Building a “Better Block”

Something’s happening this weekend that strikes me as just the kind of grassroots change that we so need right now.

It’s called Better Block, a one-day transformation of a city block into a living demonstration of a walkable, vibrant neighborhood center. A Better Block allows communities to experience a “complete streets” buildout process. People can develop “pop-up businesses” to show the potential revitalization that goes along with such an effort.

I read about my hometown’s expression of the movement in this Nuvo article, Real Time Urban Renewal, written by IUPUI grad student Ashley Kimmel. This Saturday from noon to 5pm, the Better Block event will “convert one block of the (East Washington Street) corridor into a vision for the future: a living scale model of how the street could look, feel and be cared for by the neighborhood.”

The benefits? According to the article, such an event:

  • moves beyond simply conceptualizing development to a three-dimensional encounter with possibilities,
  • “focuses on the ground-level experience rather than the top-down aerial map,”
  • offers an inexpensive way to use existing resources toward urban planning, and
  • creates the opportunity to open storefronts and reconfigure travel lanes “on a small, testable scale.”

With the immediate feedback available in this cost-efficient study, it seems like the motivation would be high to make the one-day experience a reality in the not-so-distant future. Why wait?

Neighborhood cleanup on the Pennsy. Photo by Heidi Unger.

Neighborhood cleanup on the Pennsy. Photo by Heidi Unger.

I recognize this plucky can-do spirit. It’s alive and well in my own community, where this weekend a group of neighbors will be building a new greenspace adjacent to the Pennsy Trail.

It’s the same chutzpah that drives City Repair in Portland, OR, where volunteers transform intersections, create community gathering places, and enrich civic life through public art.

I’m betting it’s happening in more neighborhoods than we realize. How about yours?

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