30 Ideas in 30 Days – Better Block Middlesborough

Isaac Kremer/ October 26, 2013/ tactical urbanism, Writing/ 0 comments

This series of articles was first written to coincide with Better Block Middlesborough in October 2013. It has since been published here in full to show 30 different ideas to help make places better.

Managing the Event

#1: Think Incrementally
#2: Build a Better Block
#3: Encourage Public Participation
#4: Temporary to Permanent
#5: Pre-vitalization
#6: Leverage the Power of the Crowd
#7: Raise the Funds You’ll Need
#8: The Strength of Main Street
#9: Sidewalk Stencils and Signs
#10: Blackmail Yourself

Welcoming People

#11 The Power of 10
#12 Walk [Your City]
#13 Mobile Vendors
#14 Food Trucks and Carts
#15 Plant Trees
#16 Cover Up Blank Walls
#17 Free Library
#18 Pop-up Parks
#19: Pop-Up Shops
#20: Temporary Improvements Encourage Historic Preservation Planning

The Street and Public Spaces

#21 Bike Valet, Repair, and Share
#22 Get the Parking Right
#23 Intersection Repair
#24 Depave
#25 Pop-up Cafe
#26 Pavement to Parks
#27 Complete Streets
#28 Sharrows
#29 Informal Bike Parking
#30 Pallet Chairs Bring the Community Together

Idea #1: Think Incrementally

So you want to change your neighborhood? Ok. Just go out and do it. Worried about finances, zoning, rules, and regulations getting in the way? No problem. Get together a bunch of citizens and just make good things happen. The results will speak for themselves. This is increasingly becoming the ethos of a whole new set of related movements seeking to enrich places all over the planet.

Jay Walljasper in All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons documented a number of trends reshaping the economy, environment, the internet, democracy, and our communities in a positive way. Walljasper begins by defining the commons as what we share. More precisely he says:

Commons: What we share. Creations of both nature and society that belong to all of us equally and should be maintained for future generations.

Several principles for protecting shared resources have been advanced by Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. These include:

  1. Define clear group boundaries.
  2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.
  3. Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.
  4. Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.
  5. Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.
  6. Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.
  7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.
  8. Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.

As we’ve written before, this incremental approach is nothing new. The National Main Street Center through their Four-Point Approach has been advocating for incremental change through the work of volunteers on grassroots committees for decades. A rising tide of philanthropic activity nationally and internationally seeks to enrich communities using resources from inside and outside. So many of the tactics we seek to use for Better Block from street trees, to mobile vendors, and pop-ups are all incremental by design.

What makes this moment unique is that many forces are coming together all at once. Technology is providing unprecedented opportunities and tools to bring people together through social networking and crowd technologies. Great ideas now have the potential to spread far more rapidly than ever before. A movement started in Dallas is now having an impact in Appalachian Kentucky. At what other time would something like this ever been possible? Finally, the focus on the commons and all that we share is a concept with the power to bring people together all over the world around a similar theme – how do we make our place on the world a little bit better?

To close, never again should huge budgets or big plans get in the way of what can be done right now. For communities willing to think in $500 increments and about what can be accomplished in two weeks or less, the opportunity to bring transformative change for our communities is always present. We have the Orton Family Foundation and the CommunityMatters initiative to thank for sharing this important lesson with us. Power2Give and the Humana Foundation helped us to get that much further through their generous support. None of this would have ever been possible without the initial support from the Appalachian Regional Commission by way of a Flex-E Grant administered by the Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College.

Taken together Middlesborough has proven what many places are beginning to find – that citizen action is the surest and only way to bring about positive change and to generate true and lasting success for our community or any community for that matter. We hope our work plants the seed for long term change in our community and inspires people all over the world to take similar action for the betterment of their towns.


Idea #2: Build a Better Block

Better Block at its very essence is a movement that seeks to promote livable streets and neighborhood vitality through short-term interventions. Since starting in 2010 by Go Oak Cliff in the neighborhood with the same name in Dallas, the event has been repeated throughout the U.S. Better Block has become an effective tool to fill previously vacant or underutilized retail space. The event has garnered a commitment for city leaders for permanent street improvements.

In Oyster Bay, New York, the Better Block project there had several pop-up shops that became permanent businesses. This includes Billy Joel’s 20th Century Cycles, a motorcycle showroom that has become a regional draw.

Here are just a few of the videos and resources related to past Better Block events.

  • Oakcliff, Dallas, Texas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18bfh–Tq6M
  • Oyster Bay, New York: http://vimeo.com/12755331
    • Main Street Story of the Week, http://www.preservationnation.org/main-street/main-street-news/story-of-the-week/2011/111012/48x48x48-an-intervention-in.html
    • Street Plans Collaborative, http://www.streetplans.org/documents/48x48x48%20Description.pdf

Norfolk, Virginia

San Antonio, Texas

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Kansas City, Missouri

Jefferson Park, Denver, Colorado

Five Points, Denver, Colorado

Fort Worth, Texas

Grand Rapids, Michigan: https://www.facebook.com/BetterBlockGR

Santa Monica, California: http://www.santamonicanext.org/pop-up-mango-demonstrates-street-treatments-greenery-on-michigan-ave/

Mount Ranier, Maryland

If this is not enough, check out the guide for How to Build a Better Block.

Still not enough? Then hear it from the founder of the Better Block movement himself.


Idea #3: Encourage Public Participation

Communities with an existing organizational and civic infrastructure to support the work that goes into planning a Better Block event are at a competitive advantage to those without. Having a strong knowledge of who the important people and organizations in a community is key.

In the first half of the twentieth century community planning was dominated by large government and institutional actors. In the second half of the century the role of the citizen increased, with a higher value placed on gathering community input. This impulse was powerfully expressed through the emergence of the modern historic preservation movement that was grassroots and community based by its nature. More recently the Tactical Urbanism and Better Block movements have sought to place the power to act and transform places into the hands of citizens.

Direct action by citizens yields multiple benefits. Community participation in the planning and execution of the events instills a level of buy-in and support. Once the event is over the responsibility for stewardship rests with the community too. The community or the public is then responsible for moving forward with ideas generated after the event.

Rallying the community and building their support for the event is key. The first step in doing so is identifying leaders. This need not necessarily be elected officials, though their support certainly helps. Instead it is the building owners, business owners, and civic leaders who have the ability to get results when asked. These people will form the inner circle of a project team.

Then it is important to branch out from leaders to the general public to find volunteers who will be responsible for carrying out the work of the event. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are a powerful way to connect with these people in your community. Consistently putting your message out about what you are trying to accomplish has the potential to attract many people who may have never had contact with your organization, or never thought of themselves as change agents.

Public meetings are valuable for identifying shared goals. This also helps to bring out the best ideas a community has for itself, while downplaying those that do not help to realize shared goals.

Finally, one of the keys to success for any Better Block is having a great turnout during the event itself. Using any and every communication tool at your disposal will help to make this happen. If properly organized, the excitement people have for the event will cause them to enlist the support of their family, co-workers and friends. Providing opportunities for businesses or organizations to sign up their members or employees en masse helps to build up large numbers. Canvassing and one-on-one outreach helps. Finally, answering “yes” to anyone who has an interest in participating guarantees you’ll have a good sized crowd.

Ultimately the value and power of encouraging public participation is that this display of community support can be used to attract the attention of policy makers, investors, foundations, and others who want to support places with a strong civic infrastructure. So, in a way, the efforts to mobilize support for community projects initiates a virtuous cycle that attracts further support to realize the very visions the community defines for itself.

“Public Participation in Preservation Planning,” National Park Service, Accessed January10, 2013, http://



Idea #4: Temporary to Permanent

Here are just a few ideas of how the improvements made during better block may lead to permanent changes in the project area.

A commitment to evaluating the success of the event is essential. SurveyMonkey is a valuable tool to gather input from participants, stakeholders, and the public-at-large.

It is also important to make clear to the public a commitment to continuing change. This can be done before, during, and certainly after the event.

To close, if Better Block is viewed as just a freestanding event, then it is a lot of fun. If it is viewed as the initiation of a process that leads to continuous improvement, then it becomes a force to change places for the better now and into the future.


Idea #5: Pre-vitalization

The pre-vitalization tactic is used to temporarily activate a previously inactive, underutilized parcel of land. Food, art, and retail uses all can be brought together at a single location. Revenue is generated for the land owner/developer, and the community’s awareness is raised about long-term potential. Community building occurs while supporting local entrepreneurs.

Specific sues to consider are public markets, art exhibitions and studios, community festivals, beer gardens, micro-retail opportunities, flea markets, and other temporary programs.

This tactic was used in 2007 with the Hercules Market in Hercules, CA; and again by City Point Developers at Brooklyn’s Dekalb Market. This approach is described in more detail with photographs in the Tactical Urbanism Manual, vol. 2.


Twitter page for Better Block Boro. Credit: Discover Downtown Middlesboro.

Idea #6: Leverage the Power of the Crowd

There is a digital corollary to the physical work being done during a Better Block event. With so many tools and websites out there, it is hard to know which to use. We’ll name a few and give some specific recommendations for how to utilize each for your Better Block event.

  • Twitter. There are few quicker and easier ways to get your message out as quickly as Twitter. Here are a few tips. 1) Find similar people and groups and look at their Follower list. Then ask as many of those people as possible to follow your page. You can get up to 2000 before Twitter places limits. 2) Use tools like tweepi.com to screen your users. This video is very helpful with overcoming your Follower limits. 3) Consistently use a hashtag like #BetterBlockBoro to promote your event. Include this in all of your tweets.
  • Facebook. Within Facebook it is easy to set up Pages or Groups for your event. With pages you can also set up Events for any meetings leading up to Better Block.
  • SurveyMonkey. An appropriately designed survey can help with booking people for shifts during your Better Block event. See this as an example.
  • YouTube. Online video is a powerful way to demonstrate what your Better Block event is all about. Several communities create a summary video once the event is over to share their results with their own community and other communities seeking to do similar work. A slightly less common practice is to have a pre-event video such as the one we created here.
  • GoogleMaps. While traditionally not considered a crowd tool, GoogleMaps is a great way to design maps on the fly and then to share with other people. We used GoogleMaps to show a trail system that we proposed, then to adjust the trails created.
  • Blog. Lastly, a blog is a great way to get more detailed content in front of participants in your event. We used our blog to promote 30 Ideas in 30 Days. Every day at the same time a post was scheduled to be published, that discussed a different aspect of that event. For a complete list of posts see the links below. We also created a separate and free-standing blog for our Bike Friendly Middlesborough. While this got a start as part of the Better Block, the intent is to spin it off as a freestanding initiative.
Facebook Better Block page. Credit: Discover Downtown Middlesboro.


Indiegogo is one platform to help raise money for your event. Credit: Discover Downtown Middlesboro.

Idea #7: Raise the Funds You’ll Need

There is a line in the non-profit world that goes “No money, no mission.” The Better Block movement rather than relying on million dollar budgets and multiple-year timelines tries to bring change about in a single weekend for $1,000 in less. As Better Block has advanced there has been a certain one-upmanship from one project to the next. Some organizers claim that Better Block events spend up to $40,000. These clearly crosses a threshold of sorts and the temporary improvements made go on to represent something else that is more permanent in nature.

Since the project is a demonstration, a majority of items needed for the project can be borrowed. These in-kind contributions can be invaluable. Just make sure whatever you borrow gets returned in as good of a condition as it is delivered. If funds are definitely required, use crowd-funding sites such as indiegogo.com or kickstarter.com.

Another idea is to auction or sell off some of the temporary items built as a result of the event. A Pallet Chair auction is a great example.


Downtown Middlesboro, ca. 1930’s. Credit: Discover Downtown Middlesboro.

Idea #8: The Strength of Main Street

When historic downtown areas were struggling, preservation advocates came together around a vision that involves grassroots community based action to respond. What resulted is the Four-Point Approach that recommends action in each of the following areas: Organization, Promotion, Design, and Economic Restructuring. These just happen to correspond with the four elements of real estate value: Civic, Social, Physical, and Economic. Through organizing the community to bring about improvements in each of these areas, incremental actions will help to bring about the comprehensive change needed over time.

Fast forward to 2010 with emergence of the Better Block movement. With Better Block there are many shared goals. Most prominent is the desire to improve the physical appearance of places. This clearly corresponds with the Design committee. Pop-up stores, food trucks and carts, and mobile vendors all deal with varying the retail mix and providing amenities people need. This clearly corresponds with the Economic Restructuring committee and their work. Then there is Organization and Promotion. In the Main Street world Promotional events help to promote a positive image of the downtown area and attract people through retail promotions and special events. Clearly Better Block accomplishes this goal. Organization, on the other hand, deals with marshaling the people, will, and resources needed to bring change about. Once again, Better Block fulfills this goal too.

In a way Better Block is a faster, cheaper, and better fulfillment of what Main Street advocates have been working on for decades. It would serve both members well to borrow from one another and to more fully explore opportunities for partnership.


Idea #9: Sidewalk Stencils and Signs

Given that temporary interventions are rooted in their place, it is only natural then to use that place to promote your event. Yard signs are a cheap and effective tool to use. Keep it simple. Just include the name and date of the event, and some way people can find more information. A catchy graphic that grabs the attention of people will help to finish your sign off.

Sidewalk stencils hold great promise promoting the event and as a semi-permanent to permanent improvement. Candy Chang has a wonderful project in New Orleans titled “It’s Good to be Here.” These words are display in an arc and strategically positioned on sidewalks, in front of stores, and in other unexpected places. The technical process of creating the stencil involved getting a high durability cardboard. Printing out the letters to be stenciled using a large format printer. Then overlaying the paper the letters is printed on over the cardboard and cutting out letters with an exacto knife. And, presto! You have your sidewalk stencil.

“It’s Good to be Here” stencil and creator. Credit: Candy Chang.

A fairly elaborate stencil promoted the Better Block Norfolk event.

Stencil from Better Block Norfolk. Credit: kombuchick!


Poster for Better Block Middlesborough. Credit: Discover Downtown Middlesboro.

Idea #10: Blackmail Yourself

We take this cue from Jason Roberts himself, progenitor of the Better Block movement. In minute 17:30 of his TEDxOU talk, Jason explains the need to “Blackmail Yourself” by publishing the name and date of an event well in advance. Otherwise, folks feel prone to back out. We’re thankful to CommunityMatters for helping us to get focused and blackmail ourselves months ago through their Successful Communities Contest. And, yes, Middlesborough was a resounding winner. Check out the video from the master himself. Other communities take note – contest or not, the best time to blackmail yourself is today!


Power of 10 on display in Melbourne, Australia. Credit: Project for Public Spaces.

Idea #11: The Power of 10

We have the Project for Public Spaces to thank for this next idea. PPS is an organization based in New York City that has done pioneering work in the field they helped to name – placemaking. Their projects may be seen all over from Bryant Park in New York, to Campus Martius Park in Detroit, and countless other places all over. When working with the Seattle Art Museum in 2004, senior level officials with PPS were on hand to brainstorm ideas to generate more public activity around the museum that is located in the center of Seattle. Naturally the idea of public art came up. When asked how many sculptures they should place, after some thought, the answer by the advisors from PPS was 10. They further elaborated that there should be at least 10 unique places with 10 things to do, in order to create a truly great public space. PPS has been preaching about the value of “The Power of 10” ever since.

Some activities to consider are places to sit, playgrounds to enjoy, art to touch, music to hear, food to eat, history to experience, and people to meet. Having activities unique to the particular spot that placemakers are seeking to activate will make it interesting enough to get people to come back. Local people who use the space regularly will in turn generate ideas of what uses will work best. Listening to those ideas and undertaking constant improvements will lead to continuous improvement.


Walk [Your City] sign in Middlesborough, Kentucky. Credit: DDM.

Idea #12: Walk [Your City]

A temporary strategy for encouraging walking has come out of Walk [Your City] based in Raleigh, North Carolina. The temporary to semi-permanent signs they fabricate give an approximate time to get to different attractions. A QR code on the sign gives people with smart phones who scan it step-by-step directions. The mission of Walk [Your City] is “Getting More Feet on the Street™!” Potentially a limitless number of signs like this can be created.

Walk [Your City] interface showing how a potentially limitless number of signs may be created. Credit: Walk [Your City]


The boxes of Les Bouquinistes. Credit: Acscosta via Wikipedia.

Idea #13: Mobile Vendors

Mobile vendors help to offer needed commercial services, activate public spaces, and help citizens earn an income. They may sell a variety of goods besides food, including art, photographs, clothing, and various other merchandise. Oftentimes vending is a second source of income for many households.

With all the attention paid to economic development and job creation, there are few better or lower cost  ways to inspire enterpreneurship than mobile vendors. By filling small commercial voids, they respond to consumer demand and bring life to public spaces. Vendors can operate from cars and trucks, though bicycles are becoming a more common vending platform for books, ice cream, and water.

The Center for Urban Pedagogy’s Vending Power! A Guide to Vending in New York City does a fantastic job explaining the city’s confusing mobile vending regulations to a wide audience of current and future vendor. It is in the interest of cities everywhere to make the rules surrounding vendors easy to understand in multiple languages.

The Four Types of Vendors. Credit: Candy Chang/Center for Urban Pedagogy.


The Proxy food court is a temporary placeholder for a long-term development plan. Credit: Inside Scoop SF.

Idea #14: Food Carts and Trucks

Many ordinances prohibit the presence of food carts and trucks. There is a national movement underway to reverse this trend. Food trucks even have their own TV show. Some of the features that make food trucks attractive are their ability to provide low cost food, incubate small business, and activate underutilized sites. Food has a great attractive power. People will congregate around a good food vendor. The success of that vendor then generates higher pedestrian volumes.In places where people already gather where there is no food, the presence of food carts and trucks attract even more people.

Designated lots have been established in some areas with the possibility for multiple food trucks to locate. They have supportive services like tables, chairs, trash removal, and bathrooms. When properly designed they can fit in quite nicely with the streetscape of a city. The addition of porches, bar stools, and garden seating have the potential to create a space that is even more inviting. Food trucks and carts in this setting and on the street can generate license fees and rent to municipalities or private property owners for the space they take up. Lastly, food carts and trucks that are successful may lead to the business transitioning and opening up in a more formal bricks-and-mortar space.

The process of testing out spaces for food trucks and carts may also serve as a sort of market research function, helping to determine what the public wants.


Trees enhance the life of an active public space. Credit: Project for Public Spaces.

Idea #15: Plant Trees 

Most cities recognize that trees are good, though relatively few are willing to pay properly for them. Jeff Speck in Walkable City claims street trees are related to improvements in property values and retail viability. Some transportation seek to eliminate trees altogether, positing that sidewalks are recovery zones where cars that have jumped off the street can regain their control. This is reckless and dangerous not just for pedestrians but also for drivers themselves. In a funny sort of way these wide open spaces invite more reckless driving and lead to more frequent and deadly crashes. In a study in Toronto it was found that streets with street trees compared to streets without had a 5 to 20% lower likelihood of crashes. Another benefit of trees is keeping temperatures lower and diminishing the heat island effect on city streets.

Picking appropriate trees for the location and climate is important. Trees that double as bushes, such as crepe myrtles and spruce pines do not have the same advantages as fully grown mature trees. Even despite the threat of pandemics that wipe out trees of a single species, planting trees of the same species in a row helps to promote a visual consistency that give streets a distinct sense of character.

Trees added during a Better Block event in Kansas City, Missouri. Credit: Team Better Block.


Example of a mural on a blank wall in Middlesborough, Kentucky. Credit: Discover Downtown Middlesboro.

Idea #16: Cover Up Blank Walls

Blank walls wreak havoc on the desire of the pedestrian to be entertained. Attractive facades, on the other hand tend to invite walking. Where negative features like gaps in the streetscape and blank walls exist, actions may be taken to correct this situations. Murals are one solution. Trees and landscaping that has a screening effect is another.

Consideration should be made toward clustering amenities like cafe seating in areas that have the most visual uniqueness. Creating a larger sidewalk area with bump-outs in areas that are visually distinct, will further enhance those areas and make the place as a whole more attractive.


Free Library installation. Credit: Mike Lydon.

Idea #17: Free Library

Here is a fairly radical idea – place books by where people need them and are most likely to use them. One variation places libraries like this near mass transit stations. Where such stations do not exist, finding other highly visited public areas is another option. Take a book, leave a book. Literacy and community sharing are achieved all at the same time.


Credit: Dayton’s Bluff

Idea #18: Pop-up Parks

The idea of a pop-up park is simple. Create activity and a place for people to gather where there is none. Some initiatives are children and family oriented, providing playspace where there is asphalt or concrete. Others have more of a social or adult-oriented appeal. Pop-up parks such as this jump-start long-term planning for public spaces. When combined with other features such as widened sidewalks, mid-block crossings, and conversion of alleys into plazas or shared streets, pop-up parks have the power to transform a place.

Temporary improvements can sometimes become semi-permanent or permanent. When creating such a space, consider using real sod versus artificial. The sod may be laid out on plastic sheeting. A small amount of dirt or sand will help keep the sod in the place. If used for an event, consider a separate use for the sod elsewhere once the event is over.

All it takes is a little green and imagination to make a pop-up parkCredit: Team Better Block.


Pop-up kids art shop. Credit: Jason Roberts, TEDxOU.

Idea #19: Pop-Up Shops

Where vacant stores are almost universally seen as liabilities and something that drags down property values and the power of an area to attract people, through the Better Block approach vacant buildings are assets in-the making, simply awaiting to be transformed. Many examples of pop-up stores exist from nearly every Better Block project that has been undertaken. Once permission for the owner to utilize the building is gotten, then work can begin on making improvements immediately. Some Better Block projects have a pre-build process before the Better Block event where major work can be done. Professional contractors may be necessary to make sure that the building is safe, clean and free from contamination, and ready for volunteers to transform during the event.

The transformations volunteers undertake might include removal of debris and cleaning all surfaces inside and out. The addition of colorful paint and lighting may quickly and fairly inexpensively bring a vacant space to life. Then through the addition of shelving and display shelves, a pop-up shop is born.

In many instances the pop-up shop created continues after the Better Block event is complete.

Billy Joel participated in the Better Block event in Oyster Bay in 2010. Then he opened a motorcycle showroom a few months later in one of the pop-up shops. Pictures of the pop-up during the event are above. Credit: DoTank Brooklyn.


Andrew Howard of Better Block. Credit: “The Better Block Project San Antonio TX,” YouTube.

Idea #20: Temporary Improvements Encourage Historic Preservation Planning

This next idea comes to us compliments of Fernanda Sotelo, a recent graduate of the Columbia University M.S. in Historic Preservation program. Her graduate thesis, Beyond Temporary: Preserving the Built Environment with Temporary Urban Interventions analyzed three Better Block projects in-depth. Some recommendations of best practice were presented for how temporary interventions may prompt long-lasting gains through historic preservation.

The most important aspects of temporary urban interventions Sotelo identified were: direct public participation, long-term goals and objectives, continued activation of spaces through periodic interventions, analysis of intervention results and reassessment of long-term goals, professional guidance from a preservationist throughout the intervention, and development and adoption of a preservation plan. As Sotelo envisions it, the intervention consists of three phases: pre-planning, the event itself, then analysis and follow-up action after the initial event is done.

Sotelo has the most recommendations to provide for pre-event planning during Phase I. Among the actions she calls for is to create the project team, identify the project site, devise an intervention plan and length. Work needs to be done on outreach and collaboration, establishment of public participation methods, and beginning of work on a preservation plan during this phase. Obtaining permission from property owners and getting permits that are needed to make interventions is done. This is where her professional preservation training runs afoul somewhat with the haphazard and seemingly spontaneous nature of the Better Block model. Getting variances, permits, and approvals is too bothersome for most Better Block practitioners to follow. Nonetheless, this is an important and indeed a required step if true historic preservation gains are to be made. For at the essence of historic preservation is the orderly improvement over time of specially designated places.

The preservation plan that is started in Phase I “will be used throughout the intervention process to not only document the planning and results of the intervention but also inform the intervention.” Elements to include in the plan are identification of historic built assets, better understanding the history of the area to be effected, understanding the current condition of the existing built environment. The plan also presents opportunities to study challenges of the environment like zoning and parking and to establish future goals and objectives for the community. Sotelo also suggests the preservation plan is a helpful tool in identifying the types of businesses that might do well in vacant spaces in the affected area. This brings in the element of market analysis to the process. Again, such a formal analysis is somewhat beyond what most temporary interventions undertake. Nonetheless, if the people and organizations undertaking the intervention have this capacity, it would be wise to incorporate this into an ideal model of best practice.

In Phase II, which covers the intervention itself, Sotelo calls for creating task teams. These teams implement various aspects of the intervention. Examples of work undertaken include landscaping, building painting and restoration, street lighting, set-up of retail spaces, bike-lane creation, and carpentry and skilled work. Teams are also needed for take-down and clean-up. Where Sotelo differs from other approaches is in suggesting the need for professionals in restoration. Few if any Better Block projects have engaged restoration professionals as part of the project.

Finally, Phase III begins after the event is over. Sotelo recommends to:

  1. Organize follow up meetings.Bring the community back to analyze the intervention and to assess and evaluate future goals. Surveys and polls may also be valuable tools to gather input following the intervention. Sotelo recommends that this evaluation be guided by a preservation professional.
  2. Finalize the preservation plan.Record findings and results from the intervention into a formal preservation plan. Allow for future goals and objectives to be occasionally reassessed. Future sites for interventions may be identified, and a variety of different uses for the target area may be tested and ultimately implemented. The plan may also include guidelines of how to continue the improvement of the area through future interventions and providing incentives to support revitalization efforts.

In the ideal model that Sotelo presents, it differs from most prior temporary interventions and Better Block projects by requiring a preservationist be brought in at the beginning of the process to facilitate. As such, any Better Block interventions undertaken help to achieve the same goal that preservation seeks – to promote economic development through utilizing existing assets. Proper community engagement will create a constituency of people to serve as stewards of what results. When carried our properly, temporary interventions have the potential to transform the built environment for the better and create great benefit for the community being served.


Example of bike valet service as part of a complete streets plan.

Idea #21: Bike Valet, Repair, and Share
Much can be done to make bicyclists feel welcome. Already we’ve discussed informal bike parking. A bicycle valet service allows people to quickly and easily drop their bike off and know it will be safe while they go about doing their business. A valet tag is given to the rider which they display to the attendant when they come back to pick their bike up. A natural pairing with the valet service is a bicycle repair service or shop. While bikes are being held handle bars can be tightened, tires filled, and other repairs made to make the bikes function at their best. Something that has encouraged biking in other communities too is a bicycle give-away program. Especially for youth, this helps to promote diversity and combat obesity and chronic disease. In the last few decades youth obesity has almost tripled. Giving opportunities for youth to get out and enjoy an active lifestyle is key.

Bike sharing programs are also starting to become very popular in places like Washington, DC, New York City, and elsewhere. These allow people to borrow bikes for free to travel short distances between bike borrowing stations. Bikes may be checked out using a credit card. If usage exceeds the time limit, the rider will be charged a fee by the amount of time it takes until the bike is returned.

Bike repair in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Denver. Credit: Better Block Jefferson Park.

To encourage biking during our Better Block event, we are going to ask all of our volunteers to bike rather than drive to the project site if possible.


Idea #22: Get the Parking Right

Despite cities going to great extents to provide ample free parking, this continues to be one of the most frequent issues and complaints that comes up. Jeff Speck in Walkable City suggests the need and importance to “Get the Parking Right.” Finding an appropriate pricing structure that adequately reflects the cost of providing parking, and to make sure that pricing and surrounding land use are in balance. While this is a complex problem, temporary interventions provide the opportunity to educate the public and develop innovative practices.

Every parking space that is not allowed to regularly turn over costs store owners in the surrounding area $25,000 a year. Something as simple as having a 15 minute time limit for parking on a block, placing signs, and issuing fake “tickets” that educate the public on the importance of spaces turning over. Long-term parkers could also be identified and efforts made to direct them to alternative spaces to park. Short term interventions like this might educate the public and move towards getting parking in more balance.

MBA: The Right Price for Parking from Streetfilms on Vimeo.


Intersection repair at workCredit: Flickr user Sara Dent

Idea #23: Intersection Repair

Instead of making streets the exclusive domain of cars, this effort seeks to re-purpose neighborhood street intersections as community places. Brightly painted intersections indicate to drivers that they are entering a place of importance. After the initial reclamation occurs, residents usually follow up by adding benches, community bulletin boards, gardens and art positioned prominently at the corners. Sometimes the initial paint gives way to brick and cobblestones.

Repaired intersections created a sort of “third place” outside of work and home where people can gather together.

Better Block Jefferson Park in Denver, Colorado, presents perhaps one of the best examples of intersection repair.

Idea #24: Depave

Depaving is the physical removal of asphalt or concrete surfaces. This is meant to reduce storm water pollution and increase the amount of land available for habitat restoration, urban farming, tree planting, native vegetation, and social gathering. Depave started as an unsanctioned, self-organized neighborhood effort in 2007, and since has grown into an officially recognized and supportive method. School yards, community gardens, food forests, and pocket parks are just a few of the areas created as a result. Millions of gallons of stormwater runoff have been diverted and stronger ties built between neighbors and the place that they live.

The official Depave website may be viewed here: http://depave.org/.

A great example of de-paving and creating a rain garden can be seen in this video from San Antonio with Better Block founder Jason Roberts.


Pop-up cafe in Dayton’s Bluff. Credit: Youtube.

Idea #25: Pop-Up Cafes

These ventures promote public seating in the parking lane and promote local businesses. These are particularly needed in areas where outdoor public seating is limited. These serve as placeholders for a time until sidewalks can be permanently extended.

Pop-up cafes provide valuable seating where there is none. Credit DNAInfo.com.


Idea #26: Pavement to Parks (Parklets)

This approach at its essence is meant to reclaim underutilized asphalt as public space without large capital expenditure. Some of the techniques such as adding movable tables and chairs, painting asphalt, and the installation of inexpensive planters and re-purposed stone blocks, helps to increase the amount of public space available. In places like New York and San Francisco, these parklets have been a great success. The space created serves as a sort of laboratory, showing what might be possible if temporary improvements became more permanent.

Most parklets rest on a platform that sits level with the sidewalk. Materials are temporary and the design flexible enough that changes may be made during the trial period. Seating and greenery help to make the parklets welcoming and attractive. Occasionally space is provided for bicycle parking, or an outdoor dining area created for nearby restaurants and cafes. Costs are often assumed by a business or several businesses that recognize the ability to attract customers. Whether publicly or privately sponsored, parklets are considered part of the public realm and areas that may be freely used by the public at large.

Vancouver, BC’s “Parallel Park.” Credit: Facebook user.


Complete streets accommodate all uses, not just cars, as this example from Milwaukee shows. Credit:DC Streets Blog.

Idea #27: Complete Streets

The National Complete Streets Coalition is a comprehensive resource for communities and agencies working toward creating a safe, comfortable, integrated transportation network for all users. Advocates have effectively documented the need, benefits, and processes and procedures to bring Complete Streets about. Many communities have already made great strides adopting this as their official planning framework. In Middlesborough we will explore concepts such as creating a dedicated bike line, providing for bumpouts in area otherwise not used for traffic and parking, etc. For more info, please visit: http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/complete-streets/a-to-z

The National Complete Streets Coalition has identified five kinds of activities needed to take place in order to reorient a transportation agency’s work to fully and consistently consider the safety of all users. We provide resources, activities, and best practices from communities across the country to help your community successfully implement Complete Streets. (Free.)

  • Planning for Implementation
  • Changing Procedure and Process
  • Reviewing and Updating Design Guidance
  • Offering Training and Educational Opportunities
  • Measuring Performance


Sharrows show where cyclists are welcome.

Idea #28: Sharrows
Shared-lane markings or sharrows for short made their first appearance in the 1993 Denver Bicycle Master Plan. The idea is to show lanes where bicyclists and other uses are expected to share. Both grassroots activists and official figures with city and state transportation agencies have adopted this as a tactic. Temporary grassroots efforts require only a stencil and spray paint. Formal efforts involve using heavy equipment and markings that are more durable. Some communities have gone so far as to create a dedicated lane just for bicycles and also included sharrows.

The 2009 Manual on Traffic Control Devices provided some detailed specifications for sharrows:

  1. Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist’s impacting the open door of a parked vehicle,
  2. Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane,
  3. Alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way,
  4. Encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists, and
  5. Reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.

When placing sharrows, space needs to be given for car doors to open without blocking the path of travel for bicycles. Credit: Cleveland City Planning Commission

Dedicated lane with Sharrows. Credit: Laguna Streets.


Informal bike parking. Credit: Mike Lydon, Tactical Urbanism Manual, v. 2

Idea #29: Informal Bike Parking

The lack of parking in many built up areas has inspired the installation of temporary and semi-permanent solutions to encourage bicycling as a substitute. Something as simple as a metal pipe affixed to a wall is sufficient to inspire bicyclists to ride and park. Placing such parking in front of stores may be used as a tactic to attract and service customers from a growing bicycle community. This approach is described in more detail with photographs in the Tactical Urbanism Manual, vol. 2.

Informal bike parking. Credit: Mike Lydon, Tactical Urbanism Manual, v. 2

Painting a bicycle outline with stencil and spray paint by the informal bike parking hardware might help to make the association ever more obvious.


Success in Knoxville! The chair was a hit and was sold to raise money to help fund an amazing Opera company.
Pallet Adirondack Chair from Shelton Davis.

Idea #30: Pallet Chairs
We have to give a hat tip to Shelton Davis of Atlanta. He’s the one who inspired the pallet chair craze with his Pallet Adirondack Chair dating back to 2010. Not only did he inspire these beautiful one-of-a-kind products, he has also generously provided detailed step-by-step plans for how anyone can make their own chairs. The process begins by finding two shipping pallets of good quality that are reasonably intact. Then the flat horizontal boards are cut and detached from the pallet. After being cut to various lengths, assembly begins. We’ll skip over the step-by-step and show you the end result. If you’re really curious, you may Buy the Plans Here!

Drawings from “Pallet Adirondack Chair” by Shelton Davis.

The chairs once completed can be placed near an area with existing social activity or serve as a catalyst to inspire community gathering. This tactic is described in more detail with photographs in the Tactical Urbanism Manual, vol. 2. For an example of the burgeoning of street seats in the New York metropolitan area visit StreetSeats.org.


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About Isaac Kremer

A nationally recognized downtown revitalization leader, downtowns Isaac managed achieved $350 million of investment, 1,300 jobs created, and were 2X Great American Main Street Award Semifinalist and a 1X GAMSA winner in 2023. His work has been featured in Newsday, NJBIZ, ROI-NJ, TapInto, and USA Today. Isaac is a Main Street America Revitalization Professional (MSARP) with additional certifications from the National Parks Service, Project for Public Spaces, and the National Development Council.

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