The other day on an American Public Media radio broadcast, I heard a story about Better Block Houston and its approach to urban revitalization. “The Better Block is a national movement which originated in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Better Block projects have improved neighborhoods in Chicago, Dallas, Fort Worth, Portland, and Memphis.”
Concerned residents focus on a vision for one block and throw a daylong event showing the potential. The idea is that visitors might come to see the event and its special one-day amenities and would then notice cool things about the area and decide to return. New businesses might decide to move in. Sounds like wishful thinking, but the Better Block folks claim the approach is attracting more foot traffic and business.
“The ‘Better Block’ project provides a one-day living workshop of how a ‘Complete Street’ works, by actively engaging the community, helping them to visualize better outcomes for the future, and empowering them to provide feedback in real time. Better Block is a fun and interactive demonstration of a ‘Complete Street’ — and what it can do for a neighborhood. Complete Streets … are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.”
In Boston, a young couple I know, Sam and Leslie Davol, had an idea to set up a temporary library in Chinatown, which had not had a branch library in decades. Their project made use of a storefront that had been vacant during the economic downturn.
Leslie just sent out an e-mail about what they’re working on next: The Uni Project.
“Many of you know the Storefront Library, which Sam and I undertook in a vacant storefront in Boston’s Chinatown last year. That project had a big impact on us, just as it did on the Chinatown community. Since then, we’ve helped several local groups take over the books and Chinatown’s library advocacy, and we’ve spent time exploring a broader need for places like libraries in urban neighborhoods and cities generally. …
“The Uni is a portable infrastructure that will allow us to quickly deploy and create staffed, open-air reading rooms in almost any available urban space. The Uni is based on a system of cubes, and the books inside those cubes are just the start. Like libraries, we plan to use the Uni to provide a compelling venue for readings, talks, workshops, and screenings, through partnerships with local organizations and institutions. And the best part, once we fabricate this lightweight infrastructure, we can keep it running, serve multiple locations, and even replicate it.” Read about The Uni Project here.
8/11/12 update on Uni Project here. Now it’s even in Kazakhstan.