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More Lessons Learned from Better Block Projects

After rolling out an impressive series of 4 projects in 4 weeks time, the Better Block founder’s were able to add to their past list of “Lessons Learned” to inspire and help others looking at pulling together a project. Here are their most recent notes:

1) All Better Blocks should focus on four elements: an Edge, a sidewalk, a street, and a lab space.

 – The edge should have small retail, a minimum of 5 shops that line two sides of a street to show how these edges engage each other.

 – The shops should have a morning beverage option (coffee, etc), a restaurant, a locally made products shop (Etsy), a flower shop (to maintain street landscaping), and the Better Block Lab space. optional: bike shop, music store, book shop, kids space. This creates enough diversification of use to allow the area to sustain activity over a full day.

2) Ideally, there should be two vacant spaces in buildings, but must have at least one vacancy that acts as the Better Block lab and build space. This is where the volunteer groups can meet, complete construction, and store materials.

3) Create a concept plan for your block that notes all of the improvements you’d like to accomplish. Develop workshops to help construct the concepts, but don’t create more than 2 per day if building. The Better Block team leads should focus on construction work. If changing a street with straw wattles, plants, crosswalks, et cetera, create a street-build class that begins 2 hours before the event. Be sure to have all materials assembled and ready to install prior to workshop. If working in the heat, provide shade!

4) The basic tools required for all projects: 4 automatic screwdrivers (1 with drill bit), extra batteries, 2 circular saws, 3 hammers, 1 crow bar, and as many pallets as you can acquire.

5) Focus on parkletts at a bare minimum. Line two sides of the street with these if possible. Also, include shade. They give the semblance of a front porch, which acts as a social gathering space, and street activator.

6) If project is at night, pull an alcohol permit. Build a beer garden when possible with solid edge. String lights at a minimum. This creates the small social gathering space that can be the center of gravity for the project.

7) Combine rented scaffolding and used billboard vinyl to create a new street edge. Install small pop-up retail in these spaces.

8) The Better Block project should be thought of as a “Hardware Project”. The “Software Project” is the programming of the space itself. Partner with an outdoor market, or work with an event manager onsite to coordinate vendors, communication, and marketing of programming and activities. Taking on both pieces can stretch resources if volunteer turnout is light.

9) Look at shopping malls as an analogy for creating a smartly scaled street…small retail spaces at 18′ or less with strong edge detail, two-sided, common space (food court) which is shared and activated by food court, single elevation.

10) Focus on scale! Work to create a 1:1 ratio on sidewalk to road space.

11) Both edges must feel safe.

12) It must be comfortable for people to linger…If it’s hot,  incorporate shade. If it’s cold, incorporate heaters/blankets.


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