Category: Tools for Better Blocks

Our built environment should reflect our New Year’s Resolutions

Did you notice that people’s New Year’s Resolutions rarely say things like: Drive faster, Eat more fast food, Spend more time on Facebook? In fact, what we often resolve for ourselves is to take care of our personal well-being and what makes us feel whole: Create more (write, build, etc), Exercise more, Eat healthy, Spend more time with others, Spend more time doing what we truly love (reading, music, dancing, cooking, etc.), Live our values. If these things truly make us happy, why does our built environment often de-emphasize these things? Why is convenience and speed placed above quality and slowing down?

With our work, we’ve found that a healthy community naturally manifests itself onto the physical environment. But what we fail to often measure and support is how people really feel in a place. Architect, Christopher Alexander, notes that a healthy building, bench, or anything made in the past took into consideration not only “its capacity to support life, but went into considerable depth about the way people really feel: what they experience as human beings, what they experience spiritually, what is worthwhile for them, not in monetary terms (their salaries), but in felt, human terms involving creativity, fellowship, the experience of being of service to the world, and the experience of love and affection.”

He goes on to state that “The connection between human feeling and the wholeness of the world is profound. The presence of profound feeling in the hearts of human observers is the most sensitive, most reliable measuring stick.”

Spend one hour in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas (a small, walkable environment filled with local businesses, murals, and old buildings) and notice how many people take their wedding photos there, are holding hands, or simply sitting on a park bench. People feel better in these environments, yet we have so few of them.

This is why the process for change, and the act of working together as a community to re-shape the built environment from a fear-based, convenience (read: auto-centric) focused form, to one that embraces human life and the shared human experience is so powerful when encountered. Whether it be watching a boarded up, abandoned home find a new owner and slowly come back to life, or seeing Times Square convert from a cold and pedestrian hostile environment, to a place that people can meet, linger, and gather, this process of embracing life is moving for anyone witnessing the transformation. It charges something inside of us, and the moving of the needle from fear to love ultimately improves the greater social health of a community (something which we noted in past articles is just as important as diet and exercise for our well-being).

The problems we face now are not understanding what makes us truly happy, but overcoming the obstacles to change, which are largely based on fears and concerns over hurdles to convenience. With this in mind, let’s resolve to educate others on the need to create places that support and uphold life, and commit to action immediately!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

What do neighborhoods and Better Blocks need? Illegal Granny Flats.

Photo from forbes.com

We discussed in a recent article the need to incrementally reduce parking in neighborhoods while incrementally increasing density in order to reduce driving and allow for more rooftops that support local businesses in communities, but we didn’t outline one of the most important tools available to help move the dial.

The answer lies in small structures that we created for decades in backyards across America: the Granny Flat. Quite simply, these tiny homes do far more than increase density for neighborhoods, they also provide much needed affordable housing options for young people fresh out of school, older people looking to scale down their living expenses, or temporary residences for visitors to an area who want to get more of a “local feel” for places they travel to.

Friends who recently updated their backyard granny flat regularly post the space on AirBnB.com which gives them an added boost to their income of approximately $700 a month. Not too bad for a young couple with a new baby who are looking for every opportunity to save or earn money that they can, given that daycare alone can be close to a mortgage in cost. They entertain guests from as far away as New Zealand who visit our small neighborhood retailers, sit in our outdoor cafes, and turn around and tell their friends to visit and follow their footsteps. This little space single-handedly provides a boost to a single household income, enhances neighborhood business economics, and acts as a one room convention and visitors bureau.

Other advantages are the added “eyes on the street” created by the additional people in the area which heightens a neighborhoods real and perceived sense of safety. Alleyways, which are common places for theft (through unseen rear access points), now have additional eyes protecting the area. Also, since these flats are nestled into historic neighborhoods with supportive commercial retail in close proximity, we see an uptick in bicycle ridership and pedestrian traffic as well. All major assets to increasing the sociability of places, whose byproduct is improved economics.

Lastly,  people who hit hard times through loss of jobs, illness, or other unforeseen circumstances, have an option to move out of their larger front house, rent the space out, and still live on their small plot of land while they recoup and hopefully recover. Or if they grow old and can no longer manage a large household, they don’t have to be shipped out of their neighborhoods and sent to cold, and distant nursing homes at the fringes of society while they still have the ability to walk.

And sadly, this staple of American households has been mostly relegated to illegal status largely due to unfounded fears. The friends I noted above are technically not allowed to rent this space, even though it’s doing so much good for them and our neighborhood. Acknowledging that communities need smart density options like the granny flat to support local businesses and residents is a first step to building Better Blocks that can act as supportive neighborhood destinations for people to live, work, and play in.

The Fragile Block: How to Kill a Good Thing

Warren Buffet has some great insight regarding the natural progression of good ideas that he refers to as “the Three I’s,” which I feel applies directly to the classic gentrification curve. Here it is from the Harvard Business Review:

First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don’t. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. And then come the idiots, whose avarice undoes the very innovations they are trying to use to get rich.

So if we look at gentrification as a process where on one end of the spectrum you have high segregation by low economics (poverty) and race (specifically minority) and the other end of the spectrum also being segregation but by high economics (wealth) and race (specifically majority, read: “wealthy white”), the middle ground becomes an area where we find greater integration both economically and racially, but tends to be a fragile space in time to maintain due to a tendency of what Buffet calls “idiots” to over-capitalize on what is working, without realizing the balance of identity, economics, and integration is what makes the place sustainable (for jobs, affordability, improved health, character, et cetera). I’m also a partner at a small restaurant in our neighborhood, and our group gets asked on a weekly basis to take our concept and bring it to another city in hopes that the same energy can be rubber stamped elsewhere. While the idea of “cashing in” might seem appealing, what makes our place truly special is the local ownership and the connection with the people and identity of the neighborhood. As opposed to simply using the traditional developer backed economic gardening ideas, economic harvesting within existing neighborhoods is a much more powerful and lasting solution to help make a place vibrant and sustainable. Find the locals on the ground that always dreamed of owning their own businesses and partner them with others who can help them achieve their dreams. It’s harder work, but the results are much more powerful and honest.  I’m sure this process has been talked about at length by others, but we find this regularly when discussing revitalization of areas that suffer from mass disinvestment.

In our community, we have a small block of historic, walkable buildings filled with  30+ local businesses called the Bishop Arts District that have an interesting mix of quality and services (from $1.5o tacos to a 5 star restaurant) that exist at a very small moment in time. Fortunately, this area has a handful of property owners who understand the value of maintaining a places legacy, and that this fragile balance is important. These businesses provide affordable options for locals, generate much needed economics that bring a regional draw, offer jobs, promote an identity, but is also dangerously close to being damaged by its own success. For example, once investors from outside of the area see that they can quickly create a bar that’s going to generate a healthy profit, they will rapidly jump in to build on the area’s increased economics. Others will see and do the same and potentially over-saturate the neighborhood with something it doesn’t want and can’t control.  My business partner says “it’s like eating ice cream all the time”. It sounds like fun, but the reality is it’s extremely unhealthy and hard to control.

So should we stop creating these great places for communities that provide jobs, promote identity, lowers crime, and improve an area’s health? Absolutely not, but what we face is a supply and demand issue. Since most cities, like ours, have so few of these places (less than 1% of Dallas is made up of places with well connected, walkable neighborhood destinations), but the desire is so high to have them, they quickly can become overrun by excessive capital. The answer to the problem is for us to try and replicate the form and function of these small places and  have them throughout the city because everyone deserves great places to live and walk in their neighborhoods, regardless of race or economics. A large city should be made up of one hundred Better Blocks that are all well connected (pedestrian, bike, car, and public transit), but have small spaces that locals can create their own dream business which helps support the community. In fact, our “Think Small” mantra is key because an individual who has a dream of opening something like a bakery, has to have a small but affordable space to work from. And placing several of these small spaces together creates power in numbers that allows these small business to leverage their combined resources for marketing and placemaking. Once the scale of the building becomes too large, the local business person cannot afford the rent or overhead, which leaves a series of chains who will fill the void, but with empty calories that contribute little to the character and cohesiveness of the neighborhood. Obviously, more car-centric cities face an issue of low density (higher density is needed to maintain strong walkable commercial blocks), so this problem has to be addressed in the same way that we have to address changing the auto-dominated landscape…incrementally. The gut reaction to seeing a great place like the Bishop Arts District is to say, “It needs more parking!”…the reality is that this would make the place less walkable (the reason you love it in the first place), because historic structures surrounding the area would need to be leveled to accommodate cars which would ultimately hurt the area. So what’s the solution?

Incrementally reduce parking at a rate that is almost imperceptible per year (they reduce parking by 3% in Copenhagen), while incrementally increasing the density (use the same 3%). How do you handle the latter? Simple, return to the way we did it during our “streetcar suburb” period in the 1920’s. In our part of Dallas (Oak Cliff), homes were regularly outfitted with “granny flats” in the back, and we had a healthy mix of duplexes, triplexes, and quads sprinkled around single family homes. Sadly, we’ve outlawed many of these places, due to unfounded fears. Fortunately, with the advent of applications like AirBnB, several enterprising locals have figured out that they can generate a small revenue for themselves (which helps keep them in their homes…especially in case hard times hit…read: job loss), provides more eyes on the street (heightening safety), and greater economics (tourists spend money locally).

In the end, it’s a very fragile system, but as long as we understand the process that tends to take over, we’ll have a much better chance of mitigating the downside to helping revitalize a community.

Think Small, and Perfection is Boring – Quick tips for a successful Better Block Project

We were just asked the question, “Is there any advice you can give to help me pull together a Better Block Project in my neighborhood?” by Avital Berman in Australia. Here’s some important things we’ve learned from the many projects we’ve organized:

  • Money is not the answer (people will tend to say, “we just need money to make this place great”). Get to the root of what they’re asking and find a fun solution. You might need some funds to pull it together, but that process is what’s incredible, not the money itself. An example of this is that we have a group on the East coast who wants an old historic neon sign re-lit, and they need about $500. They initially asked if we could help find donors, and we’ve said, just throw a “Help us re-light the sign” car wash. That process is what brings community together, helps build a collective sense of ownership, and creates a “barn-building” exercise that sparks all kinds of amazing conversation and neighborliness that’s missing in places. It helps tell the story to the broader community that’s easy for everyone to contribute to (eg. who doesn’t have $5 to help?)
  • Remember to relay to anyone who defaults to a fearful position (ie. we can’t do this because xxxx…) that the project is only temporary and a chance to test ideas out on how to make a more livable, vibrant block. Invite criticism and tell them, “You might be right, this could fail, but let’s try and see…we’re going to use the scientific method and test ideas to see what works and what doesn’t”. Keeping that humble, and let’s give it a try attitude is very important. Being stubborn and “my way or the highway” immediately creates adversaries. If someone says, “that’s great, but how could we maintain this (the trees, the events, etc.”, say, “great question…let’s find a solution” as opposed to the default, “you’re right, it’s too much trouble, let’s stick to the status quo”). Be open to the fact that you might be wrong, but understand that the current planning process is highly theoretical and tends to embrace worst-case scenarios that make places boring and un-livable.
  • - Don’t take on too large of a space. Stick to 250 to 400 feet (I’m not sure what the equivalent is in meters, but probably between 80 and 150 meters). Otherwise you’ll extend your resources far beyond your ability to manage and the energy will drop between “activity stations” (ie. pop-up shops, pop-up parks, etc) you create.
  • The way to get things done when you have a large project, but little means is to bring as many resources (people, local businesses, non-profits) to the problem and give them each a piece. Don’t micro-manage them…let them create something that is uniquely their identity. The hodge-podge and lack of order makes places fun. Think of it like clothes..if everything matches, it’s boring, but when you throw in some order (matching) and a little bit of chaos (bright accessories), it makes things unique and fun.
  • This is a chance to spotlight the identity of the community. What is it you do well (art, music, food, local spirit, crazy local characters) and put it out there for everyone to celebrate and enjoy with you. Make t-shirts of unique signs or things that are unique to the place…even if it’s something as crazy as a broken laundromat sign. Celebrate your unique, odd, and fun personality.
  • Think Small! Everyone tends to make things much larger than they need to be, but we all respond well to beautiful small things…and those are actually much easier to create and manage/administer. Remember, no one goes to New York and says, “I went to this AMAZING MASSIVE Italian restaurant!”…they say, “I went to this incredible, tiny, and romantic Italian restaurant with only 5 tables, a singing waiter, and a cook that came out and drank wine with us.” That’s the good stuff! Great places are made up of hundreds of tiny things, not one giant expensive thing. In Dallas, we invested millions in an Italian designed modern bridge, but people respond most to a block in my neighborhood called the “Bishop Arts District” that is made up of 30+ local businesses nestled into a neighborhood…no national chains, just small storefronts filled with wonderful shop owners, local goods, and things you can’t find in big box stores. The great places you love around the world whether it be in NYC, Paris, or Mexico City, are often only a block in size, but they’re filled with a lot of small things…a fruit stand, a deli, a flower shop, a book store, a cafe, a shoe shine guy/gal, a musician, outdoor seating, landscaping, a pocket park for kids. These things are simple, but beautiful when put together.
  • Don’t over meet…people have limited time…get them on the hook early to provide a piece to the equation, “ie. you handle the coffee shop”. Have them bring their friends and resources to the table. Document with photos, and video and promote via social media…help incite FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) with the broader neighborhood. If others see their friends are involved with helping revitalize their neighborhood, they’ll want to help too. Tag as many people on facebook as possible.
  • Keep it fun! Even though it’s not a street fair, it’s an urban planning exercise and community building process, people just want to celebrate, and allow them to do that. But your back-end goal is to create permanent, lasting change. Creating things together is the first piece. If people aren’t talking yet though, start by throwing a block party and just get everyone communicating. Remember, good food and wine can fix so many things.
  • If there’s something you really need or want, (ie. trees, wiring, etc), ask, “Are there any landscape architects in the neighborhood?”…or “are there any electricians in the neighborhood?”). You’ll find that you have most of the things/people you need to get things done within a 500 meter radius of your project. Need cafe seating? Ask the group, “Who here has any spare tables/chairs, or knows someone with these in their garage/home/apartment?”. Since the project is only temporary, it’s typically easy for people to lend those things out.
  • Embrace the chaos. You’re going to naturally want to have a nice and orderly system, but people aren’t that simple. You have to trust that the outcome will be magical. It might not be what you envisioned, in fact, major pieces that you want might fall apart at the last minute, but that’s okay…great things will happen, and the unexpected accidents are where the great stuff lies. Perfection is boring.
  • Be careful of egos…everyone’s got’m. Be accommodating, tender, but firm. Pay attention to people’s fears and find an answer that embraces love. That sounds all hippie dippie, but an example would be if someone says, “this area is dangerous, so we should hire police officers to stand on the street for extra protection” that solution is based on fear, and actually broadcasts to the greater community that this place IS dangerous, and we’ve brought in armed guards to get you through. A loving solution would be to create an inviting, romantic environment (piped in music, string lights, outdoor cafe seating) that allows people to come out naturally, creates more eyes on the street, which ultimately makes a place safer (bad guys don’t like to be seen), but embraces the good.

Better Block Camp Training Workshop Rescheduled for Fall 2013

bbworkshop

UPDATE: This class has been rescheduled from the Spring of 2013, to the Fall. We will post updates “>here on the full schedule.

Ready to learn the ins and outs of developing a Better Block project? Join us in Dallas in November, 2013 while we help create a Better Block project in real time and instruct you on the details, obstacles, and best practices for rolling out a project in your own city.

 

bbcert

Better Block Certification Workshop Set for March 13th – 16th, 2013

Want to Learn How to Build a Better Block? 

Team Better Block is now offering workshops where you may earn your own Better Block Certification

REGISTER HERE for the 4 day workshop from Wed March 13th – Saturday March 16th

What does Team Better Block do?

Team Better Block temporarily re-engineers and re-programs auto dominated, blighted, and underused urban areas into complete ones by working with cities, developers, and stakeholders to create quick, inexpensive, high-impact changes. Team Better Block uses pop-up shops to test the local economic development potential of streets re-engineered for walkability. Additionally, Team Better Block bolsters civic pride by enlisting the community in the build-out of the temporary installation.

Why are Team Better Block’s Temporary Rapid Revitalization Projects Important?

Although comprehensive planning projects are necessary for most property developments, the cost, scale and long-range timelines associated with these initiatives can often lead to a loss in project momentum and frustration or lack of confidence among area stakeholders and residents. In our projects we have seen improved acceptance by city engineers, planners, designers, and public safety officials of some of the most progressive measures in the urban street design toolbox. The Better Block approach has been used in over thirty cities from California to New York to illustrate rapid street changes and community revitalization. These cities have reported greater understanding and urgency by elected officials, leaders, and citizens for permanent change.

What will you learn in the Better Block workshop?

  • Introduction to Team Better Block approach
  • How to re-engineer and re-program streets, sidewalks, properties, and spaces for safety, shared amenities, and staying power
  • How to rally stakeholders, community, and civic participation
  • How to promote the demonstration through marketing, “shared” events, and social media
  • How to file for proper permitting for the demonstration
  • How to create teams and designate tasks efficiently and effectively
  • How to survey public and private spaces of blighted or auto-centric blocks through “on site” visits
  • How to design, build, and install temporary re-engineering and re-programming elements safely, economically, and efficiently  through “hands on” demonstrations
  • How to measure through a set of metrics and reports the successes and failures of the demonstration
  • How to continue future efforts and take next steps for permanent change

How will you earn the certificate?

  • Attendance and active participation in classes, demonstrations, and installations
  • Pass the Better Block Exam at the end of the workshop

What are the benefits of earning a certificate and becoming a Better Block certified member?

  • Ability to implement Better Block Rapid Revitalization Demonstration Projects in official manner in your own cities and communities
  • Become a Team Better Block certified member and listed on Team Better Block website
  • Marketable credential to employer and clients

What are the costs, what is the availability and who is eligible?

800.00 per person

700.00 per person [group rate]

Because of the “hands on” approach there are only 15 available spaces for enrollment

All skill, training and professional levels can take the workshop and exam

For questions regarding the workshop email Andrew@teambetterblock.com

Visit www.betterblock.org for final workshop schedule, Team Better Block and instructor’s bios, past Better Block projects and updates

Better Block Certificate Workshop Tentative Schedule March 13th-16th Dallas, Texas

[All classes will be held at RE gallery + studio at 1717 Gould Street, Dallas, Texas]

Wednesday            March 13

8-9 am                     Coffee and Personal Introductions

9-10 am                   The Better Block Approach – Andrew Howard and Jason Roberts

10-11am                 Readingson Place Making Discussion – Wanda Dye

11-12 am                 Marketing, Social Media and Community Organization – Jason Roberts

12- 1pm                  Lunch

1 – 2 pm                  Pop Ups Ideas and Implementation – Shannon Driscoll, Cayli Cusick

2- 3 pm                   Re-programming – Jason Roberts and Wanda Dye

3-4 pm                    City Permitting for Better Block Events – Andrew Howard

4-5 pm                    Overview of Better Block Project in Cedar Hill – Andrew Howard

Dinner on your own

Thursday               March 14

9-12 pm                  Oak Cliff and Cedar Hill Site Visits Public and Private Space Survey

12- 1pm                  Lunch

1-2 pm                    Assign Teams and Tasks

2-5 pm                    Design and Planning Session

Dinner on your own

Friday                     March 15

9-12 pm                  Design and Build day

12-1 pm                  Lunch

1-5 pm                    Continue Build and Prepare Schedule for Mobilization

Dinner on your own

Saturday                March 16          

9-10 am                   Exam

10- 12 pm               Mobilization and Installation in Cedar Hill

12 – 1 pm                Lunch

1 – 5 pm                  Mobilization and Installation in Cedar Hill

5- `10 pm              Better Block Event and Award of Certificates

From pop-up tent to pop-up business, activate the fascade and make your street pop!

How to Create a Successful Pop-Up Shop – Lessons from Better Block Projects

Through the past two years, we’ve developed numerous pop-up stores for our Better Block projects and have learned several lessons along the way that we hope others can use in developing their own stores. These ideas actually work well in permanent shops also, but we’ve had quite a bit of experience in building temporary businesses. In some cases, we don’t have the room to apply all of the ideas, but incorporating as many as possible can help bring more foot traffic into the shop.

First of all, think of the store as a social experience that happens to include a retail and service component. People want an excuse to spend time around the things they love and people that share that same love. This is universal. Most retail stores don’t provide this opportunity, which leaves people feeling as if they’re not welcome to stay after they’ve finished browsing. We’ll use our local Oak Cliff Bicycle Company bike shop as an example to follow for creating a socially centered store (though this can easily be applied to floral shops, craft stores, cafes and more).

So when building a shop, break up the store into four sections: an outdoor/invitational area, a retail area, a service area, and a sitting area that allows easy conversation and observation of the service area.

The Outdoor/Invitational area

The first area we’ve found is key to develop is the front door/window space. Any ability to create interplay between the sidewalk and the entrance helps create a welcoming environment. Open doors with merchandise spilling out onto the sidewalk, including sandwich boards with information and exciting windows, helps invite people into the space.

The Retail Area

Photo by Hello,Splendor

The retail area should have regular mid and high price items, but be sure to include a large $30/under area for people to have items that they feel comfortable buying without shelling out a large amount for. In the world of live music, this is what we call the “merch” table. It should be filled with t-shirts, stickers, magazines, posters, tubes, accessories, and more. It’s a great idea to put your brand and local area on as many items as possible, because people love to show pride in their neighborhood and promote their community businesses. Plus, these items act as your marketing.

The Service Area

In the bike shop example, the service area is probably located at the back of the store, but should have a component that allows people to view the work taking place, and even to help out if at all possible. Cyclists not only love to be around bicycles, but they love watching them get built, repaired, and modified. This is no different for sewing shops, florists, et cetera. We see this commonly at Sushi bars, or cafes that allow people to be in close proximity to the brewing process. Also, people love to “talk shop”, and learn about the process. This is the area that really sets the small business apart from the nameless/faceless box store.

The Social Area

The last component is the place for people to linger and feel like they’re welcome to watch and talk. For the bike shop, it’s a bar overlooking the service desk, but it could also be a sofa with a coffee table filled with bike magazines, and a wall with a notice of events board. Another thing to note is that people want to help take part in working on the things they love, so if there’s an opportunity to have interaction with the service area, allow and encourage this to occur. It helps the shop owner, and it creates a closer connection with the community. Offering drinks, or snacks helps people feel like they’re sitting around a kitchen table and part of a family. This is not only good for the person visiting the store, but also the proprietor who wants to feel like they’re in an environment that feels like home.

Lastly, it’s good to try and promote events in the space, or activities in the community that promote your industry. Setup a time slot for basic bike repair classes, or host a small bike rodeo, movie, or race in the street. We’ve even brought people in to make crepes or screen shirts in the space.

One thing to note for permanent businesses is that this “social store” makes people feel more connected and loyal to the shop. This is key when you’re having to compete with large stores who can always win on price. If you’re faced with a large space that is too hard to fill, partition off the area so that you only use as much store as you need. Also, combine your shop with others to help create overlap and ease the administration. We often pair up people like furniture makers, t-shirt printers, a crafters to bring more resources into a single area. Since this is temporary, keep costs low by building as much by hand as possible.  This will also makes the store feel more authentic and home grown. Merchandise can be used, or small…again, the idea is to create a social experience that encourages people to linger. Music also helps create a more comfortable environment. Social media is key to helping spread the word and giving people a regular communication resource to the shop.

Good luck!

Training

Want to Learn How to Build a Better Block?

Team Better Block is now offering on-site workshops for your city!

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Attendees leave with a sense of inspiration and excitement for engaging with their city!

 

INTRODUCTION/OVERVIEW

What does Team Better Block do?

Team Better Block temporarily re-engineers and re-programs auto dominated, blighted, and underused urban areas into complete ones by working with cities, developers, and stakeholders to create quick, inexpensive, high-impact changes. Team Better Block uses pop-up shops to test the local economic development potential of streets re-engineered for walkability. Additionally, Team Better Block bolsters civic pride by enlisting the community in the build-out of the temporary installation.

Why are Team Better Block’s Temporary Rapid Revitalization Projects Important?

Although comprehensive planning projects are necessary for most property developments, the cost, scale and long-range timelines associated with these initiatives can often lead to a loss in project momentum and frustration or lack of confidence among area stakeholders and residents. In our projects we have seen improved acceptance by city engineers, planners, designers, and public safety officials of some of the most progressive measures in the urban street design toolbox. The Better Block approach has been used in over thirty cities from California to New York to illustrate rapid street changes and community revitalization. These cities have reported greater understanding and urgency by elected officials, leaders, and citizens for permanent change.

What will you learn in the Better Block workshop?

Introduction to Team Better Block approach
How to re-engineer and re-program streets, sidewalks, properties, and spaces for safety, shared amenities, and
Staying power
How to rally stakeholders, community, and civic participation
How to promote the demonstration through marketing, “shared” events, and social media
How to file for proper permitting for the demonstration
How to create teams and designate tasks efficiently and effectively
How to survey public and private spaces of blighted or auto-centric blocks through “on site” visits
How to design, build, and install temporary re-engineering and re-programming elements safely, economically, and efficiently through “hands on” demonstrations
How to measure through a set of metrics and reports the successes and failures of the demonstration
How to continue future efforts and take next steps for permanent change

 

Value

Keynote Speaker  Jason Roberts is exclusively represented by the Lavin Agency. Please contact info@thelavinagency.com or visit his speaker page for more information.

For Andrew Howard, contact info@teambetterblock.com

Half-day Workshop Program includes one hour introduction, one hour of improve building, one hour of how to build a better block, one hour of resource and talent identification. Attendees leave with one small action to make a better city and a database of people and resources to build their own better block.

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Full-day Workshop Program includes all elements from half-day, a  walk about of a potential area and identification of better block elements. Three one hour of interactive design sessions for placemaking, programming and street design. Attendees leave with all the half-day items and a design document for their own better block.

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Three-day Workshop Program includes all elements of half-day plus two days of building a better block. Attendees leave with the experience of building their own better block. measures of effectiveness and a guidebook to making the better block permanent.

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For questions regarding the workshop email Andrew@teambetterblock.com
 
BIOS OF INSTRUCTORS
 
Jason Roberts is the founder of the Oak Cliff Transit Authority, originator of the Better Block Project, co-founder of the Art Conspiracy and Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, and recent candidate for US Congress. In 2006, Jason formed the non-profit organization, Oak Cliff Transit Authority, to revive the Dallas streetcar system, and later spearheaded the city’s effort in garnering a $23 Million dollar TIGER stimulus grant from the FTA to help reintroduce a modern streetcar system to Dallas. In 2010, Jason organized a series of “Better Block” projects, taking blighted blocks with vacant properties in Southern Dallas and converting them into temporary walkable districts with pop-up businesses, bike lanes, cafe seating, and landscaping. The project has now become an international movement and has been featured in theNew York Times, Dwell magazine, TED Talks and on NPR. Team Better Block was showcased in the US Pavillion at the 2012 Venice Biennale.
 
Andrew Howard, AICP worked for 12 years in traditional urban and transportation planning at regional government offices and a top national engineering firm before leaving to help pioneer a new approach to public outreach. Realizing that over the past several decades, designers and city officials have struggled to create and maintain interest from local communities for long-term urban revitalization, Andrew and Co-founder Jason Roberts created The Better Blocks Project.Now being used in over forty cities and three nations, the better block illustrates how simple modifications can powerfully alter the economic, social, and ecological value of a city by gathering designers and community volunteers together to create a one-day urban intervention to spark the imagination and interest of citizens and leaders alike. The American Society of Landscape Architects called it, “a 21st-century version of what the Chicago World’s Fair did in 1893.” The project has now become a staple for communities seeking rapid urban revitalization and has been featured in the New York Times, Dwell magazine, NPR’s Marketplace and showcased in the US Pavilion at the 2012 Venice Biennale and highlighted at the National Association for City Transportation Officials.
 
Wanda Dye is an assistant professor in architecture at UT Arlington and founder and director of RE gallery + studio soon to open in the Cedars, Dallas, Texas. Set to open early fall 2012 – RE – a new collaborative community – will exhibit, consult, create, and disseminate RE practices in art and design – practices such as retrofitting, repurposing, reclamation, and reuse. Professor Dye received her Bachelors of Architecture from Auburn University and her Masters of Architecture from Columbia University. While in New York she worked in award winning design offices of Skidmore Owings and Merrill and Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects. For the past twelve years she has taught at several institutions and served as a consultant and/or collaborator on many design proposals and projects. Her most recent service learning teaching, consulting, and creative practice include collaborations with the Arlington Urban Design Center, AURORA, Carl Small Town Center, Cedars Open Studios, Change Chamber Development, Design Build Adventure [Jack Sanders], Ecological Community Builders, Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, National Housing Partnership, PARK[ing] Day Dallas, Alison Starr, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, Team Better Block [Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard], and The Galleries on Hickory. These collaborations have been covered in Art + Seek, A+C [Arts+ Culture] of North Texas, Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, Green Magazine, Pegasus News, The Dallas Observer, and Texas Architect.
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