The Better Block Project shows how changing a street can change a neighborhood

What hidden potential do roads have to become lively, walkable neighborhoods? One group in Texas is helping reveal what streets in many places could be.

The Better Block Project temporarily transforms underused streets into vibrant neighborhood centers. The project acts as a living charrette so communities can see what “complete streets” look like, as well as the potential for revitalized economic activity in an area. By setting up retail stands, sidewalk cafes, places for children to play and making the area friendlier to pedestrians, the project creates a temporary town square that organizers hope will have a lasting impact.

One of the first Better Blocks, in Dallas’ Oak Cliffs neighborhood, transformed a car-centric thoroughfare to a people-friendly destination for two days. The project even included temporary businesses like a cafe, flower market, kid’s art studio, and featured historic lighting, cafe seating, live music and more. The event was such a success that members of city hall now want to make it permanent.

Andrew Howard is a transportation planner in Dallas and one of the co-founders of the Better Block Project. Howard calls the installations “urban defibrillators,” and says that they showcase how street changes can revitalize a neighborhood. The Better Block Project installations are temporary, but Howard explains that they can have a lasting impact:

Since the very first Better Block a year ago in Dallas, two businesses have taken up leases on that street. And it impressed the Dallas City Council, which has since hired Howard’s urban planning firm to design a walkable public plaza on what used to be traffic lanes. Howard says the car-free space will be dotted with trees and benches to encourage people to hang around…But more than that, he hopes to catch the eye of the politicians who can actually make these changes permanent on blocks around the city.

The Better Blocks Project is already expanding to other communities across the country, and it’s helping cities gain support for and implement infrastructure and policy changes. Learn more about the projects at

Building better cities 24 hours at a time [NPR’s Marketplace, August 5, 2011]

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Complete Streets