Creating the Better Block

Andrew Howard and Jason Roberts, cofounders of America’s highly successful rapid urban revitalisation program, The Better Block, will visit Australia for the first time, on The ‘Better’ Block’ Tour. The Better Block Tour will help kick start a revitalisation of neighbourhoods and communities across Victoria by inspiring, connecting and supporting local change makers.

From musician and IT Consultant, Jason’s life changed when he began looking at working to make his hometown, Dallas, the kind of place he and his friends always wished they lived in. The change for him personally occurred when he asked himself, “Wait a second, who am I waiting for to fix these problems?” Over a period of time Jason mapped transport, vacant buildings and began to grow a group of friends keen to create change.

Then over a single weekend, The Better Block team created a temporary walkable precinct for people of all ages. Overnight they built popup businesses and cafes in vacant buildings, painted biodegradable bike lanes, borrowed and installed trees, strung up lighting and crafted outdoor seating. The weekend project demonstrated to the city how the block could be revived to improve safety, health and economic opportunity in a rapid timeframe.

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The Better Block project is a demonstration tool that temporarily re-visions an area to show the potential to create a walkable, vibrant, neighborhood center; with many of the temporary improvements and businesses becoming permanent. A key to this success is the community charette; workshop and engagement process that ensures the temporary weekend makeover is really testing what the local community is seeking.

Roberts received a Champion of Change Award at the White House in 2012, which awarded leaders in communities who were making major changes that positively influenced the built environment. Here Jason talks about the projects that lead to him receiving the Champion of Change award.

“Prior to the project we were told Dallas was too hot and lacked the culture to support a pedestrian environment. What we found was that we were no different than any other great city in the world. We just needed the chance to create an irresistible place that embraced people and promoted walking, bicycling and lingering with friends and family.”

“After the project, some businesses remained because they were embraced by the neighborhood. City officials took notice and are beginning to change zoning rules while promoting multi-modal transportation facilities on the streetscape. Many of the vacant buildings are now leased and we are seeing a strong return of community throughout the area. Now over 30 cities across the country have created their own Better Block projects. And, we’re beginning to see the effort spread internationally. Most importantly, local governments are adopting the movement due to its rapid ability to catalyze change and get the community out onto the street.”

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“To bring this all back home, in 2010 our community was awarded a $23 million TIGER grant to return a modern streetcar to Dallas. Not only will this give us more options for transportation, our buildings will be able to come back to life and make sense at the neighborhood level. The streetcar will also help connect our many affordable work force housing units to a major job center in our city. Allowing people accessible and safe options to walk, bicycle, drive, or take public transit will enhance our community’s economics, health, and vitality.”

Howard and Roberts will be in Geelong to share their knowledge and experience in a free public lecture on Tuesday 19th February, followed by a morning workshop on Wednesday 20th, thanks to our partner sponsors FutureProofing Geelong and the City of Greater Geelong, and to the Better Block Australian tour organisers the Sustainable Living Festival.

These events will attract Continuing Professional Development point/s from participating professional associations. Events details can be found at www.innateecology.com/events


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