Photo of Main Street in Akron, Ohio by Flickr user Kevin T. Quinn.
Have you heard the term Better Block? It’s spreading fast here in Akron these days. Google “Better Block, Akron Ohio” and you’ll see nine different references.
The Better Block is a community development demonstration tool that uses grassroots efforts to show residents the potential to create a walkable, bikeable, lively, neighborhood center. The project helps residents envision “what could be,” with temporary “pop-up” businesses, bicycle lanes and pedestrian friendly design. Better Blocks are being performed in cities around the world, and have helped communities rapidly implement neighborhood improvements that can become permanent.
The Knight Foundation and Team Better Block have begun laying the groundwork for their first collaboration with the city of Akron. The North Hill neighborhood has been selected for the city’s first Better Block, and residents, business owners, and city staff have partnered to prepare the Temple Square block (Cuyahoga Falls Avenue and Main Street) for this transformation.
Organizations like the International Institute of Akron, Urban Vision and the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS) will have a hand in the project.
Jason Segedy Director of AMATS
How it started, writes AMATS Director Jason Segedy in the Knight Foundation blog:
“In June, Knight brought Jason Roberts of The Better Block to Akron for “Switching Gears,” an active transportation conference sponsored by my organization, the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study. The premise of Jason’s work is to start small, with one block at a time, and to actually do something. It could be temporary new bike lanes; it could be temporary street art or street furniture; it could be a makeshift coffee shop, or art gallery or beer garden.
Jason Roberts, co-founder of the Better Block project,
presenting on the Better Block
The important thing is to do something new in a neighborhood, let people see it, let people experience it, and, most importantly, let them participate in creating it. People build, borrow or—as a last resort—buy the materials that they need to transform their blocks. The process of working together to build something is even more important than what is physically built, because what people really build are relationships and a sense of community.
Jason was here with us again on Aug. 5 to begin an Akron pilot of the Better Block concept. At a community event that afternoon, he talked about the need to learn how to think small, and to implement modest, low-cost improvements that can lead to transformative changes.
Instead of simply talking about intangible future plans that will never be realized due to bureaucracy or a lack of funds, people work together to accomplish small things that they can actually see and touch. They learn to savor that first taste of success, which builds the kind of trust and inspires the type of hope that it takes to transform an entire city.
The Better Block recognizes that the work of rebuilding our cities begins one person at a time, one block at a time, one street at a time, one neighborhood at a time.
When coupled with visionary and innovative leadership from the public sector, the private sector, nonprofits and the philanthropic community, this approach can be truly transformative.”
To read the full story, go to:
The Better Block concept also was outlined in a recent city of Akron press release (North Hill Area to Experience “The Better Block”):
“The premise of the Better Block is to start small, with one block at a time, and to actually do something,” said Josh McManus, Akron Program Director, Knight Foundation. “It could be a temporary new bike lane; it could be temporary street art or street furniture; it could be a makeshift coffee shop, or art gallery, or beer garden. The choices are endless.”
Josh McManus joined Knight Foundation in July 2014.
“The important thing is to do something new in a neighborhood, let people see it, let people experience it, and, most importantly, let them participate in creating it,” noted Mayor Don Plusquellic. “I think people will be amazed at how vibrant and welcoming their neighborhood can be after experiencing the physical transformation of their block.”
“The owners of the vacant properties on the designated block have already agreed to ‘lend’ the buildings to us for the day,” said Segedy. “We have also started assembling a large list of stakeholders throughout the community — local people excited and interested in this project, who are ready to mobilize. These people will build, borrow or—as a last resort—buy the materials that they need to transform their blocks.”
To read the full story, go to:
UV Photo Tessa Reeves, co-founder of local business
Neighbors Apparel, talks to residents during November’s North Hill tour.
photo by Dale Dong
For a firsthand look at the transformation taking place in the North Hill neighborhood, here’s a story recently published by Maria Duvuvuei<http://akronist.com/author/mduvuvuei/>, from the Akronist, who interviews Urban Vision staff, Maria Mancinelli of the International Institute of Akron, and some of the leaders of the North Hill Community group (“North Hill tour highlights diverse culture in local business”).
For updates or more information about this project, please contact Jason Segedy at 330-283-4401. Follow Jason Segedy on Twitter @thestile1972. If you’d like to sign up to take part, visit the Akron Better Block facebook page.
Don’t miss future stories from the Good Place Akron (Akron Area eutopia Report) and the Akronist.