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Hillside Better Block


Duluth, MN



The Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation offered to sponsor an effort coordinated by Zeitgeist and supported by the Better Block Foundation. As with any project, we did an analysis of the areas around the city to identify opportunity. We also surveyed the community asking what works and what needed improvement.

Throughout the process, the Hillside neighborhood stood out: it’s close to downtown, but with known problems of division largely due to a wide, four-lane street acting as a high-speed wedge dividing residents from businesses. Children had difficulty crossing the street to reach their schools, and a recent pedestrian fatality had made the issue of addressing the road more pressing. After discussions with the community, we came up with the idea of a Transit Hub. This space would be used for rideshare and bus transit users, as well as house bicycle parking. As the concept continued to develop, we added spaces for merchants as well as design elements to turn it into a landmark.

On the week of the project, volunteers joined our team on-site in 30-degree weather to transform the area. They built children’s play elements using our Wikiblock technique, installed tables, benches, hung lights, and painted chalkboard signs for families to share ideas for the area. To bring a little hygge to Duluth, fire pits were brought onsite, as well as cozy blankets, hot chocolate and coffee vendors, and outdoor barbecue grills. A programming schedule was developed for resident artists to perform and enliven the block. Children played, couples sat beside fire pits, residents interacted and shared food, and ultimately, ideas on the possibilities were discussed. It was the feeling of being in a neighborhood among new friends who realized they had everything they needed to create the kind of place they always dreamed of.


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