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.
- 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
- 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- Highlights outdated and overly restrictive existing city ordinances that might ordinarily prohibit such streetscape improvements
- 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
- 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
As mapped on betterblock.org, more than 23 communities have installed demonstrations, including:
- Dallas, TX
- Tulsa, OK
- Denver, CO
- Wichita, KS
- Cleveland, OH
- Waco, TX
- McComb, MS
- Las Vegas, NV
- Memphis, TN
- Mt. Rainer, MD
- Oyster Bay, NY
This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.