Better Block Workshop: Enhancing the Pedestrian Experience

On Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 16 and 17, 2019, Heartland 2050 and AARP Nebraska brought Team Better Block to the metro to work on enhancing the pedestrian experience and drive community engagement.

A facilitated workshop was held Monday afternoon at Outrspaces in Omaha. That evening, a public event was held to inform the community about Better Block entitled Making Place: Designing with Purpose.

We recently received a technical assistance grant through AARP to build support for their Livable Communities Initiative, which understands that working to provide safe, walkable, age-friendly housing and transportation options, access to needed services, and opportunities for residents of all ages to participate in community life begins at the local level.

At the Better Block Workshop, Andrew Howard, co-founder of Team Better Block, presented to community members and stakeholders about the Better Block Approach – an approach used in over 200 cities around the world.

“Team Better Block provides community engagement opportunities at the grassroots level. Neighbors truly have a chance to build great spaces and to provide a vision of what their streets can look like,” said Keegan Korf, Metro Smart Cities Coordinator.

The Better Block Workshop focused on building awareness of the benefits of redesigning spaces for people, building connections between organizations in our community and provided consultation for site design in three different spots in the metro.

The City of Omaha received a Heartland 2050 mini-grant to conduct the Forever North Study, a housing and multi-modal study for the North 24th street corridor.

Following the Better Block Workshop, participants were guided by stakeholders from the Forever North project and Andrew Howard on a discussion and tour around the recent developments of Drips, Culxr House, Fair Deal Marketplace and the Union for Contemporary Art.

This tour was designed to explore temporary street treatments that reduce traffic noise and activate vacant spaces to create more social engagement.

“In communities where community engagement and revitalization is urgent, there is the need for accessible solutions,” said Lasha Goodwin, member of Global Leadership Group Omaha. “Between the presentation and the block walk after, I left the workshop armed with actionable and attainable strategies for my community.”

After the Forever North discussion and tour, Andrew, MAPA and AARP Nebraska met with Southside Redevelopment Corporation, Spark CDI, and the Simple Foundation to explore opportunities to bring people together in coordination with the Southside Terrace redevelopment project that is at its early stages.

On Monday evening, more community members gathered to hear about the Better Block Approach and how it would work in Omaha. The event raised awareness about Better Blocks and their benefit to communities as well as ways they can get involved.

“The beauty with short-term solutions or pop-up events is that you can get a true idea of how people who live, work, and play in the area naturally react to the idea in the actual environment and in turn, you can better understand the need for a permanent solution,” said Dasha Sudar, Coordinator for Adult Learners at Creighton University.

On the second day of the Better Block Workshop, stakeholders and Andrew met with the City of Omaha, Public Works, Planning and Omaha by Design to discuss ideas for Smart Cities projects.

One of the onsite consultation areas that was visited was the Passageway on the 100 Block in Council Bluffs.

The group focused on the activation of this space for entertainment purposes through the 712 Initiative for the City of Council Bluffs that will benefit businesses in the area such as Barley’s Bar.

AARP Nebraska, Heartland 2050 and MAPA were proud to partner with Team Better Block to provide discussion and insight on how to bring these projects to the metro area. Heartland 2050 strives for equity, inclusion, local control, regional benefit and efficiency as Team Better Block envisions for the future of communities.

For more information or how to get involved with Better Blocks, visit teambetterblock.com.