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Better Block Comes to Akron

Better Block:  Partnering to Rebuild Our City, One Block at a Time

Back in June, AMATS invited Jason Roberts of The Better Block, to Akron for Switching Gears, an active transportation conference.

The entire premise of Jason’s work is to take one block at a time, start small, and actually do something.  It could be some temporary new bike lanes; it could be some temporary street art, or street furniture; it could be a makeshift coffee shop, or art gallery, or beer garden.

The important thing is to do something new in a neighborhood, let people see it, let people experience it, and, most importantly – let them participate in actually creating it.

People build, borrow, or (as a last resort) buy the materials that they need to transform their block.  The process of working together to build something is even more important than what is physically built, because what is really built are relationships and a sense of community.  Once those relationships develop, collaborative networks of people working, learning, and doing together can begin to form.  And once that happens, we will have built the capacity to transform our city.

AMATS is pleased to announce that Jason will be back this spring to work with the city of Akron and the Knight Foundation to put on Akron’s first Better Block Project.

North Hill Neighborhood Better Block

better blockWHO?  You, me, and as many of our friends, neighbors, family members, and colleagues that we can assemble to help.

WHAT?  A Better Block – a community development demonstration tool that rebuilds an area using grassroots efforts to show the potential to create a great walkable, vibrant neighborhood center; and to develop “pop-up” businesses to show the potential for revitalized economic activity in an area.

WHERE?  North Main Street between Frances Avenue and Cuyahoga Falls Avenue in North Hill’s Temple Square business district.  You may know this block by its familiar landmarks, such as the Office Bistro and North Akron Savings.  This block was chosen after careful review of over 30 locations throughout the city, and our team felt that it was the best location to initially pilot the concept.  Our hope is to utilize the information that we’ve collected on dozens of other locations throughout the city in the development of future Better Blocks, working in partnership with all of you.

WHEN?  May 15 & 16, 2015

AMATS and the Knight Foundation will be convening a stakeholder meeting soon, in order to keep the momentum going, and to channel all of the positive community response we are getting into transformative action when the Better Block launches.

WHY?  Because we believe that it isn’t just important to plan, but that it is important to do – to let people see, experience, and participate in creating something new in a neighborhood by borrowing, building, or (as a last resort) buying the things that they need to transform their neighborhood and their community.

The process of working together across cultural and sectoral boundaries is just as important as what is physically built, because we aren’t just working with “bricks and mortar”, but we’re also building relationships and a sense of community.

We believe that the work of rebuilding our city begins one person at a time, one block at a time, one street at a time, one neighborhood at a time.  We believe that the Better Block, when coupled with visionary and innovative leadership from the public sector, the private sector, non-profits, the philanthropic community, and most importantly – everyday people – can truly transform our community.

HOW?  Better Blocks often involve street improvements (e.g. bike lanes, wider sidewalks); landscaping and aesthetic improvements; the temporary re-use of vacant commercial spaces as coffees shops, art galleries, etc.; and community events (food festivals, beer gardens, etc.)  The exact “event programming” and “design treatment” that the location receives is dependent upon neighborhood characteristics, the capacity of stakeholders, and available resources.

For this particular project, we envision some combination of street/streetscape improvements, reuse of vacant spaces, and a community event(s) that will involve food and entertainment.  One of the unique opportunities of the North Hill neighborhood is to build collaborative partnerships with the vibrant and growing community of new immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and around the world.  We have also contacted the owners of vacant properties on the block and they are tentatively willing to “lend” them to us for the day.

Help us learn how to build community and create great neighborhoods by doing.  We are incredibly excited about working together with you to transform Temple Square, North Hill, and all of Akron!

Contact Krista Beniston of the AMATS staff if you’d like to find out more!