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Better Block: Bottom-Up Urban Reboot In a Single Weekend

In September, The Better Block is taking on Detroit for two days, activating a block's vacant space into a public hub filled with pop-up shops.

It's remarkable what some people can accomplish in a single weekend. While others spend those days catching up on lost sleep or exploring their city with friends, Texas-based nonprofit The Better Block uses that time to rally communities to rethink their neighborhoods. Since its inception in 2010, the project has built temporary dog parks, pop-up shops, urban forests, cafes, and bike lanes. They've left their mark in more than 35 cities including Philadelphia, Wichita, Cleveland, Houston, and Oklahoma City.

The organization's next stop: Detroit, where the city's first-ever Better Block project will take place from September 22 to 23 as part of the Detroit Design Festival. Headed by volunteers from the US Green Building Council and Wayne State University, the project aims to reshape a location with plenty of vacant commercial space—New Center.

Better Block will fill the vacant lots with work from local artists and artisans, food and drinks, and exhibits from nearby venues. The project aims for zero net waste, a temporary bus route to access the site, plus bike lanes and crosswalks painted around the block for the occasion.

Better Block wants to jumpstart local policy shifts. "We want to change the planning process in the United States," says organizer Andrew Howard. "It can be frustrating when things are taking too long, and our idea is that we don't have to wait for the perfect city. It starts from the bottom up."

The Better Block gives neighborhoods a temporary community-focused facelift, and can give struggling areas a glimpse into their futures. The organization provides training to community members interested in revitalizing their blocks by increasing multi-modal transportation and fostering economic development. Post-project, the communities work with The Better Block to see what was successful and take the steps necessary to turn these temporary solutions into permanent fixtures. In some cities, weekend pop-up shops have even turned into lasting storefronts.

Several other cities this year will get the Better Block treatment: St. Paul, Boston, Tulsa, and San Antonio will each get their turn. Each community will have its own set of unique activities depending on what the organizers decide—whether it's a temporary garden, parklet, storefront, or walkway. Down the line, The Better Block will focus specifically on encouraging multiple forms of transit, whether it's building more walkways, bike paths, bus routes, or even parking spaces for hybrid or electric vehicles.

Interested in starting a project in your community? Simply pin your location on Better Block's project map or shoot an email to info[at]teambetterblock[dot]com.

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