Team Better Block identified three site last year in Norfolk, VA that were ripe for Better Block. Norfolk’s first project was a great success and acted as a training session for other neighborhoods on how to use Better Block to advance revitalization. Inspired business owners and community members in the Park Place neighborhood took it upon themselves to set a date and make it happen for their emerging area. The Better Block will take place on the historic W. 35th Street and Newport on November 8th and 9th.
Team Better Block’s role is to provide consultation on best practices and give planning tools to the large group of volunteers that will take on this project. Andrew Howard began the first step of the Better Block process by leading a community walk through the block to identify opportunities and constraints. Community leaders and business owners told stories of how the block has evolved over the recent years. And young folks discovered new ways for the old buildings to be reused.
One of the first observations, was that the street has had great investment in streetscaping, but still has high vehicle speeds, many large trucks and is difficult to cross when walking or biking.
The group agreed that the Better Block should test ways to reduce vehicle speeds and increase safety for people walking and biking, while maintaining access to vehicles at all times. Try the new web tool www.streetmix.net to create your own cross section for the better block and add it to the comments section of this post.
The group identified a high vacancy rate in the small commercial buildings and minimal street life around the ones that are there. The newly formed Park Place Business Association is focused on changing the perception of the area and believes it starts with Better Block. Many of the vacant properties have great owners and the city is very likely to allow pop-up businesses to stay open even after the Better Block is over. The city is even changing zoning to keep up with the new model of retail/entertainment that was formed after the last Better Block in Norfolk.
City staff and leaders are again committed to revising any restrictive zoning or ordinance issues that may lead to a lack of vibrancy to the street after the Better Block demonstrates how to activate the place. The community began to ask during the walk, “What invitations can we create to the block for bicyclists?”, “How can we make the block feel accommodating to 8 and 80 year olds?”, and “How can we make this place a neighborhood destination?”, ideas begin forming which will be tested and measured during the Better Block project.
Team Better Block is in a support role on this project and is much more focused on documenting and measuring the success of the project. Part of our services are being funded by a grant from the Hampton Roads National Association of Realtors with this partnership we will be creating an open-source metrics gathering platform to help neighborhoods identify what is holding the area back from investement and set goals that can incrementally be accomplished during and after the Better Block effort, such as, before the Better Block zero cafe seats existed, during the project,100 seats were used and now three months, later, a permanent investment of 25 seats is being maintained by the community. We call the part digital part community interaction platform SANDBOX and Norfolk will be the first community in the country to try it. Think of it like a dashboard to the health and vitality of your neighborhood.
If you would like to volunteer please contact Park Place Business Association President Vernon Fareed email@example.com or 757-642-5074. Also, for updates about the project, check out the group’s facebook page here.
Pop-up Business applications are available and can be sent to Vernon as well.