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:

Nov
18
Posted by monica at 3:23 pm

The Knight Foundation and Team Better Block have begun laying the groundwork for their first collaboration with the city of Akron, Ohio. The community of North Hill has been selected for the city’s first Better Block and residents, business owners, and city staff have all partnered to start preparing the Cuyahoga Falls and Main Street area for a project that will combine efforts with local organizations like the International Institute, Urban Vision, and AMATS.

A large group of stakeholders attended the Community Walk kick-off for the project on Monday, and ideas were submitted for potential pop-up businesses in the area.

If you’d like more information on the project, or would like to sign up to take part, visit the Akron Better Block facebook page. More details to come soon!

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!

Nov
18

On June 13th and 14th, Richmond, Virginia held its first Better Block project sponsored by Sportsbackers, Bon Secours, the National Association of Realtors, Capital One, and Davita. The block of 25th Street and Venable was temporarily transformed into a neighborhood destination, complete with pop-up businesses, a cycle-track, parklets, pallet benches, and plaza with the help of community volunteers and residents.

Capital One offered a series of Microgrants to local businesses who used those funds to install new windows, re-paint buildings, and build 15 picnic benches that were installed in a pop-up garden and cafe on the block. The Better Block project galvanized the community around the idea of making a better place immediately and helped communicate principals in walkability, livability, and placemaking in a hands-on approach that has moved the neighborhood beyond the traditional planning process and into implementation.

Download the full report here.

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.

 

 

 

Nov
18
Posted by monica at 3:24 pm

Think about the disruptive innovations of the twentieth century like Henry Ford’s Model T or Steve Job’s Macintosh personal computer, which started at the bottom of the market and eventually displaced established competitors. Now think about all the vacant or underused space in your city. New approaches and technologies for using that space are increasing in popularity and could soon change the commercial real estate business as we know it.

This post will introduce emerging disruptive real estate innovations such as Better Block, which uses temporary community placemaking and pop-up shops to build momentum for new real estate markets, and Opportunity Space, which opens data about underused government property to developers. Real estate professionals who understand the appeal of these disruptive innovations will hopefully recognize that they provide the potential for the greatest expansion of the real estate practice in modern times by inviting more people into the symphony of building cities.

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There are now hundreds of examples of disruptive innovations in real estate. Some are probably fads, but at the very least, these innovations recognize that people have gone from users of the city to active participants in it. There has been a fundamental shift in culture, and these ideas are here to stay. Like the recent transformation of print media, users are expecting a more social, interactive experience; comment sections, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts allow people to be active participants in news. The same transition is now happening in the city as Code for AmericaStreetBlogs and Tactical Urbanism are giving people the tools needed to directly influence the development of the city.

Even more interesting are the disruptions now occurring in the financing of real estate. Social network investment platform Fundrise contends that only 3% of the wealthiest Americans are considered “accredited investors” and are allowed to invest in real estate development. Their connecting of investors directly to individual properties online is disrupting the Security and Exchange Commission’s outdated rules and inviting more people into real estate.

Also, there is an increasing demand for more flexibility from commercial and office property owners. New companies like Storefront and Liquidspace are facilitating short-term leases for the ever-mobile retail and office markets; a space can be an art gallery one day, designer fashion boutique the next; a conference room one day, IT hackathon the next. Retail and office will likely never be dominated by a pop-up model, but innovation in real estate could create new profit models for underperforming spaces in new and existing buildings.

Disruptive ideas sneak up on you. At first they seem too small or unscalable to pose much competition. Why would big cab companies or mega hoteliers ever fear a smart phone app? Now, Uber and AirBnB transport and lodge more people than their competitors. Better Block and Opportunity Space methods may not erase current real estate practices, but the cultural shift they represent will disrupt the business sooner or later. Over the coming weeks BetterBlock.org will speak with experts in Real Estate and blog about how the change is manifesting, stay tuned!

Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, has a great saying, “You should treat the automobile like your mother-in-law. You must have a good relationship with her, but don’t allow her to dominate your life”.

Our Ross Better Boulevard project re-balanced the equation of the street giving equal weight to people and cars. This simple measure dramatically changed the psychology of the street and showed the potential for how our city can move forward in creating great places.

Financially speaking, we know that making our roads auto-only doesn’t pencil out. To make matters worse, the larger the road, the greater the expense in maintenance. For Ross Avenue, we took a 6 lane road and developed a pedestrianized center that allowed entrepreneurs an opportunity to test their business while creating greater economics to the area. Normally, we’d generate no money from this street and actually spend millions to fill in potholes and repave. The wider the street, the more costly the maintenance, which directly affects our property taxes…repaving one mile of a 6 lane road in Dallas costs millions and we have hundreds of miles of these throughout the city. An assumption often made is that our roads are paid for by gas taxes. The reality is that none of our residential and non-highway/interstate roads are covered at all by gas taxes…it’s soley property taxes. To make matters worse, when business opportunity erodes in an area, we typically raise taxes to continue maintenance which pushes business away and creates an undue burden on residents to fill in the void. The money we’d save by reclaiming portions of the streets for businesses and people would go far to helping our city’s balance sheet. Fewer potholes to fill while increased area business tax revenue would help cover the costs of pedestrian amenities like lighting, watering trees, et cetera.

As drivers in Dallas, we all face a challenging dilemma with shifting our ideas that our streets are for our cars only. I know that whenever I’m behind the wheel, I’m frustrated by anything that makes me go slower getting from point A to B. The reality is, traffic flow is slow in great places. Whether it be Greenville Avenue, Bishop Arts District, McKinney Avenue, the West End Marketplace, et al, we have multiple illustrations of areas where we’ve created greater mobility options for all users (peds, bikes, public transit, cars), where things are slowed down, and an increase in economics, safety, and functionality occurs. No one should be able to drive fast through any major downtown…that’s what our highways are for. Beyond that, it’s hard to find parking in great places. Right now, we have the opposite in our city: higher speed traffic flow, and seas of parking. We have to acknowledge and allow car access to areas, but it should not be the dominating component in our urban planning efforts.

A simple equation we should follow for creating great streets is asking ourselves, “Does it feel safe for a family or senior to walk near or bicycle on?” Balancing the modes for all users will be key to creating safer, more prosperous, economically viable, and active streets.

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