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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Back in March a little urban experiment in Dallas (Oak Cliff) temporarily transformed a pedestrian-hostile environment into a walkable, vibrant public space by implementing "complete street" ideals.

Since then, this project has been adapted and repeated across the country. There is now a website and guide available for other interested communities.

The new website: http://betterblock.org/

Oak Cliff Better Block 1 (the one that started it all):


http://betterblock.org/2010/10/19/the-original-better-block/

Oak Cliff Better Block 2:





http://betterblock.org/2010/10/19/oak-cliff-better-block-2-1300-west-davis-street/
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Billy Joel Rocks a Better Block, or: How an Oak Cliff Experiment Is Turning Into a National Movement (and a Website and a Book!)
By Robert Wilonsky, Wed., Oct. 20 2010 @ 2:49PM
Categories: Development, Transportation
http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2010/10/billy_joel_rocks_a_better_bloc.php

​This afternoon I stumbled across this website: The Better Block: A Planning Tool for Urban Retrofit . Which, of course, refers to Jason Roberts's twice-executed Oak Cliff experiment in which the peoples, armed with cafe seating and greenery and chalk-marked bike lanes, take back the streets and sidewalks. Roberts is behind the site, but he tells Unfair Park this afternoon that he has collaborators: Patrick "Car-Free" Kennedy and urban planner Andrew Howard.

Says Roberts, the need for the site, which launched yesterday, arose when several other cities began calling and asking how to replicate the Oak Cliff Better Block Project. Rather than explain it over and over again, they launched the site -- which includes a brief how-to, which for now will serve as a prelude to a book the threesome are in the process of writing.

"I get calls from all over the place," Roberts says. "Memphis called us yesterday. Houston called, Fort Worth just did theirs, Maryland's doing one, Deep Ellum has theirs coming up, Greenville Avenue and Farmers Branch are doing one. So we thought, 'Let's aggregate so everyone can have access to this information. We should try to learn from each other so we can apply the best practices.' That's kind of the thought."

Turns out, the Better Block Project reached all the way to Oyster Bay, New York, where, a few months back, Billy Joel launched his own cover version -- after being inspired by this April video shot at the intersection of Kings Highway, W. 7th Street and N. Tyler Street. "He just watched our video and said, 'Let's do that,'" says Roberts, who, apparently, did start the fire.

Between the video, the new website and the book -- which they hope to have done in three months, at which point they'll start shopping it to publishers -- Roberts, Kennedy and Howard hope to, bit by bit, reshape the landscape, especially in the sprawled-out Sun Belt.

"I think it'll help these Sun Belt cities that were built with wider streets, and they don't even know how to re-adapt," Roberts says. "That was part of our frustration: There's so much to do, where do you start. Which is why we said we'll do it a block at a time.

"We're learning it's a really viable new tool -- it's the opposite of the way cities typically approach this project. They do this long million-dollar planning process with town halls and there's back and forth, and it's just so abstract. They say, 'I think this should work. This does away with planning and lets people just do it. And maybe they say there needs to be more trees or the bike lanes need to be wider. That's why it's called 'a living charrette.' Maybe Dallas can be the new capital for urban retrofit studies. That would be cool."
 

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leptokurtic
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It's just a 3rd World approach. Very 3rd World indeed, like makeshift tents or slums, only that it refers to streets. I hope law enforcement and politicians but a brake in such aberration.
 

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Very nice project, it's a good way to show people that is not so hard to improve and humanize urban/suburban environment.

It's just a 3rd World approach. Very 3rd World indeed, like makeshift tents or slums, only that it refers to streets. I hope law enforcement and politicians but a brake in such aberration.
Jesus, you're such a freak. Everything you say is appalling...
 

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It's just a 3rd World approach. Very 3rd World indeed, like makeshift tents or slums, only that it refers to streets. I hope law enforcement and politicians but a brake in such aberration.
3rd world???! People are outside in the streets enjoying themselves, riding bikes, kids are out playing in these pics. There are trees and plants. I see a real community. You really have a sick mind suburbanist. Your ideas absolutely disgust nearly every sensible person on this site. Enjoy your sterile, soulless suburban existence while it lasts:eek:hno:
 

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leptokurtic
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3rd world???! People are outside in the streets enjoying themselves, riding bikes, kids are out playing in these pics. There are trees and plants. I see a real community. You really have a sick mind suburbanist. Your ideas absolutely disgust nearly every sensible person on this site. Enjoy your sterile, soulless suburban existence while it lasts:eek:hno:
My existence is detached from any specific place I might be inhabiting. I care about people, not a dime about places as long as they are safe, modern, healthy and orderly. I feel more connected with the idea of a country than that of a city. They are just utilitarian forms to organize people, industries, services etc.

This being said - it IS a third world approach. I'm not referring to the elements themselves (trees, larger curbside, traffic calming devices), but the way it is done. In the FIRST WORLD, you put a PLAN to redevelop a street, you use state-of-the-art design features, you bulldoze and reconstruct the whole street.

Geez, that is America. The richest country in the World. In places like North America and Europe, I don't expect makeshift street painting, construction-site signaling cones used as permanent barriers, let alone tires as lane delimitation devices. You would put a tender, contract a company (not a bunch of volunteers from the block with NO experience in construction), ripe off all the pavement, level it, use different materials for the car lanes and the expanded pedestrian area, and make a detailed studied before allowing business to set up tables in the middle of the curbside. Then you wait some weeks until they perform the work with properly insured workers (against construction accidents), paid legal wages, using an official-approved plan.

What was done is that street is the equivalent of building a slum village with carts, steel bars and wood frames you just found in an empty land plot full of weed, or painting your façade with leftovers from an industrial site - in other words, something you can expect to found in impoverished areas of a random underdeveloped country, not in US at all.

Again: this has nothing to do with discussing whether it is appropriate to spend money converting streets to "pedestrian friendly spaces". This is another - valid - discussion, but once you decided you will redesign a street (my assumption here), do it the right, professional way, not as a weekend fun project for which you just gathered your neighbors to participate in.

Someone who'd get injured there might even sue the city, if the city authorized such anomaly. If not, they could be charged with vandalism, in the same way as people who trash the cities with graffitti. Unless you live in a gated-community or in an Homeowner Association area (within the charter's limit), you can't just "transform" a public space because you want.
 

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My existence is detached from any specific place I might be inhabiting. I care about people, not a dime about places as long as they are safe, modern, healthy and orderly. I feel more connected with the idea of a country than that of a city. They are just utilitarian forms to organize people, industries, services etc.
Caring about people is all fine and well, but people live in cities, whether you like it or not, and the "utilitarian forms to organize people, industries, services" greatly affect peoples life. If these projects make a positive improvement to the city, and therefore peoples lives, then it's rather silly, in my mind, to oppose such a thing, simply because it's low budget (or 3rd world, as you rather disturbingly put it)

The most effective schemes and plans are often the simplest, the ones with the lightest touch. Simply because it is not full-scale sweeping reform of an urban area, does not mean it does not work.
 

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If these projects make a positive improvement to the city, and therefore peoples lives, then it's rather silly, in my mind, to oppose such a thing, simply because it's low budget (or 3rd world, as you rather disturbingly put it)

The most effective schemes and plans are often the simplest, the ones with the lightest touch. Simply because it is not full-scale sweeping reform of an urban area, does not mean it does not work.
Ghettoized youths (of any ethnicity or background) usually feel good when they "outpaint" a rival gang in a high building through graffiti. That people fell good we shall not infer that what was done was good.

My displeasure is not with the fact is is low budget, but the fact it looks and is "cheap" in a negative way. Something low cost is not necessarily something cheap - but in this case, it is. Gives the feel of decadence, like "ah, we don't have money to retrofit the street but we can still make a move".

It is like those cities that, short of cash, vows for crappy BRT because "we have money to paint a lane in an already existing street, but not to build a track for light rail".
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
^ Well, the point of this project is for it to be cheap and easy to implement by any community. The Better Block Project is intended to be temporary... usually lasting one or two few days before reverting back to its previous appearance (all of the streetscape/landscape materials are rented or donated for the event). Because Dallas has various out-of-date codes and regulations that restrict signage, outdoor cafes, pedestrian mobility, etc, this project served as a demonstration during a "special event" to raise awareness of urban issues. Initiated by community members themselves, it challenges city leaders to think "outside the box" for ways to revitalize neighborhoods and implement zoning changes.

Like Park(ing) Day (http://parkingday.org/), it's a grass roots effort to reclaim streets and challenge city leaders to think creatively about public space.
 

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^^ If a building code is "outdated", the right way is to have the council reform it. But now I understood the details of the project. I was thinking it were like the awful "pedestrianization" they did at Times Square without a clear framework to completely reconstruct the area - like it were an emergency, which is not the case.

I do not oppose completely pedestrianized small areas (where bikes and bicycles are not allowed too). They act like an open shopping mall, which can be good if the location is safe and if it has enough neighboring car parking spaces. Then, people can "window shop" easily and take all time they want. Same goes for trees planted in the streets: as long as they don't create a place so shadowed it becomes uninviting for the own pedestrians on the pedestrian mall, they are nice as landscaping features.

However, I do not agree with business taking over space with tables and so. It's anathema for me. Pedestrians malls and plazas (let alone regular streets) should still be places of transfer, of walking, strolling, not sitting in a table in a space "hijacked" by a set of tables. Business should rebuild with with retreated footprint and set up an open area within their own, private land plot - but that is another discussion.
 

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First of all, the term "third world" is very outdated. The modern terms are developed/developing countries, or even better, high-, middle-, and low-income countries. But that has nothing to do with this Better Block project. In any country in the world, rich or poor, citizens can and should do their part to make improve their neighborhoods. You can't just sit around and wait for the government or some developer to change things. The point of this project is to show that small steps can make a big difference, and I think that alone makes it worthwhile.
 

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Now seriously what would be wrong if a lot of bigger areas of the city were like that. There would still be enough of urban interstates to keep Suburbanist happy. There is nothing wrong with allowing bikes in places where cars are not allowed. Maybe put up a speed limit of 10 km/h. And what is wrong with the cafe's on streets? If people like them why not.
 

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Now seriously what would be wrong if a lot of bigger areas of the city were like that. There would still be enough of urban interstates to keep Suburbanist happy. There is nothing wrong with allowing bikes in places where cars are not allowed. Maybe put up a speed limit of 10 km/h. And what is wrong with the cafe's on streets? If people like them why not.
It just doesn't matter if people like them, Suburbanist doesn't ;) Chairs, tables, plantpots and traffic cones are "3rd world" apparently...
 

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Now seriously what would be wrong if a lot of bigger areas of the city were like that. There would still be enough of urban interstates to keep Suburbanist happy. There is nothing wrong with allowing bikes in places where cars are not allowed. Maybe put up a speed limit of 10 km/h. And what is wrong with the cafe's on streets? If people like them why not.
Bikes can be a pedestrian hazard, and a huge one. I live in The Netherlands, where some pedestrian areas, where bikes would not even be allowed, are just not pedestrianized anymore - they have been hijacked by cyclists and you better watch out before crossing the freaking place. Cyclists, many times, just don't obey signs indicating that in such areas it is forbidden to ride a bike (unless you mount off and walk it at your side). Being hit by a bike can injury you a lot (believe me, I'be been hit by cyclists twice, one time with annoying injuries, and there is no law to prevent someone to use his/her bike under influence).

My issue is not with tables in open space, but indeed with the use of street public areas to put tables and so. I prefer buildings to be pushed back into their own property's footprint, then the owners can put tables WITHIN the limits of their property. I'm also against most disruptions on public streets like people setting up an open market on them, beggars, street artists or so. I draw a thick, clear and very black-and-white line between private property (where folks should be relatively free to set up their business) and public property (serving its utilitarian function, in the case of streets, as being traffic thoroughfares (for pedestrians, cars, motorbikes, whatever).

Streets are not meant as places to "be", but as places to "pass", "walk" or "drive". The best streets are those with the best buildings, the most organized traffic (whatever its type) and the most efficient in hauling people, vehicle and goods between buildings. A park is a place to "be". A shopping mall is a place to "be". the open garden or the terrace of a restaurant or museum is a place to "be". A street is a transitory place, and should remain so.

It just doesn't matter if people like them, Suburbanist doesn't ;) Chairs, tables, plantpots and traffic cones are "3rd world" apparently...
Traffic cones are meant for use as temporary devices in construction zones. Chairs and tables do not belong to the curbside, but they could be freely deployed indoors or in an open area within the individual private properties. Plantpots are interesting to be used for garden landscaping. On streets, either plant the trees themselves or use far more sophisticated pots. Those specific pots shown in this thread are meant to be encased by something else. They are not even minimalist, if you pay attention to them!
 

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I agree inconsiderate cyclists are a problem everywhere. There should be more separation between cyclists commuting at a higher speed and cyclists slowly strolling around and pedestrians. If all the car free places are transformed into bike freeways maybe there should be more dedicated bike paths. Cyclists come in every shape and type.This situation is not too much different from blocking off residential streets parallel to congested motorways. There are ways to control this issue. Sometimes it can of course be necessary to forbid riding bikes...

Park like urban spaces are very nice. Well the second hand smoke can annoy me somewhat.
 

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Suburbanist:
and there is no law to prevent someone to use his/her bike under influence
Are you sure about that? In France, riding a bicycle under the influence carries the exact same penalties as driving a car, the only difference being that if you have no driving licence there are no points to be taken off it (however, many cyclists also have driving licences too).

By the way I agree with you that cyclists in pedestrianised areas are a menace. A bicycle ideally belongs on a cycle path, is quite suitable on a road, but never on a footpath.
 

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Streets are not meant as places to "be", but as places to "pass", "walk" or "drive". The best streets are those with the best buildings, the most organized traffic (whatever its type) and the most efficient in hauling people, vehicle and goods between buildings. A park is a place to "be". A shopping mall is a place to "be". the open garden or the terrace of a restaurant or museum is a place to "be". A street is a transitory place, and should remain so.
Says who?
 
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