Stay tuned!

Daylight your Streetcar Stops! The Future of Revitalizing American Cities

When visiting cities around the US, we are regularly asked, “Where do you like to develop Better Block projects?” Our answer is always the same…pull out your old streetcar maps, hop on a bicycle and begin re-tracing the routes. Along the former rail lines in those inner city suburbs, you should see clusters of historic buildings nestled nicely into neighborhoods. These were built to house supportive local businesses that provided daily necessities, and acted as community gathering spaces for residents in places as far away as New Orleans to New York City. The beauty of these small clusters were that they were typically only a block or two in size, and fairly small in square footage, which allowed them to be affordable enough for someone to create a manageable and solvent bakery, deli, market, tavern, flower shop, beautician 0r any multitude of neighborhood supportive retail. They were small, but they had powers of numbers to create a “sense of place” or destination, and could use collective buying power for bringing in goods, managing public spaces, and programming street activities. These places housed the local butcher that knew your favorite cut of meat, the pharmacist who knew your kids by name, and provided community gathering places where you and your neighbors could meet after a hard day at work and talk about life, love, hardships, while sharing a beer.

Bishop Arts District, Dallas (Oak Cliff), Texas. A former streetcar stop, daylighted, and filled with 30+ local businesses, and no national chains. Small spaces filled with chocolatiers, pie shops, cafes, clothiers, art galleries, designers, and some of the best/cheapest breakfast tacos in the city (El Jordan!)

Size was key…keeping it small made it manageable and instead of having to load up with 8 rolls of toilet paper, 10 cans of tomato sauce, and 3 loaves of bread (that strangely never seem to mold) at a single big box store, you simply bought fresher things on bi-weekly basis, stored less, had fresher goods, received regular exercise by simply walking 3 or 4 blocks to acquire your goods, and saw and interacted with your neighbors regularly. Also, the merchants knew and loved their products and focused on become artisans in their crafts (from breads, to meats, to flowers, to cheeses…not one “super center”, but multiple “specialized” individuals shops in close proximity). For some reason, we’ve made our “normal” routine of getting simple things like eggs or mayonnaise, something which requires the use of a two ton vehicle, a quarter tank of gas, very little muscle use, and the potential to put ourselves in harms way with hundreds of other people doing the exact same thing.

And with the recent revitalization of inner city neighborhoods occurring around the nation, we’re seeing saturation of these small blocks because they aren’t coming on line fast enough. We have a supply and demand issue which is suffocating and potentially destabilizing the potential for small blocks to return to their mainstay.

Daylight your one-block sized streetcar stops, and link them with irresistible pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Flickr photo by BeyondDC

Our hope is to see a return to daylighting as many of these streetcar stops as possible, and linking them with IRRESISTIBLE pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit options. Allow cars in the mix too, of course, but create parity and give people a reason to want to select other (read: healthier) options. If one mode of transit is given priority beyond any other, then people will naturally revert to what’s given to them which will stress the land use surrounding the businesses (read: lack of parking).

This is a very fragile development to create, because it requires property owners who are mindful of a blocks long term legacy. The tendency to want to “cash out” with the big chain while enticing, can quickly undo all of the work developed to make the place unique and special. Compare a block in the Bishop Arts District to the West End Marketplace in Dallas. The former is filled with dozens of small, unique, locally owned businesses, the other is filled with national chains like TGI Friday’s, Corner Bakery, and Chipotle. And while the chains might serve quality food, there’s nothing unique, All of it could be easily found in dozens of shopping strips throughout the city, the country, or conveniently, even at the airport on your way in and out of the city.

Black Star Pastry, in Sydney, Australia. Less than 1200 square feet, locally owned, and crammed full with people who can’t wait to grab a pastry on their way to the office.

So how do you keep the big chains from over running an area? Keep the buildings small. So small, that the locals can afford to run and manage their operations in the spaces. Small enough that the local neighborhood can support them. But, in large enough numbers that the businesses have collective power to create a destination and become a natural, supportive extension of the neighborhood.

Our tendency in large/mid-sized US cities is to try and replicate ideas found in New York or San Francisco, but the reality is that places like St. Louis, Dallas, and Duluth are too spread out, and lack the density to look like Manhattan. BUT, their strength exists when you get outside of the center city and go to that first inner city neighborhood “streetcar suburb” ring. Where homes and commercial edge together and create community gathering places that house local businesses, offer jobs, and promote the identity of the places and people that surround them.

The key is to “Think Small,” daylight as many of the streetcar stops as possible, and connect them with amazing multi-modal transportation. Beyond this, we must work quickly, and increment up these places. Otherwise, we could destabilizing the few that exist since their are so few available and the demand is so high for them.

 

 

 

 

 

When a car culture is detrimental to community

Image from the Dallas Morning News

This morning, a 16 year old was run over and killed by a driver making a U-turn in front of a school minutes after dropping the student off. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time an incident like this has occurred, and worst, it won’t be the last. The reality we’re faced with in the US is that we’ve prioritized the convenience of moving cars quickly over the creation of meaningful places for people. There’s far too many examples of this in our city code books and transit planning initiatives, but the most damaging is the persistent idea that “Level of Service” for moving vehicles must be ranked at the highest possible level. This runs completely counter to creating destinations within neighborhoods and the loss of life due to this ill-conceived prioritization results in cold, hostile places that sadly reflect our values in regards to community.

So what can be done to begin the process of change? First of all, we have to acknowledge the problem we’ve created by changing the form of our cities over the last 50 years. This is a very new type of development that embraces a single mode of transit which requires a massive amount of infrastructure to maintain. Not just the roads, the paint, and the maintenance, but also the requirement for all retail and residential establishments to be retrofitted to accommodate large swaths of land for temporary storage. The idea of taking a valuable piece of land for a commercial venture, and carving up half of it simply to store peoples cars, giving up valuable retail shelf space, only makes sense when you’ve created an environment that pushes our basic needs far from our homes. This is not a diatribe against vehicle ownership because I completely understand the necessity for basic human needs predicated on cars.

A major question we have to ask ourselves is what do we want from our communities? It’s almost as simple as, “Why are we here?” My good friend, Mike Lydon, who has been instrumental in organizing and documenting the Tactical Urbanism movement, has been focused on understanding this “root cause” issue that we’re faced with and regularly employs the “5 Why’s” method to have people realize the true problems that we should be addressing as opposed to the initial, gut response.

In the case of today’s sad “accident”, our initial focus might be to figure out how to stop this type of issue. In this instance, there are several options:

  • Create infrastructure that restricts cars to predictive movements (channelize cars, and build physical barriers like medians to stop U-Turns)
  • Slow traffic in and out of the area with bulb-outs, pedestrian islands/shelves
  • Create multi-modal options that thin the street like Cycle Tracks

To take things to another level, we could even look at making it inconvenient to use a car to get kids to school. Right now, we’ve actually developed wide roadway drop-off systems in front of schools that encourage potential conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles. In this instance, we could:

  • Remove front driveways
  • Build schools to the sidewalk edge
  • Thin the streets in front of the schools
  • Create wide pedestrian paths, and bicycle infrastructure to promote multi-modal transit options

This would be a good step as well, but it still doesn’t address the root problem. If we ask ourselves things like:

1. Why did the vehicle make a U-Turn?

The initial answer is because the street is wide enough to allow this.

2. Why is the street so wide?

To accommodate a high Level of Service for cars.

3. Why are we accommodating a high Level of Service for cars?

Because people have to drive to get to work

4. Why do people have to drive to get to work?

Because we’ve created zoning that separates work from homes

5. Why have we created separation through zoning?

Because we followed a Euclidian zoning model that was developed 50+ years ago that saw industry hurting residences, and looked at creating distance in order to maintain order as the priority for the time.

6. If “factory development” is no longer occurring, why are we continuing to separate ourselves through this style of zoning?

Great question.

Beyond this, why are we building communities in the first place? I would assume it’s because we need each other for work, play, growth, development, and connections. And why have we accepted the idea that it’s “okay” to have to get into our cars to get something as basic as a gallon of milk?  Shouldn’t we build neighborhoods that allow us to live and work within walking distance in the same place? And wouldn’t this reduce our demand for driving everywhere? And with that, wouldn’t we save more money? and lives?

To make matters worse, what happens when we build a community based on cars instead of people, and we can no longer drive (too old, too young, or infirmed)? Well, we’ve seen that your value drops and with age, you’re removed from community (at a time you need it most).

To me, the definition of a souless community is one where there is no pride in place, no young people, no old people, and no opportunities for growth and connections. We’ve done an amazing job of creating places that destroy communities, and for some reason, we consider the loss of life to automobiles as a “cost of doing business”. For things to change, a simple re-prioritization needs to occur  along with a realization that the answer to our problems exists already within our neighborhoods: Start with the people.

 

 

 

Australia Better Blocks Recap

Earlier in the year, Team Better Block of Dallas, Texas was brought to Australia by a collaborative of the National Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, New South Wales Departments of Planning and Infrastructure, and the city of Greater Geelong to create a series of workshops that provided springboards for communities to develop their own Better Block projects.  Cities around the world have begun recognizing the break down that’s occurred in the traditional public outreach process and are looking for innovative solutions to bridge the gap between a shared communities vision and the need to see measured improvements on the ground. By June, communities in the cities of Geelong and Coburg were ready to unveil their first efforts. Each project focused on different neighborhood issues, but both highlighted the need to focus on re-building social capital in order to encourage revitalization.

Geelong Better Block

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The first project took place on a once vibrant commercial laneway in the city of Geelong. Businesses in the area were struggling due to reduced pedestrian traffic, while residents began advocating for stronger bicycle connections throughout the city. The Better Block tied both of these initiatives together, and pinpointed the need to create a greater sense of place which would create more invitations for people to linger.

The project coordinator, Suzette Jackson, worked with city officials to communicate to  businesses and organizations within the area to activate a two block stretch. Groups built street furniture, created alfresco seating for cafes, installed veggie boxes, highlighted local food sources, hung art on building facades, and offered bicycle repairs for cyclists.

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geelongfurniture

 

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Through this effort, city staff was able to recognize hurdles to development which are now being identified for change. Also, a pop-up business which was highlighted during the project is set to open up a permanent space in one of the vacant storefronts. We expect to see even more on the ground activation in the coming months due to the success of the Better Block.

Coburg Better Block 

coburgstreet

The Coburg Better Block project took a different approach from the traditional commercial corridor revitalization efforts typically seen, and spotlighted ways to improve a residential street. Neighbors within a block noted the lack of landscaping in their area and set out to temporarily install street trees to not only help beautify the roadway, but also provide greater shade, and calm traffic. coburgraingardenMelbourne Water also worked with residents to install a functioning rain garden and educated other homeowners within the area on how they could also take part.

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Helen Rowe, Coburg Better Block Project

Beyond the landscaping and environmental initiatives promoted by the project coordinators showing how the street could be improved, one of the strongest outcomes of the Better Block was something noted in all projects that have occurred around the world: a greater sense of community. Neighbors who had not talked for years were now bringing wine to each other, and talking about ways to continue building upon the success of the project.

We’ve found that time and again, re-stitching the social ties inside of a community are the first steps for truly creating an improved physical environment. In fact, great form and function on a block are natural byproducts of a strongly connected neighborhood. Often times, city leaders talk about problems with cities that can simply be overcome if more money were available. The reality is that bringing the people together that already have an ownership stake on the ground and removing the obstacles that prevent them from creating great places is the major step needed to providing a pathway to real, vibrant, and permanent change. Engaging a commercial or residential neighborhood in rapid public and private space improvements that allow for a manifestation of a shared public vision, like the Better Block, begins that process and not only creates a better sense of place, but the kind of neighborhood everyone wants to be apart of.

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Team Better Block returning to Australia

Team Better Block will be returning to Australia for a lecture series in Sydney, and Melbourne. First up will be Sydney on June 20, 2013. The Department of Planning and Infrastructure is holding a lecture series titled: Urban Conversations: Your Voice, Your City. This will be held at Sydney City Recital Hall from 6:00pm to 8:30pm. Other speakers include Henriette Vamberg from Gehl Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Dave Meslin, from Toronto, Canada who will talk about urban projects with a focus on public spaces, renewal and increasing public participation. This event is free to the public with tickets available until May 29th.

The next lecture will take place in Melbourne on Tuesday, June 18th, as part of the 6th annual Livable Cities Conference in St Kilda from 2:30-3:00pm. This portion of the trip is being sponsored by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Click here for more details on the conference.

2012 Better Block Year in Review

The Better Block went from a small community block project in Southern Dallas to an international movement in 2012. It’s been a whirlwind year and heartening to see so many neighborhoods, non-profit organizations, and cities take on their own Better Blocks to show the rapid potential for change that can occur when a small group of thoughtful, committed people dedicate themselves to real change. With that, we wanted to highlight our list of top milestones for the past year:

Better Block featured at the 2012 Venice Biennale in Italy

Think of the Biennale as Olympics for Architecture and the Better Block’s prominent role in it the equivalent of storming the Bastille or in this case the Arsenale. The gathering of 55 nations to display and compete for the coveted Golden Lion awards for architecture occurs every two years and is typically focused on trends in modern design. One architect is chosen to select a theme and curate the main pavilion, Arsenale. British Architect, David Chipperfield directed this, the 13th annual Biennale under the theme of “Common Ground.”   He chose this theme in order “to encourage my colleagues to react against the prevalent professional and cultural tendencies of our time that place such emphasis on individual and isolated actions. I encouraged them instead to demonstrate the importance of influence and of the continuity of cultural endeavour, to illustrate common and shared ideas that form the basis of an architectural culture“. Let me translate that from Old English to Americano: Architects, if you want to stay relevant don’t just thinking about the big building project but consider the space around it and the community in which you are building in. The American pavilion entitled “Spontaneous Interventions” received a honorable mention, a first for the USA!


Better Block co-founder Jason Roberts Awarded as Champion of Change at the White House

Secretary of the US Department of Transportation Ray LaHood was on hand in DC at the Champions of Change ceremony which awarded leaders in communities who were making major changes that positively influenced the built environment.  Other awardees sat on panels lead by the Secretaries of the FHA, and FAA.

Roberts’ work revitalizing a modern streetcar line in Dallas, and the Better Block projects were both highlighted as major initiatives that are helping re-shape the built environment. Click here to view the full White House blog post written by Jason on these efforts.

Better Block spotlighted in Dwell Magazine

In April of 2012, Dwell Magazine released its “The Now 99 List”, which featured 99 new design ideas, people, products, and plans that had have reshaped cities. The Better Block was given a nod alongside Vancouver’s Picnurbia, and Philadelphia’s The Porch projects showing how public spaces could be rapidly activated through lighter, quicker, and cheaper installations.

 

 

The US Department of Transportation looks to collaborate with Better Block Projects

After winning the White House Champions of Change Award, Better Block founders Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard were asked to meet with officials at the US Department of Transportation to begin collaborating on tracking metrics and gaining greater insight from community led block projects that could be instituted at a national level. Currently, Team Better Block in Dallas is working with application developers and open source gurus around the nation to develop a series of tools that communities could use to help implement projects and interact more closely with public officials to make temporary changes permanent.

 

The Better Block TEDx

The city of Austin, and Oklahoma University both hosted TEDx events that featured the Better Block originator, Jason Roberts talking about the history of the project and the path that led to the effort’s development. From restoring historic theatres, returning bygone streetcars, to creating a bicycle movement in a community with no bike infrastructure, the series of steps that created the foundation for the first Better Block are summed up in Jason’s high-speed, but passionate presentation.

Oklahoma Unveils Better Block training for all Main Street Associations across state

In November, Oklahoma’s Chamber of Commerce sponsored an official training and Better Block build-out for all of the directors of the state’s Main Street Alliance programs.

The Directors met in Tulsa, and began work revitalizing the Kendall-Whittier district which housed a historic theater, and multiple streetcar era structures. Teams set to work in 3 days and received certifications for their efforts in helping transform an area that has great potential for redevelopment. Click here to read more about the project.

 

The Alamo gets Better Blocked!


Team Better Block in Dallas worked closely with the Project for Public Spaces in New York City and the City of San Antonio to help implement an Alamo Better Block project that would highlight the potential plaza improvements that could be made to the historic site to help make the space a more desirable place for residents and visitors alike to linger and enjoy.

Jason Roberts nominated for Texan of the Year by the Dallas Morning News

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The year wrapped up with a surprise nomination by the Dallas Morning News for Better Block originator, Jason Roberts as Texan of the Year. Check out the full article here. 

2013 looks to be an even bigger year with international projects occurring in Australia, Canada, and France!

Better Block “La Rambla” Project Set to be Implemented in Dallas

Ross Avenue “Build a Better Boulevard” Project

In 2011, Team Better Block in Dallas tested a median-developed public space inspired by La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain. The Dallas Morning News announced today that two-blocks of Jefferson Boulevard will now officially be transformed with a La Rambla median which will allow for small markets to be created along the center of the street. TBB is also working with Jim Lake Properties to help create smaller commercial spaces in the existing historic buildings along the 400 West Block of the street so that more small businesses will have an accessible and affordable space along the corridor. Expect to see more from this project in the near future!

400 W. Block Jefferson Boulevard concept