Andrew Howard's Better Block Parties
It is sometimes objected to new urbanism that it’s somehow inauthentic - that streets where the houses have front porches and communities built around a town center may have more to do with stage design than the way real people live today.
I’ve come away from CNU 19 feeling that, OK, so what if it’s true that new urbanism has elements of stage design in it? Melanie Hammet, songwriter and city councilor, acknowledged a connection between stage design and excellent city planning in her presentation at the opening plenary - and then sang her song “Master of the Borrowed Dog.” It was based on something she’d learned about the photographer Richard Avedon, who’d grown up poor in a family that sometimes got all dressed up and took pictures of themselves in front of fine houses that weren’t theirs.
But she wasn’t the first from whom I’d heard about the importance of set design in urban planning at this Congress. Andrew Howard of the StreetSpace Collaborative, who describes himself as a “recovering transportation planner” explained at an NU 202 session on walkable thoroughfares how he has worked with set designers from stores like Neiman-Marcus and West Elm. Together they’ve staged - in more ways than one - public events that have helped jump-start interest in bike lanes, sidewalk cafes, and other amenities of urban life. By setting these things up temporarily, on very tight budgets, they give local people an idea of what their area could be like.
It turns out there’s a lot you can do with event permits, at least in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. Buildings that would take a lot of expensive rehab before they could be open to the public on a permanent basis can be opened for a weekend or even a single-day event.
To crib from the BetterBlock.org website:
The "Better Block" project is a demonstration tool that temporarily revisions an area to show the potential to create a great walkable, vibrant neighborhood center. The project acts as a living charrette so that communities can actively engage in the "complete streets" buildout process and develop pop-up businesses to show the potential for revitalized economic activity in an area.
It sounds like a great way to hold a block party.
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