Story By: Katie Sobiech
Something new is coming to Akron on May 16th – Neighbors Day in Akron – gets closer. Something we’ve never seen before – a big, bright, vibrant idea that will revitalize life on our streets. Better Block, a neighborhood development effort, was created by forward thinkers who are now blazing a new trail.
This could be a glimpse of the future…
Team Better Block works with cities, developers, and stakeholders to create quick, inexpensive, high-impact changes that improve and revitalize underused properties and highlight the potential for creating great “Complete Streets”. (www.teambetterblock.com)
Better Block allows a city to dream their biggest dreams, and to put those visions into action.
They re-invent dull neighborhoods by bringing in business, arts, culture, local food and more to occupy vacant spaces – over the course of just one day – so people can see and experience new possibilities.
Jason Roberts’ “TED talk” sparked these ideas that are now spreading. View here: (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntwqVDzdqAU)
How it All Came About
Better Block started in Dallas. Seeing their success, the Knight Foundation in Akron sought Roberts to lead a project locally.
As they scoped out Akron for a great area to start, Temple Square in North Hill, developed in the early 20’s, became the front runner.
“You don’t want to pick the hip neighborhood where everything’s already happening,” Jason Segedy, Director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, explained.
Jason Segedy, director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study,
(Photo: Shane Wynn)
“But you don’t necessarily want to pick the most blighted or difficult neighborhood because then, a lot of times, there’s not necessarily the human infrastructure or the community connection there,” he continued.
They found that North Hill represented a mix of the two extremes.
“I think it’s a neighborhood that ten years from now we could be talking about how it really turned the corner and it’s turning around and redeveloping, or we could talk about how it really kind of fizzled out and declined further,” Segedy said.
The fact that it’s diversified also gives it great potential.
“It’s unique for Akron,” Segedy said of how integrated the Temple Square community is with its strong black, white, Asian and Latino population.
“We like the idea of working to bring all these [cultures] together.”
Family Groceries, on North Main Street, is run
by Naresh, a refugee from Nepal. (Photo: Shane Wynn)
They’ve received support from people in the neighborhood early on.
“You really need to have people in the neighborhood engaged and willing to kind of carry the ball,” Segedy explained.
They’re hoping that this will be a catalyst for change that will continue longer than just one day.
Re-Inventing the Area
Their plan is to clean out vacant lots, re-populate empty spaces, create a sense of community, bring in business, make physical improvements, reactivate housing, build and get some of the older houses rehabilitated.
They want to create the type of neighborhood where people can “live where they play” and basically, want to stay.
So far they’ve been “building the human infrastructure of it”, Segedy said.
Though the community is running the project, the city supports their efforts.
There hasn’t been much focus on comprehensive planning in neighborhoods.
The last time Temple Square was given kind of a facelift was in the mid 80’s.
“That was a long time ago and there hasn’t been a lot of intentional, small-area, neighborhood planning. So I think this could be a catalyst for the city to kind of reinvigorate that tradition of thinking about place in that sense,” Segedy said.
Many cities have laws banning the very things Better Block hopes to do. Or there are laws, such as needing a thousand dollar permit to put flowers on the street, that have been cleared due to Better Blocks around the country questioning these laws.
“I know there are examples from other cities where it did spark the city government itself to change,” Segedy shared.
As for the Temple Square area, “It has a pretty robust network, especially centered around block watches, because, you know, crime has been a concern in parts of the neighborhood in the past,” Segedy said.
There’s also the International Institute and Asia Inc., two of the main social service providers for the Bhutanese, the Nepalese and the Burmese immigrants in the neighborhood.
Captain Sylvia Trundle
Other North Hill Community Leaders recently held a meeting at the North Hill library that brought in 100 people. They took polls asking what people would like to see in their neighborhoods.
“We don’t just want to go in (acting like) ‘let me tell you what to do for your neighborhood,” Segedy said.
What they Plan to Do
Taking in the blank canvas of the city and dreaming up a vision has been exciting.
They’ve discussed bringing in street trees and other aesthetic and landscaping improvements, narrowing the street to create greater appeal for pedestrians and sidewalk cafes, bike lanes, a community festival and reactivating store fronts.
Another idea is having an international food festival for recent immigrants to showcase their different cultures.
Local bands, arts and crafts are also sure to be part of the scene.
Fred Kayata, Owner of the Office Bistro and many vacant properties in Temple Square, is allowing the Better Block initiative to use his storefronts for the day.
Segedy and Roberts are working with dreams and ideas gathered from local residents to create the ultimate plan.
As May 16th, 2015 nears they will continue to search for the resources and people needed to complete this community project.
“I think there’s a real hunger at the community level to embrace the identity of these neighborhoods. It’s partly our culture in Akron. We tend to be really good at doing big things, like keeping Goodyear here, (things like that)” Segedy said.
“This can turn into other things. Or even with economic development, the idea that you could revitalize business, get more people living in a neighborhood, that creates a virtuous cycle,” Segedy said.
Springing Up This Spring
Get ready as the date for Better Block at Temple Square gets closer.
“We’re focusing on the block of North Main Street between Francis Avenue and Cuyahoga Falls Avenue, which is kind of a historic heart of Temple Square,” Segedy said.
What they hope is for the idea to spread and other neighborhoods to catch on, doing it in their area.
Please follow us as we continue to share this exciting Good Place News / happening in our community and don’t miss the upcoming stories and events on the Better Blocks planned for the North Hill Community.
For more information on Better Block or to become involved please visit: http://teambetterblock.com/akron/ and be sure to “Like” Akron Better Block on Facebook!