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The Better Block Community

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Every community has all the talent and resources it needs to be successful, they just need to be connected and activated.

A Great diversity of people from all age groups and ethnic backgrounds mingled together in a revisioned section of Downtown Norfolk VA this past weekend.

The project was built, programmed and managed by one of the most dedicated group of volunteers Team Better Block has ever come across. On all projects, Team Better Block seeks to bring new participants into the fold of planning and designing our cities. Think of the Better Block as the new public meeting for the nimble city.


The typical public meeting process associated with redevelopment projects attracts a narrow sector of the population. Only those comfortable with the technical jargon of architecture, zoning and traffic engineering survive the powerpoint onslaught of a standard public meeting.   For about the same cost as a public meeting, set of design renderings and master plan book (shelf-fodder) we build a better block.


Melding together artist, architects, bicycle advocates, DIYers, moms, bicyclist, nerds and just about anyone with a passion we build a network of people that are the better block. A better block is not the bike lanes, cafe seating, pop-up shops, 30 foot bamboo pagodas (see below), but is the people. The relationships forged at a better block, which starts three months prior to the event date with a community walk, are the lasting social capital that allow our projects to accelerate city development and transportation policy and invigorate private investment.

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The crowds at better blocks represent a consensus for changing the way we govern our cities and fund improvements. We need to think small, move fast and invest wisely.

Many say community is a thing of the past in America. That we are turning against ourselves with lawsuits, rampant gun ownership and isolation. I say we are transitioning into an even stronger union that is begun on the street during a better block. We are retraining ourselves to work together to build the city, neighborhood and block we always wanted. We are not waiting on government, the banks or some superman to come fix our place.

The better block communities built from the over forty projects around the US, Canada and Australia are developing a model for our society. One that says we are accountable for the place we live and together we can make it better. Our current condition of reduced community involvement evolved over the last 100 years, so it will take some time to rebuild. Social media and other improvements to communication will make it easier, but nothing beats personal engagement.

Better block is a training session for how to reconnect your community. Take the lessons from it and apply it to issues you are passionate about. Have an old theater in your town that is boarded up? Host an art auction in it. Have a vacant lot in your neighborhood that continually gets dumped on? Build a dog park on it. Need a hundred sandwiches for the the school band trip? Host a sandwich making party.

What you will find is that no issue is to hard if you:

#1 manage the equation of co-responsibility, divide issue and share tasks with others

#2 go directly to location of the issue, don’t meet in a library and talk about it

#3 set a date to do something, you are not going to make the situation worse and your project, no matter how simple or scaled down will make it better simply by you and others being there.

Each city needs a better block and then hundreds of smaller interventions happening to realize their true potential. Tell us about your projects at


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