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Youngstown kicks off Better Blocks series

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/28/15 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transform

The first Better Block event in Youngstown was held on Saturday, September 26th, on Mahoning Avenue on the West Side. The street was completely transformed for the day with bike lanes, street trees, outdoor seating, live music, a farmer's market, a cafe, and two art galleries.

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The goal of the event, according to its organizers, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, was to show the potential of Mahoning Avenue, highlight local artists and businesses, and spur more permanent improvements in the future.

More Better Block events will be held on the north, south, and east sides of Youngstown. The NOMA Better Block will take place on Friday, October 2 and Saturday, October 3. The Midlothian Better Block will take place on Sunday, October 25, and a Better Block will be planned for the East Side in the spring of 2016.

In describing the first Better Block in Youngstown, community organizer and Defend Youngstown founder, Phil Kidd had this to say:

"It was a great success. Mahoning Avenue is like a highway running through the heart of the West Side. There are no bike lanes or even any green space on the sidewalks for 2 or 3 miles.

"Generally speaking, I think people simply liked the fact that it was a pedestrian-friendly environment. There were also a few popular vendors, such as World Cafe which offered free crepes (with about 15 different fillings) in an vacant storefront, a new iced coffee vendor as well as homemade cotton candy by the Rocky Ridge Neighborhood Association."

The non-profit neighborhood group received a $32,000 grant from the Swanston Children's Fund for two Better Blocks this year and two in 2016.

The purpose of Better Blocks is to "promote complete streets urban redevelopment by creating demonstration projects to engage the public," according to The Better Block, an organization lead by Dallas native, Jason Roberts, who started doing pop up complete streets in his Oak Cliff, Dallas neighborhood before branching out to do them as a national consultant.

Roberts' example has inspired hundreds of Better Blocks, from Boston to Cleveland's 2012 Pop Up Rockwell. Earlier this spring, he worked with City of Akron and regional transportation officials at Akron Metropolitan Planning Study (AMATS) on a Better Block in that city's North Hill area.

Generally, Better Blocks work with low-cost or dumpster-dive materials like shipping palettes which, with some minor modifications and paint, can become street furniture for temporary sidewalk cafes. Pop up vendors are often found to fill vacant or underused commercial spots, and white duct tape creates crosswalks or bike lanes. Taken together, it helps raise awareness of a district and, in some cases, lead to more permanent revitalization efforts.

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