Over the course of just two days in April 2010, a blighted block in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, Texas, was transformed into a more vibrant and welcoming destination, thanks to some visionary and dedicated citizens. A new bike lane was added, greenery and sidewalk café seating were added, and temporary pop-up shops were opened in vacant storefronts. The concept of “better” was no longer an abstraction—local residents could now see what they’d been missing. It was, in essence, an urban street makeover.
The success of the Oak Cliff project spurred the creation of the Better Block Project. Better Block is a prime example of what’s often called DIY urbanism: letting citizens contribute and try out their ideas for what might make their block, downtown, or neighborhood a more welcoming and connected place. The temporary nature of most of these projects means they can be done without the typical red tape and top-down planning that can occur in many municipalities. Community engagement is key to the Better Block Project—the point of the exercise is to help residents realize what’s possible and visualize what a space might look like with a few improvements.
And it’s not just for big cities. Students from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) took one day in April 2013 to show residents of the post-industrial town of North Adams, Massachusetts, how Eagle Street in downtown North Adams could be improved with very little money. They added parklets along the street—turning parking spots into green space—and created a pop-up eatery called the One Day Café in an empty storefront.
Over a two-day period in June 2010, a group of young planners and community activists from Brooklyn partnered with local stakeholders from Oyster Bay, New York, to transform a parking lot next to the town’s historic Long Island Rail Road station into a pop-up playground by adding 300 square feet of sod, a water feature, toys, and a sandbox. They also staged a last-minute farmer’s market, which was such a hit that it reopened a month later and has returned every summer since. Oyster Bay lucked out and was able to get local celebrity Billy Joel involved in the Better Block project; as a result, he has turned one of the storefronts on Oyster Bay’s formerly dreary Audrey Avenue Extension into a permanent showroom for some of the motorcycles in his extensive collection.
Click here to read a call to action from Better Block co-creator Jason Roberts.
And for more Better Block, check out this How-To from Build a Better Burb contributor Allison Arieff.