Story By: Katie Cassaro
Well…it’s finally here! The day many in North Hill and its surrounding areas have been excitedly awaiting – TED’s Better Block has arrived and will fill the streets Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You don’t want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I think Akron’s in a renaissance. It’s really an exciting time,” Tina , North Hill resident and member of the North Hill Community Leaders group, said of the changes to come.
Residents and community leaders will bring new life to their city through Better Block- reactivating it, opening up the streets and filling old store fronts with new businesses – displaying the unique talents and trades locals have to offer. And not just for a weekend.
“I’m hoping this is a catalyst for a lot more – in North Hill and all over Akron,” Ughrin said.
This weekend will include many surprises, including a yoga studio, music venue, soccer field, art gallery and possible espresso shop.
Immigrant artists will have tables at the Open Market and local businesses such as Neighbors Apparel, Stray Dog and Three Sisters MOMO will be there.
Charlie Murphy from Stray Dog will display 3 of his restaurant concepts in one vacant storefront.
Three Sisters MOMO and the International Institute of Akron’s (IIA) welcome center will be in another storefront.
The Bike Kitchen and Summit Cycling will have a bike shop set up as well, giving away bikes to new immigrant communities.
You can also expect beautiful scenery, including trees, plants, parklets and benches.
Getting Things Rolling
The conversation for Better Block was introduced this past fall when Jason Roberts brought in 80 people to the North Hill library for discussion.
The group toured the block between Cuyahoga Falls Avenue and Francis on Main, asking attendees ‘What do you want to see?’ ‘What is your vision for this block?’
Also, ‘What do you see as barriers?’ And ‘What keeps you from coming to this block?’
They were asked what resources they had to offer and if they would like to get involved. For instance, would they like to open up a pop-up-shop?
Creating a Safe Place
Other questions that arose about North Hill were its safety. People desire a safe place to walk, eat, shop and live. And that is what they are hoping to create.
“I’ve seen a shift in my part of the neighborhood, now saying hello to people as I’m walking down the street that I otherwise would have been very uncomfortable with,” Ughrin said of its transition.
“The International Institute of Akron has been very proactive under their current leadership in doing outreach and engaging others in the community very meaningfully,” Ughrin shared.
Creating Strong Unions
One of the greatest catalysts for change in the neighborhood has been the collaboration between residents, businesses and community leaders.
“There’s a number of relationships and other things that have been sparked by this process,” Ughrin said of they’re uniting.
One of those things is the North Hill Community Leaders group, started up by John Bally.
“He put it together during a crisis when the refugee populations had the largest number of folks coming in. There was some violence within North Hill targeting I think largely Budanese and Karen,” Ughrin said.
“There was also a desire from faith-based organizations like Urban Vision to do tutoring in English, and language assistance, and they were having difficulties figuring out how to partner with the International Institute,” she continued.
Bally convened faith-based leaders, organizational leaders, block watch leaders and a few businesses to form the North Hill Community Leaders.
“They solved some of the things that they first came together around in crisis,” Ughrin said of its success.
The group coalesced around the Better Block and began to run their Market Tours that started up in October, to run each month leading up to the Better Block.
It started out small but has grown to include a number of young professionals asking “How do we revitalize our city and our neighborhoods?”
Dreaming up Reality
In putting together the Better Block “map” the group asked questions such as, ‘What are the potential pop-up shops, pop-up restaurants and other ideas?’
From there they began to envision all sorts of dreams that are now becoming a reality.
They met for many coffees and meetings and drew up a plan to include an open air market, mini soccer field and much more.
“There was lots of talking about what’s possible,” Ughrin said.
Some businesses were ready to go right away, including Neighbors Apparel who had been looking for a brick and mortar shop. They’ve been in many other little shops across town and have an online store, but nothing to call their own.
Three Sisters MOMO, famous for their dumplings, was also a no-brainer.
A Dream Come True
And now, after nearly a year of meeting, research, planning and work, this city vision is about to unfold.
Though only for one weekend, this offers momentum for residents, business owners and community leaders to keep pushing forward towards transforming their city.
It’s a glimpse of what could be.
“I’m hoping this is a catalyst for a lot more,” Ughrin said.
For a complete map and schedule of this weekend’s activities, shops, entertainment and more, please visit: www.teambetterblock.com/akron/
Stay tuned for next week’s story on spreading this concept to other cities – including yours – and the excitement and involvement that is growing through the Market Tours!