Follow our reporting and get involved. Sign up for our newsletter.

 

 

Search all Discourse content.

Close

Urban Development

Building a better block — overnight

The Doable City Reader

There is so much that can be done to make our cities happier, healthier and more prosperous places. Every day in cities around the world, citizens and city planners alike are showing us how small actions can scale up to have massive impact. And they can in your city too.

That’s what the Doable City Reader is about. In June 2014, 8 80 Cities, in collaboration with the Knight Foundation, brought 200 civic innovators from around North America together in Chicago at the Doable City Forum to share and discover methods for rapid change making. The Doable City Reader is inspired by the rich conversations amongst presenters and participants at that forum. It is a resource for any and all people who want to make change in their cities and is meant to educate, inspire and empower anyone to do so.

The Build a Better Block project was started by Jason Roberts in 2010, when he decided he wanted to revitalize a dead commercial block in his hollowed-out Dallas neighbourhood — overnight. After discovering dozens of city ordinances that made illegal or prohibitively expensive almost anything that would make the block lively, such as café patios, fruit stands or flower boxes, he and a team of community advocates decided to temporarily break all the rules and make the block what they thought it should be, which also included adding landscaping, temporary bike lanes, crosswalks and more.

After Roberts and his friends staged several similar interventions throughout the neighbourhood, the city of Dallas agreed to change many of the zoning laws and rules that they had been challenging. The city has also implemented some of the changes the project piloted, such as traffic calming, permanently.

Since then, dozens of cities throughout the United States have taken Roberts’s approach to rapid revitalization either on their own or with the help of the open source Better Block guide or Roberts’s consulting firm, Team Better Block, which offers workshops and helps cities implement Better Block interventions with the purpose of helping cities and communities discover and generate ideas for themselves about how to build on their assets to improve public space.

Watch Roberts tell the story of how the Better Block project came about in the video above. The Better Block website hosts a number of awe-inspiring stories of communities that have used the Better Block approach to kickstart change in their community. The story of Norfolk, Va., where several major permanent changes resulted from the process, is a great example, described in detail in this report, as well as in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning's Places in the Making (p. 21).

DIY landscaping, traffic calming and pop-up shops and cafes at Build a Better Block’s second intervention in Dallas. Source: Build a Better Block
DIY landscaping, traffic calming and pop-up shops and cafes at Build a Better Block’s second intervention in Dallas, Texas.
Temporary street art, landscaping, and bike lanes at a Build a Better Block even in Norfolk, VA. Source: Build a Better Block
Temporary street art, landscaping and bike lanes at a Build a Better Block event in Norfolk, Va.