Not all city blocks are created equal. Some are better than others and here in RVA we can build the best blocks with some smart planning and lots of community participation!
Not So Great Blocks
There are blocks we pass by or avoid entirely because they don’t offer attractive places to gather, a basic feeling of safety and comfort, or destinations relevant to our neighbors and families. Sound familiar? Yeah, there are many “not so great blocks” around our region.
Not so great blocks are often bigger than the average city block and built for cars to whiz past, which makes them boring to visit and sometimes dangerous to try to navigate.
Then there are blocks that attract people from all over to gather, shop, and socialize. They invite us to slow down and stay a while. Rather than being a “through” place, they become a “to” place. Better blocks are those that become a destination.
The characteristics that make up a “Better Block”
- You don’t need a car. Better blocks are built with pedestrians, transit users, and bikes in mind, so they’re walkable and feature clearly marked bus stops with shade and seating, lots of bike racks and bold visible crosswalks! They also have a density of storefronts, gathering areas, or public spaces, making them dynamic places to visit instead of speed past.
- You don’t have to spend money. There’s not “entrance fee” to visit a better block. They offer places to gather that don’t cost money. This might include benches, tables, pocket parks, stoops, or outdoor chess and checker boards. These places are where connections happen between people, strengthening the social fabric of the neighborhood.
- But you CAN spend money if you want to. A better block offers services that people need and business opportunities for a range of entrepreneurs and retailers. Corner stores, bars, hardware stores, and cafes keep people coming back and establish an anchor for commerce in neighborhoods.
- It feels good to be there. People feel safe if they’re visiting a better block. They’re well-lit and there’s lots of people there shopping, eating, and socializing. With lots of neighbors around, running errands or playing with their kids, better blocks build community.
How do we build MORE better blocks in RVA?
One block at a time, that’s how. Wouldn’t it be great if we could snap our fingers and just like *that* change all our blocks into better blocks? But it takes work, it takes time, and it takes leadership. Luckily, Active RVA is setting all the wheels in motion to build more better blocks.
Better Block Projects
Better Block Projects are temporary neighborhood overhauls that retrofit an existing “not so great” block to feature some of the amenities that make for better blocks. Why temporary? It’s amazing what a weekend “experiment” can do! By installing temporary crosswalks or pop-up shops or sitting areas, we can model the transformation we seek long-term.
Better Block Projects have been done all over the world, including in our own backyard of Norfolk, VA (twice) and right here in Richmond for the first time in 2014. Time and again these temporary projects have allowed for easier buy-in from city planners and neighbors and, by the same token, they support deep commitment from the same stakeholders because everyone gets to see the better block in action first!
Want to see a Better Block in your area? Want to help build them?
After building short-term better block projects, we work together to make the best, most effective features permanent, transforming our neighborhoods into destinations for everyone.
Building an active community filled with better blocks is our vision at Active RVA. If it’s yours too – join us.