From the Blog

Oct
24
Posted by admin at 9:30 am

The “Better Bridge” project in South Dallas was completed last Saturday with over one hundred in attendance including Councilmembers, local businesses, residents, and visitors.  Two lanes of a four lane bridge were converted into a pedestrian and bicycle esplanade complete with lighting, landscaping, street furniture, and amenities for the community. This was the first time in the bridge’s 60 year history that anyone had ever been able to sit down and enjoy a lunch on the bridge while looking out over the Great Trinity Forest. The majority of attendees asked for ways to make the temporary changes permanent and the press wrote a great piece endorsing the project. One visitor from New York noted the project’s similarities to the High Line Park project. We’d like to thank the following groups who helped us pull together this project and supported us in this effort:

Here are some great images from the demonstration:

Feb
23
Posted by geotransit at 7:38 pm

Ballarat was the third stop on our Australian Better Block tour. Ballarat is experiencing a revitalization due in part to rising cost of living in Melbourne and emerging arts community in the beautiful Victorian era downtown. We happened upon a gathering of artist and musicians on our first night, I even had a taco from a caravan (travel trailer). It was quite good, just needed some cilantro!

The downtown is quite large with beautiful architecture and wide roads, that like many Texas towns were constructed so that ox carts could make a u-turn without going around the block. This is a major hindrance now to walkability and creates unsafe traffic speeds.

The better block workshop revealed the need to get directly into the space that needs to be revitalized. Ballarat has many amazing buildings that are vacant. A hotel, civic house and many commercial buildings have been given lip service and even expensive master plans and architecture plans by the government and foundations.

I shared the story of revitalizing Oak Cliff’s Texas Theater. Master plans, fund raisers and foundations had struggled to bring this old theater to life. Much of this work had been done far away from the theater in conference rooms and city offices. Jason focused on getting people into the space and bringing together diverse groups to take action. Over a weekend artist were invited to create a 1′x1′ piece of wood into an art piece and then the theater would be open and sold the following day. The result was 100s of people seeing the theater and new relationships formed that resulted in the theater being re-opened by a group of young entrepreneurs!

 

I hope the same for Ballarat!

 

Feb
17

Team Better Block is working with the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne Australia over the coming week to explore how better block can advance sustainable living and putting to work many of the wonderful innovations in green technology emerging from Australia. Kicking-off in Melbourne, Jason and I spoke to a packed crowd of enthusiastic doers and thinkers.

 

Melbourne is proving that every community has all the resources and talent to make change, they just need to be activated and provided  a platform to work together. I am learning that better block is a pathway not only for community collaboration, but individual life changes that lead to sustainability. My own story of leaving corporate america, ditching the auto commute for walking commute, replacing many business trips with video conferences and social media and simply living local in Oak Cliff has made my life more sustainable and greatly reduced my carbon footprint.

I see now that the better block facilitates this type of lifestyle change. Many of the volunteers and leaders we have worked with have made these lifestyle changes on their own following the better block experience. They have started their own business, reduced auto use, built a cooperative housing project, started a co-working office or simply started living more locally. I am encouraged by this Festival and increasingly seeing how better block is meshing with the greater environmental movement to advance change.

In Australia they don’t have years to involve people in creating a shared vision of a sustainable future. They literally have six months.  That is the next election cycle is coming around and climate change is at the center of the debate. Too many people see climate change as a daunting task and are more focused on immediate human needs. The better block could be a powerful key for Australians to collectively step up and demonstrate what a low carbon world means to them.

I recommend that projects highlight how green technology can be retrofitted into streets to reduce the need for fossil fuels by, for example, installing  solar lighting and wind capture. I see using the better block as a temporary testing ground for integrating new ideas into the streetscape and urban fabric. We created testing zones for nuclear weapons and subverted laws for years to advance military technology. Why not create sustainability testing zones in cities that advance green technology, incubate new businesses and foster housing improvements?

Six months is plenty of time for Australia to accomplish 4 better block projects and give a snap shot of what a ‘sustainability testing zone’ would look like! I can only imagine what will come from the creative folks I have met here. For tour details see below:

A mini better block in Melbourne accomplished in three hours using crate paper, sticky notes, plastic bags and CHALK!

 

THE BETTER BLOCK TOUR WITH ANDREW HOWARD

 

  • GEELONG, Activating Community Lecture Better Block Lecture

Tues, 19 Feb, 6 – 7pm, Percy Baxter Theatre, Deakin University (Waterfront), 1 Gheringhap Street, Geelong, VIC 3220. Gold coin donation.

 

  • GEELONG, Activating Community Lecture Better Block Workshop

Weds 20 Feb, 9am – 12pm, Courthouse Arts, Gheringhap St

Geelong, VIC 322, Geelong, free.

 

  • TRARALGON, Better Block Presentation and Workshop
    Thurs, 21 Feb, 6 -9pm, free.

 

  • BALLARAT, Better Block Presentation and Workshop
    Sat, 23 Feb, 10am – 1pm, free.

 

  • HEIDELBERG HEIGHTS, Making A Better Block – Murundaka

*Inspired by Better Block

Sat 23 Feb 10am – 4pm, Murundaka Co-Housing, Heidelberg Heights, $50 Full, $40 Conc, info@murundakacohousing.org.au

 

  • SYDNEY, Better Block Presentation and Networking event Tues, 26 Feb, 6-9pm, Riderfood Warehouse, 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern, Sydney, free
Aug
13
Posted by admin at 8:07 am

So things have been super busy at Team Better Block as we’ve been launching projects around the world (!) and getting to meet so many incredible communities. Also, some great organizations have taken on the charge to revitalize their own blocks with amazing results that are leading to many rapid and permanent changes.

In our latest big news, Better Block co-founder Jason Roberts received a Champions of Change award in Washington DC for work in Transportation Innovations last week. Secretary of the US Department of Transportation Ray LaHood was on hand at the ceremony while other awardees sat on panels lead by the Secretaries of the FHA, and FAA.

Jason’s work with revitalizing a modern streetcar line in Dallas, and the Better Block projects were both highlighted as major initiatives that are helping re-shape the built environment. Click here to view the full White House blog post written by Jason on these efforts.

Jason Roberts, Andy Clarke (LAB President), and Andrew Howard

Also, while in DC, Jason and Better Block co-founder Andrew Howard met with Andy Clarke of the League of American Bicyclists and later with officials at the US Department of Transportation to discuss the Better Block project in greater detail and outline prospects for stronger data collection and collaboration with municipalities nationwide.

Andrew and Jason also had a chance to get a first-hand look at the two-way cycle tracks that have been popping up throughout the city along with some incredible new shipping container architecture installed beside the ballpark. Expect to see these and more in future Better Blocks!

Oct
05
Posted by geotransit at 4:13 pm

Want to Learn How to Build a Better Block? 

Team Better Block is now offering workshops where you may earn your own Better Block Certification

Register here for the 4 day workshop from Wed March 13th – Saturday March 16th

What does Team Better Block do?

Team Better Block temporarily re-engineers and re-programs auto dominated, blighted, and underused urban areas into complete ones by working with cities, developers, and stakeholders to create quick, inexpensive, high-impact changes. Team Better Block uses pop-up shops to test the local economic development potential of streets re-engineered for walkability. Additionally, Team Better Block bolsters civic pride by enlisting the community in the build-out of the temporary installation.

Why are Team Better Block’s Temporary Rapid Revitalization Projects Important?

Although comprehensive planning projects are necessary for most property developments, the cost, scale and long-range timelines associated with these initiatives can often lead to a loss in project momentum and frustration or lack of confidence among area stakeholders and residents. In our projects we have seen improved acceptance by city engineers, planners, designers, and public safety officials of some of the most progressive measures in the urban street design toolbox. The Better Block approach has been used in over thirty cities from California to New York to illustrate rapid street changes and community revitalization. These cities have reported greater understanding and urgency by elected officials, leaders, and citizens for permanent change.

What will you learn in the Better Block workshop?

  • Introduction to Team Better Block approach
  • How to re-engineer and re-program streets, sidewalks, properties, and spaces for safety, shared amenities, and staying power
  • How to rally stakeholders, community, and civic participation
  • How to promote the demonstration through marketing, “shared” events, and social media
  • How to file for proper permitting for the demonstration
  • How to create teams and designate tasks efficiently and effectively
  • How to survey public and private spaces of blighted or auto-centric blocks through “on site” visits
  • How to design, build, and install temporary re-engineering and re-programming elements safely, economically, and efficiently  through “hands on” demonstrations
  • How to measure through a set of metrics and reports the successes and failures of the demonstration
  • How to continue future efforts and take next steps for permanent change

How will you earn the certificate?

  • Attendance and active participation in classes, demonstrations, and installations
  • Pass the Better Block Exam at the end of the workshop

What are the benefits of earning a certificate and becoming a Better Block certified member?

  • Ability to implement Better Block Rapid Revitalization Demonstration Projects in official manner in your own cities and communities
  • Become a Team Better Block certified member and listed on Team Better Block website
  • Marketable credential to employer and clients

What are the costs, what is the availability and who is eligible?

800.00 per person

700.00 per person [group rate]

Because of the “hands on” approach there are only 15 available spaces for enrollment

All skill, training and professional levels can take the workshop and exam

For questions regarding the workshop email Andrew@teambetterblock.com

Visit www.betterblock.org for final workshop schedule, Team Better Block and instructor’s bios, past Better Block projects and updates

Better Block Certificate Workshop Tentative Schedule March 13th-16th Dallas, Texas

[All classes will be held at RE gallery + studio at 1717 Gould Street, Dallas, Texas]

Wednesday            March 13

8-9 am                     Coffee and Personal Introductions

9-10 am                   The Better Block Approach – Andrew Howard and Jason Roberts

10-11am                 Readingson Place Making Discussion – Wanda Dye

11-12 am                 Marketing, Social Media and Community Organization – Jason Roberts

12- 1pm                  Lunch

1 – 2 pm                  Pop Ups Ideas and Implementation – Shannon Driscoll, Cayli Cusick

2- 3 pm                   Re-programming – Jason Roberts and Wanda Dye

3-4 pm                    City Permitting for Better Block Events – Andrew Howard

4-5 pm                    Overview of Better Block Project in Cedar Hill – Andrew Howard

Dinner on your own

Thursday               March 14

9-12 pm                  Oak Cliff and Cedar Hill Site Visits Public and Private Space Survey

12- 1pm                  Lunch

1-2 pm                    Assign Teams and Tasks

2-5 pm                    Design and Planning Session

Dinner on your own

Friday                     March 15

9-12 pm                  Design and Build day

12-1 pm                  Lunch

1-5 pm                    Continue Build and Prepare Schedule for Mobilization

Dinner on your own

Saturday                March 16          

9-10 am                   Exam

10- 12 pm               Mobilization and Installation in Cedar Hill

12 – 1 pm                Lunch

1 – 5 pm                  Mobilization and Installation in Cedar Hill

5- `10 pm              Better Block Event and Award of Certificates

Jan
08
Posted by admin at 4:20 pm

2011 was an incredible year for the Better Block project and we look forward to all of the new projects that are in the works for 2012. The Better Block Project is only as strong as its community partners, so the real accolades belong to those who rolled up their sleeves and helped repair their neighborhoods block by block, and to the institutions who carried through on the initial success of these projects to implement long-term, permanent change. If anyone had told us a year ago that this work would be highlighted in the New York Times, receive national awards, and allow us to speak internationally on revitalizing communities we would have never believed them. We’d also like to commend the 15 other communities nationwide who developed their own Better Block projects from Philadelphia to Memphis, and Saint Louis to Cleveland. Your efforts inspired us to keep moving forward and have given us a template for learning how this work can be adopted in communities with regional differences.  So with that, we present a list of 2011 Better Block Project highlights:

Memphis installs bicycle infrastructure from Better Block recommendations

A New Face for an Old Broad from American Grapefruit Media on Vimeo.

Shortly after we published details on our first Better Block project, community leaders in Memphis, Tennessee contacted us about pulling together their own block revitalization effort for Broad Street. Their neighborhood faced similar challenges to our own with vacant buildings, car-only infrastructure, and low investment. Team members worked with their Mayor and city council and held “A New Face for an Old Broad” Better Block project that brought out 13,000 people and revisioned a block with bike lanes, pop-up store fronts, landscaping, and more. The event was a major success, and within months, striping crews made the bike lanes permanent and reinvestment has begun to take hold within the corridor.

Fort Worth installs bicycle infrastructure from Better Block recommendations

Young activists in Fort Worth’s Near SouthSide neighborhood decided to take a block of Main Street that had been vacant and ignored for years, and developed their first Better Block Project. Team members added buffered bike lanes, new store fronts, food trucks, and more to make the block a neighborhood destination. The success of the event led the city of Fort Worth to permanently include buffered bike lanes on the street while ridership levels are continuing to grow throughout the area.

NCTCOG 2011 CLIDE Award

During the Summer of 2011, the North Central Texas Council of Governments recognized the Better Block Project with their prestigious CLIDE (Celebrating Leadership in Develpment Excellence) award. The jury chair was renowned architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.

2011 National ASLA Award for Communications

In November of 2011, Team Better Block alongside SWA Landscape Architects was awarded a National ASLA award for Communications for the Better Block project in Oak Cliff.  The noted ASLA jurors heralded the effort as “ “a 21st-century version of what the Chicago World’s Fair did in 1893.”

Walk21 Conference in Vancouver

The Better Block Project was featured in its first international forum at the 12th annual Walk21 Conference held in Vancouver, Canada. The success of the presentation spurred organizers to give the project a more prominent focus at their 2012 expo in Mexico City.

CNU 19

Better Block organizer, Andrew Howard, headed a Nextgen breakout session where the Better Block was featured alongside other models in Tactical Urbanism that are beginning to take hold across the nation.

$1 Million dedicated to area improvements around first Better Block

In December 2011, a city of Dallas TIF board dedicated $1Million to improvements around the King’s Highway area of North Oak Cliff, several of which were direct recommendations from the first Better Block project held in April of 2010. Infrastructure improvements include bicycle infrastructure, a pedestrian plaza, and traffic calming elements.

Ross “Build a Better Boulevard” Challenge

In July, we announced our first “Better Block Challenge” where we invited teams to take segments of an 8 block avenue in Downtown Dallas and revitalize public and private spaces to improve walkability, economics, and safety. The project was also the kickoff to the City of Dallas’s “Complete Streets” effort and brought out hundreds of volunteers who helped revision bus stops, outdoor markets, bicycle infrastructure, and more. At the end of the day, the University of Texas at Arlington won the top prize for most innovative solution for block improvement by developing a large shade structure and music stage using only reclaimed materials. Click here to view a video segment of the project, and here for an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by noted Architect Professor, Ellen Dunham-Jones.

 

 

 

Sep
11
Posted by admin at 10:18 am

Photo by David Worthington

While working on the Square 67 project, the property owner Ralph Isenberg approached us about helping create a memorial to note the tenth anniversary of 9-11. At the time, I hadn’t realized that a decade had passed since that day, but it was definitely something we felt strongly about honoring. Dallas, and Oak Cliff specifically, is no stranger to historic events that have reshaped us as a community. In 1963, after the president was assassinated, our region was held accountable with Dallas being labeled the “City of Hate”. As a city, we’ve run from that day for a half a century, without recognizing the greater symbolism of that moment as turning point away from the “age of innocence”. Everything from the image of the “perfect” 1950′s nuclear family, the pride of fighting a just war in Europe, and attempting to justify living as “separate but equal”  were turned on end starting with that day and marched us head first into challenging our assumptions throughout the 1960′s.

September 11th, 2001 marks the same pivotal turning point for a new decade that would challenge our ideas of living beyond our means, our effects on the environment,  our foreign policy, and a move away from the private and solitary  “me generation” to a socially connected “we generation”.

For this project, we discussed ways to create a tribute that could allow people a place to reflect in silence while honoring all of those whose lives were lost. We wanted to find a way to incorporate shipping containers, as we’d been working with them in other projects, and the fact that they are the primary structures utilized in world trade, made it more fitting. Initially, we discussed standing 40′ tall containers on end, but settled on 20′ to minimize the need to weld large bases that would preclude people’s ability to stand near the tribute.  We painted both towers white, and used a crane to position them in a staggered footprint similar to the twin towers. We positioned them both to face the northeast towards New York City and also painted a base in white to outline the space. Once they were in place, the shadows that cast across the lot made us all pause as the lines stretched out in an eerie similarity to the shadows we all remembered when visiting the real towers years ago.

Lisa Walters of Free Lisa Designs provided us with reclaimed white vinyl from billboards that we fastened to the fences surrounding the lot, and invited children from several area schools to participate in writing messages of hope along the edges. As we began attaching these signs, it was amazing to see so many people like older veterans in the area begin picking up paintbrushes and leaving messages. At one point, a homeless man asked us for chalk and then spent three hours laying on the ground and writing “God Bless America” in 5 foot letters. At the same time, a little girl from Kessler United Methodist School wrote, “I will never forget this moment, Love Hannah” in red paint across the fence.

At night, we brought in eight spotlights and pointed them up in the sky to create the outline of the twin towers. On Saturday, September 10th, our friend Ean Schuessler of BrainFood compiled the names of all the victims from 9/11 and placed them in a scrolling file. From there, we worked with Freeman Audio and Visual to bring in a projector which was fastened to a scissor lift and began projecting the names onto the side of the  Bank of America tower directly behind the memorial.

Local shop owners from the dollar stores that dot Jefferson Boulevard gave us candles that we set out for families to light and place along the ground around the memorial. On a local news blog, a commenter lamented that local kids from the area would start tagging the tribute within days. With that in mind, Ralph Isenberg reached out to local graffiti artists and asked them to come out and paint on the surfaces. I watched a couple of young men as they began spray painting the outlines of firefighters and smoke on the walls…one stopped and told me, “I never expected to get so emotional…I remembered that day from junior high, but standing here and painting this really brings it home.”

 

 

Aug
23
Posted by admin at 10:27 pm

After wrapping up the Ross Boulevard challenge, we’ve kept ourselves busy at Team Better Block with a couple of projects that we’re really excited about. The first is the development of a 9-mile trail alongside the Trinity River with connecting on-street bicycle infrastructure that spans from the Southern terminus of the Katy Trail to the Bishop Arts District in North Oak Cliff. We’ll announce more details on that project later in the week. The second project is called Square 67. With this effort, we’re taking a dying suburban strip mall and converting it into a neighborhood “place” filled with small shipping container storefronts, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, community gathering spaces, events, and the development of a “Main Street” within a parking lot. The problems this center faces is no different than the one’s we’re seeing across the country where large retailers move on to newer and better accommodations, while communities are left with the remnants of once vital and active developments that provided jobs, food, and entertainment for entire neighborhoods.

Square 67 was originally developed in the early 70′s as a suburban shopping strip with large anchor stores flanked by smaller retail outlets surrounded by a sea of concrete parking. 40 years later, development has moved further South with bigger box discount retailers (Super Targets, Wal-Mart Supercenters) relocating further away and many residents moving on to newer, more vibrant exurbs like Cedar Hill. In 2009, the square’s anchor, Sack N Save, pulled up stakes after a 4 alarm fire swept through the complex. From that day forward, the property has never regained its original footing and the small surrounding tenants that relied on the anchors regular traffic have suffered losses to their businesses.

For this project, we realized our best opportunity for revitalization existed in turning the focus away from the box, and looking more at the giant parking lot. Traditionally, a “Square” is thought of as a large open space in the heart of a community lined with small markets…a place that acts as a gathering space for residents who can relax, take in street theatre, listen to music, eat outside, and people-watch. Somewhere along the way, the term was co-opted by developers who attempted to create a new neighborhood gathering center, but one less reliant on slowing down and lingering, and more on quick-serve convenience. What was lost as a neighborhood was a sense of place that reflected the community’s unique identity and values.

The Plan

We began working out a plan to develop a Main Street inside of the parking lot that is lined with converted shipping containers. To help with the project, we’ve once again partnered with UTA and architecture professor Wanda Dye, whose student team recently won our Ross Boulevard Challenge. Their group developed a series of renderings to show the potential for taking back a portion of the space given over to cars and making it human-scaled.

Next up, we picked up our first shipping container…a 20 footer that will become a space for a food vendor.

Our master welder and general all-purpose bad ass, Santi Gusman, set to work on cutting an opening for the space.

By the second day, we’d added a wood rain guard, cut a rectangular opening, and began internal frame welding.

After studying squares around the world, we noticed that most had a prominent fountain in the center. We set to work creating our own using horse troughs, galvanized tubs, receptacles, and pales.

Typical Team Better Block planning…Jeff Bethke helps us layout a green roof concept over fast food.

After spending a week building out the container in 105 degree weather, we took an evening off for some dumpster pool swimming in the Cliff.

On all of our projects, we look for ways to engage the community in fun ways…we’ve never been fans of townhalls because they only bring a small subset of a neighborhood out. We’ve found that if you focus on kids, you get a better cross section of the area and what you can build upon. Also, the parents connect us to other area stakeholders who we can reach out to for discussing ways to develop small business incubators, and get ideas for what the community feels is missing. For our kickoff event, we went with “Fishing on the Square”…the idea stemmed from driving a few miles outside of the neighborhood and spotting a tucked away lake with one hundred or so families, young and old, sitting out with poles and enjoying the day. With that in mind, we headed to Overton Fisheries in Buffalo, Texas and picked up 30 large catfish and setup a portable pond.

We setup our newly completed container under the shade of the vacant gas station which fronted the development, and offered food, drinks, fishing, and a mobile office to talk with neighbors about starting small businesses within the area.

At the end of the day, people lingered in a space formerly dedicated to cars, bought food and drinks, people-watched, and talked about how the community needed more events like this to bring everyone together.  We were constantly asked about the next event, and how they could help. It’s so rewarding to find out how much a community is willing to pitch in to help us make places that matter. When you step away from the world of specialists, and consultants, and just have fun with a community, you get a much better sense on how to make things better. The real key is to just do something concrete. Planning, and studying is necessary, but if we can’t tie that to actual improvements on the ground in short order, then momentum can quickly be lost, and we can find ourselves in a pattern of always talking about doing something great, but never acting. And for places like this, time is of the essence. Everyone deserves a place that matters, and that builds up a community.

Next up, we’re building out 3 more containers and mixing up the retail offerings…also, we’ll start linking the area’s other amenities like Boulder Park, and the airport via multimodal street connections. Stay tuned for updates.

More pics from the kickoff event here.  Also, special thanks to Wanda Dye…our official catfish wrangler.

Feb
20
Posted by geotransit at 2:46 pm
Geelong was the first regional stop on the Better Block tour and I believe we arrived at just the right time.Folks were ready to hear a message that encourages them to be active participants in their community. Geelong citizens are well positioned to transform their town into a model of sustainability through many small interventions that demonstrate improved sustainability, mobility and identity.

Geelong has a beautiful harbor and has made great strides in developing the waterfront. The old city now holds many opportunities to
create an authentic destination using the vacant storefronts, ample sidewalks and calming crosstown streets.
During a walk of an emerging part of town, I encouraged the group to embrace their nautical history and incorporate using sails as shade structures and old ship ropes as roadway bollard ties. Quirky things like the mysterious knot tier should be further highlighted and use knots all about town to give a sense of place and unique identity. Participants had wonderful ideas of filling the city with activities for kids, elderly and building off the form of the quaint downtown.
 
I had the pleasure to work with Geoff Brown, who facilitated a great session for the group to envision a future perfect Geelong, then identify which groups and organizations could be brought together to advance the vision and finally what small actions each individual could do to realize the dream.  Geoff used the very productive method of each person announcing their contribution to a better block and the next person staining, Yes!And…. I do believe this will become a staple in the development of a better block.
Geoff, also orchestrated the better block dance, where participants approached each other with their ideas for a better block. The response from participants included takeaways and feelings that included:
I can make a difference, encouraged
Think small and big things will happen, excited
Keep it simple, powerfull
I found staff from the city willing and able to act as concierge to any group wishing to engage in better block activities. Innovation is one of the four pillars of Geelong city principles. Citizens can provide the innovation element to their city, develop ideas, test them and engage in city governing processes with suggested answers instead of pointing fingers and making demands. I found the citizens to be full of ideas and the resourcefulness to make them happen if only temporarily at first. The group ended the workshop with the moto set a date and make it happen!
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