Elected Officials

Demonstrate Street Improvements

Spearheaded by the Better Block Project, this strategy is a collaborative effort to design and install a one-day demonstration of pedestrian-oriented streetscape improvements along an urban block. Typical demonstrations set up temporary pedestrian plazas, pop-up businesses in vacant storefronts, street trees and greenery in planters, bike lanes, additional street lighting, and (rented) sidewalk benches, tables, and chairs.

Guidance
  • Address safety when planning the demonstration:
    • Does it feel safe to cross the street, walk on the sidewalk, or linger in the area?
    • Does the area have obstacles that reduce sight lines?
    • Is the area filled with debris, graffiti, overgrown landscaping, etc.?
    • Do businesses have window bars or opaque windows?
  • Address accessibility when planning the demonstration:
    • Do pedestrians have easy and clear access to the area?
    • Do bicycles feel welcome in the area?
    • Is the area easily accessible from neighborhoods?
    • Is the area inviting to children, seniors, those with mobility impairments, and dog owners?
  • What would make the block attractive?
    • Are there wayfinding signs?
    • Are there amenities that encourage people to linger, such as seating and tables?
    • Are there food options and/or places to eat outdoors?
    • Are there maps, bulletin boards, or games that encourage people to linger?
  •  Create a broad-based implementation team including community activists, nonprofits, artists, businesses, students, and planning/ architect associations
  • Coordinate the demonstration with an existing event, such as an art crawl or fun run, to raise awareness of the upcoming demonstration
  • Work with property owners to allow access to vacant spaces
  • Develop pop-up stores in vacant spaces and reach out to existing businesses for retail ideas and/or products
  • Apply for a street-closure permit that still allows one lane of vehicle traffic. This helps residents see that a street design that better accommodates cyclists and walkers is a feasible everyday option
Benefits
  • Builds community consensus around proposed streetscape improvements
  • Gives residents and city officials a preview of the benefits of streetscape improvements
  • Illustrates how relatively small investments in urban spaces can revitalize a community and make it more appealing for walking and cycling
  • Highlights outdated and overly restrictive existing city ordinances that might ordinarily prohibit such streetscape improvements
Considerations
  • Funding for event needs, including organizers, amenities, permit fees, volunteer coordinators, event insurance, and marketing expenses
  • Allotting enough time for permitting processes
  • Allotting enough time for community involvement and marketing outreach
  • Ensuring that adequate litter/trash-removal services exist
Where to Use It
  • A block with a cluster of buildings along an automobile-oriented street
  • Former streetcar intersections
  • Locations with strong community partners
  • Blocks in close proximity to a residential neighborhood
Professional Consensus
  • National Society of Landscape Architects 2011 Communications Honor award for September 2010 Oak Cliff Better Block project
  • North Central Texas Council of Governments 2011 Celebrating Leadership in Development Excellence award
Examples

As mapped on betterblock.org, more than 23 communities have installed demonstrations, including:

This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.