Norfolk Organizes Third Better Block This Weekend

After successful Better Block projects on 35th Street and in the Arts District in Norfolk, Virginia, Norview Five Points community members and business owners are leading a third Better Block on the 6100 block of Sewell’s Point Road.

The event was catalyzed by organizer Austin Loney’s attempt to relocate their pawn shop business to a building on the street. They found that strict zoning laws regulated, and often prohibited, certain viable businesses from operating on the block.

Therefore, with funding from the Hampton Roads REALTORS © Association, the City and the community are coming together on November 14th and 15th to install pop-up businesses of local Norview entrepreneurs in the vacant storefronts and program the street with activities, outdoor cafe seating, landscaping, live music and food trucks. This, Loney says, will hopefully spur economic development and zoning changes to allow for new businesses to move to the block, reducing crime and making it a more inviting place to live, work and play.

The event will take place from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday, November 14th, and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, the 15th.

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Better Block RVA Video and Report Available

On June 13th and 14th, Richmond, Virginia held its first Better Block project sponsored by Sportsbackers, Bon Secours, the National Association of Realtors, Capital One, and Davita. The block of 25th Street and Venable was temporarily transformed into a neighborhood destination, complete with pop-up businesses, a cycle-track, parklets, pallet benches, and plaza with the help of community volunteers and residents.

 

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Capital One offered a series of Microgrants to local businesses who used those funds to install new windows, re-paint buildings, and build 15 picnic benches that were installed in a pop-up garden and cafe on the block. The Better Block project galvanized the community around the idea of making a better place immediately and helped communicate principals in walkability, livability, and placemaking in a hands-on approach that has moved the neighborhood beyond the traditional planning process and into implementation.

The video above and report below provides greater details about the project and we would like to thank all the volunteers and sponsors for making in this a great project!

Download (PDF, 8.58MB)

Announcing Better Block Fresno

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The Better Block has been hard at work on our upcoming project in Fresno, California. In partnership with the Fresno Council of Governments, Placeworks, California Department of Transportation, Fresno Center For New Americans, Southeast Fresno Economic Development Association, Sigala, Inc., Centro La Familia, and Ventura Kings Canyon Merchants Association, we’re bringing the Better Block project to the 3600 block of Ventura Avenue as part of a larger effort to revitalize the corridor.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on November 15th, the street will be transformed with street landscaping, live music, mobile food vendors, outdoor seating, an outdoor market and classic car show.

traffic plan2As with all Better Block projects, the Fresno project aims to help area residents and business owners see the potential of the block by temporarily improving its infrastructure, adding programming, and making it a more lively, pedestrian-friendly environment. These temporary improvements will hopefully one day become permanent ones.

The Better Block team will be hosting workshops leading up to the event to build parklets, pallet furniture, and work to repair the street. If you’re in the Central Valley area and would like to participate, you can sign up for workshops here. We are also still accepting vendors to take part in our outdoor market. The sign up form is online here.

 Better Block Fresno Schedule of Events:

Friday, November 14th

6 – 9 p.m. : Community Build Workshop onsite

Saturday, November 15th

8 – 10 a.m. : Community Build Workshops onsite

10 a.m. – 1 p.m. : Classic Car Show, Outdoor Market, Outdoor Dining

10 – 11:00 a.m. : Sunnyside High School Marching Band

11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. : Roosevelt High School Mariachi Band

 

Disruptive City, a DIY Real Estate Boom

Think about the disruptive innovations of the twentieth century like Henry Ford’s Model T or Steve Job’s Macintosh personal computer, which started at the bottom of the market and eventually displaced established competitors. Now think about all the vacant or underused space in your city. New approaches and technologies for using that space are increasing in popularity and could soon change the commercial real estate business as we know it.

This post will introduce emerging disruptive real estate innovations such as Better Block, which uses temporary community placemaking and pop-up shops to build momentum for new real estate markets, and Opportunity Space, which opens data about underused government property to developers. Real estate professionals who understand the appeal of these disruptive innovations will hopefully recognize that they provide the potential for the greatest expansion of the real estate practice in modern times by inviting more people into the symphony of building cities.

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There are now hundreds of examples of disruptive innovations in real estate. Some are probably fads, but at the very least, these innovations recognize that people have gone from users of the city to active participants in it. There has been a fundamental shift in culture, and these ideas are here to stay. Like the recent transformation of print media, users are expecting a more social, interactive experience; comment sections, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts allow people to be active participants in news. The same transition is now happening in the city as Code for America, StreetBlogs and Tactical Urbanism are giving people the tools needed to directly influence the development of the city.

Even more interesting are the disruptions now occurring in the financing of real estate. Social network investment platform Fundrise contends that only 3% of the wealthiest Americans are considered “accredited investors” and are allowed to invest in real estate development. Their connecting of investors directly to individual properties online is disrupting the Security and Exchange Commission’s outdated rules and inviting more people into real estate.

Also, there is an increasing demand for more flexibility from commercial and office property owners. New companies like Storefront and Liquidspace are facilitating short-term leases for the ever-mobile retail and office markets; a space can be an art gallery one day, designer fashion boutique the next; a conference room one day, IT hackathon the next. Retail and office will likely never be dominated by a pop-up model, but innovation in real estate could create new profit models for underperforming spaces in new and existing buildings.

Disruptive ideas sneak up on you. At first they seem too small or unscalable to pose much competition. Why would big cab companies or mega hoteliers ever fear a smart phone app? Now, Uber and AirBnB transport and lodge more people than their competitors. Better Block and Opportunity Space methods may not erase current real estate practices, but the cultural shift they represent will disrupt the business sooner or later. Over the coming weeks BetterBlock.org will speak with experts in Real Estate and blog about how the change is manifesting, stay tuned!

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!

Better Block Inspiration: Jaime Lerner

As early as the 1970s, Brazilian politician and urban planner Jaime Lerner has emphasized the importance of mobility and sustainability within cities. With a focus on multi-modal transportation, reduced carbon emissions, and mixed-use spaces, Lerner has been a proponent of quick, affordable changes that can improve a city in less than three years. Like Better Block did in his wake, Lerner developed early on a series of guidelines to follow to stimulate economic development and encourage livable, accessible cities:

Make it cheaper

In his much-lauded TED talk, Lerner said, “Creativity starts when you cut a zero from your budget. If you cut two zeros, it’s much better.” Here at Better Block, we’re also big proponents of the “lighter, cheaper, faster” school of thought. Expensive, unwieldy projects take decades to plan, and are likely to become forgotten or ignored as the plans are passed through generations.

For example, his Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system revolutionized public transportation in Brazil, and cost a fraction of the amount of a light rail or trolley system. BRT simply took the idea of subway transit and combined it with a bus system, making buses more efficient and convenient to use, and encouraging multi-modal transport in the heart of his city, Curitiba. The buses run every minute, have their own lanes, never competing with vehicular or subway traffic, and mimic the loading and unloading of subway cars. Today, BRT systems have been implemented in 83 cities worldwide.

Do it quickly

When projects can be done for less money, they’re more likely to be done more quickly. Lerner also recognized that planning and hypothesizing cannot overpower the end goal of a more sustainable, lively city. When you start, he says, you can’t be insistent on having all the answers. Just do it, collaborate with the right people, and they will let you know if you’re on the right track. He calls his quick, inexpensive method “urban acupuncture.”

The Better Block team has its own way of getting things done quickly: blackmailing ourselves. When you blackmail yourself, you create pressure on yourself to make something happen by a certain deadline. To do this, make posters, a website, or a Facebook page to promote your event, even if it’s not fully planned. Tell your friends that it’s happening, and contact people in your network with whom you want to collaborate. That way, you know you need to make it happen by the date on the posters, and, in all likelihood, it will.

Transform use

Lerner noticed a perennial problem in large cities: most people work in the city, but live outside of it. This wasteful structure increases carbon emissions from its heavy dependence on cars, and makes the implementation of public transportation systems impractical, decreasing mobility within the city. Instead, he said, successful, sustainable cities are those where you can work, live and find leisure all in the same place.

To do this, spaces within cities need to be flexible and multipurpose. “You can’t have empty places for 18 hours a day,” Lerner says; sections of the city can play different roles at different hours. For example, a quarry can double as a public park, or a business district can become an outdoor marketplace on the weekends. This variety of use encourages people to live where they work, and work where they live, thereby saving energy, time and the environment.

Better Block implements this multi-use model into all of its events and demonstrations, encouraging organizers to program the street, have activities for all ages, and give attendees a reason to be there all day: a coffee shop for the morning hours, a sandwich place and independent shops for midday, alcohol and live music for the evenings, and outdoor gathering spaces throughout the day to create a perception of safety and a place for neighbors to exchange ideas. If the City and the community see the value in the Better Block project, the block can quickly become a place where people want to live, work and hang out, decreasing the likelihood of urban sprawl and its negative environmental impacts.