A couple of Sunday’s ago we moved our clocks ahead to coincide with the day light savings calendar. Daylight savings of course signals that spring is just around the corner. In many parts of the country, there has been record breaking snowfalls keeping us wrapped up woolen shirts and socks with down jackets, ear covering hats and thick winter gloves. Most of us can’t wait to receive the warm and sunny days of spring.
In the spring, we throw off our winter attire and everyone comes out to play. There will be street fairs, music festivals, farmers markets and food trucks to create temporary neighborhood destinations. These activities are great but if a neighborhood in your city is struggling to maintain a neighborhood retail destination or main street businesses are struggling to stay alive, you’re in need of grass roots economic development intervention. The best grass roots neighborhood intervention program around is “Better Block.” Jason Roberts and his organization in Dallas along with other similar organizations around the country have organized Better Block events that have transformed neighborhoods into bustling centers of neighborhood activity and economic development.
Better Block events can channel neighbors and neighborhood activists with a vision into a cohesive team with common goals and objectives. The outcomes which can transform a neighborhood and become a catalyst for future neighborhood investment. Better Blocks are a lot of work and are labor intensive. I’ve often wondered if there are ways to reduce the amount of labor that they take and whether they could impact more than one neighborhood at a time with the help of city agencies, a city hall champion or public space consultants.
An enormous amount of time is spent resourcing items for Better Blocks – planters, tables and chairs, benches, bike corrals, etc. Could Better Blocks be organized in shorter time periods and become less labor intensive if a street furniture tool box were available for that specific purpose. A Better Block tool box might include street furniture, but also multi-generational games and activities, outdoor exercise equipment to emphasize healthy communities and even Fido agility activities.
A second thought involves combing pop up stores and restaurants with a Better Block street furniture and activities tool box that could rotate thru several neighborhoods over a short period of time. The idea being that each neighborhood or target area would creates a unique Better Block event to showcase it’s unique identity, culture or community brand and generate competition culminating in the neighborhood transformation
For example, a Better Block event in neighborhood 1 this week might combine pop up stores and food trucks or restaurants with a Better Block street furniture and activities tool box and a focus on art and craft. The following week, Neighborhood 2 combines the Better Block Tool Box, food trucks with a beer garden with focus on music. The following week neighborhood 3 combines the Better Block Tool Box, pop-up breakfast restaurants and outdoor fitness activities, etc.
Such a program if planned properly would also have a side benefit of allowing citizens, planning, public works, economic development and city officials an opportunity to experience a conceptual idea plan prior to full implementation. Additionally, valuable feedback could be gained that would minimize expensive failures.
What do you think? Is the street furniture and game and activities tool box is a good idea? Who might use it? Would a city department or consultant be willing to allocate money for such a tool to assist them in demonstrating an idea(s)? Could a planning or economic development department utilize the rotating better block event idea with pop-up stores, food trucks, restaurants and a street furniture tool box to generate competition between neighborhoods or to compress the time required to generate neighborhood plans? Would there be any advantage to conducting multiple better blocks events in different neighborhoods within a single city?