Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Build a Better Block

Special thanks to Sarah Goodyear who wrote about the Better Block project on Grist.

The Oak Cliff community in Dallas had the typical city problem: abandonment. Store fronts were empty, cars sped through, and no one gathered on the streets.

Rather than petitioning the city (or ignoring the problem), the residents decided to make change themselves. They got organized, got $1000, and created a two day festival to transform their community.

Some of the highlights:

- Pop-up stores and art installments in front of vacant store fronts
- Bike lanes and a pedestrian plaza in conjunction with car access
- Neighborhood gathering space with games, tables, music, etc.

So was this just a big street party, or did some real change come out of the event?

The how-to section of the blog happily lets us know that "...immediately following our original better block, these vacant spaces were leased."

Sarah Goodyear also reported that the City of Dallas has given Go Oak Cliff permission to shut down part of a local street and create a pedestrian plaza that will stay up for three months -- and possibly become permanent.

Last Wednesday the Washington Post reported that the city of Mt. Rainier in Maryland has taken notice and is jumping on the bandwagon too (Project aims to offer a preview of permanent makeover for Mount Rainier area).

Go Oak Cliff has some really insightful directions on how to build your own better block. A few pointers:

- Identify a location with a block of buildings that has a good pedestrian form, but lacks a complete street. Typically pre-war built areas, or former streetcar intersections.

- Remember that people want a reason to stay and be apart of the environment. Be sure to provide plenty of seating, things to read (maps, build simple kiosks to use as community boards, food/drink). Chess boards, et cetera.

- Invite your Mayor, council members, city staff, so they can see the possibilities for themselves.

- We specifically asked to allow one lane of vehicle traffic so that residents could see that a “complete street” that allowed all modes of transit was a viable solution.

Yesterday I read a really interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell about social interaction and activism. His claim: that face-to-face connections are essential for creating real social change. All these Facebook groups to Save Darfur and the like are good for low level involvement, but when it comes to really making waves, nothing will ever trump doing good IRL.

Of course, the internet is still an amazing communication method for getting the word out for these real life events...

Like the Facebook page for 350 Baltimore, part of the 350.org global work day campaign on 10/10/10. See you at Druid Hill Park?

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