The Better Block project launched two years ago on a national scale when Dallas native Jason Roberts broke boundaries (and the law) in his own neighborhood. In April 2010, he and 1,500 others ignored dozens of city ordinances to correct the problems they saw in their neighborhood, and the idea caught on quickly. Since then, neighborhoods across the country have borrowed the idea and followed its principles (and this time, the law) for their own local issues. The Jefferson Park experiment is Denver's first, but volunteers are already banking on it not being the last.Starting in November, organizers at WalkDenver, Groundwork Denver and Jefferson Park United Neighbors, among other groups, gathered to outline plans for the summer project. They hoped to spotlight the possibilities of pedestrian travel by opening all the surrounding streets to bikers and walkers rather than just cars, and they worked with Denver Public Works to decide which temporary improvements were physically possible.
"It was a long process," organizer Gosia Kung says. "We started with public outreach -- soliciting input from people on what kind of change they'd like to see on these streets, what kind of businesses they wanted to see, etc. We wanted to paint this vision of what we want this area to become. The answer was, overwhelmingly, that they wanted to see local businesses and community support for them."
The project's goals are both long-term and short-term. Through more than 4,000 volunteer hours and a hard cost of $6,000 (not counting in-kind donations), organizers decorated the block with flowers, benches and trees. They redesigned city streets and filled them with live music. They turned empty storefronts into a coffee shop and a gallery. They mapped biking and walking paths throughout the neighborhood, and they painted the streets and their surroundings with art. And while the effects were only temporary, they proved what is possible, Kung says."We're hoping to see a local restaurant and other local community support come out of this permanently," Kung says. All of Saturday's changes took place rapidly and targeted high-impact solutions. "We're also working with the city to implement the trees and benches permanently. The next step is for Groundwork Denver, WalkDenver, Jefferson Park United Neighbors and everyone else to meet with (City Councilwoman) Susan Shepherd and Public Works and have a conversation about going beyond Better Block -- what we learned and how we can implement it in real, everyday life. Now."
As volunteers prepare for those meetings in the near future, they've also turned their attention to additional temporary examples -- namely, more (and better) blocks. At least four other neighborhoods are working to apply the concept within their own boundaries in the coming months.
"We actually had a lot of people approach us and tell us they're already thinking about it or planning one," Kung says. "We'd also like to keep doing them. As tired as we all were that night, everyone on the team said yes to a future one already."Click through for additional photos of Saturday's event.