Better Block works to develop lasting legacy
Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
May 15, 2013
A couple weekends ago, on a windy and chilly day, families, hipsters and young professionals filled the Farmer’s Market district in Oklahoma City. Simple improvements like new signs, benches, trees, even parking spaces all were a part of the second version of Better Block OKC. But this story starts in 2012, when Better Block took on Hudson and 7th in midtown Oklahoma City…
It’s a pretty quiet day here on Northwest 7th and Hudson in Oklahoma City, right across from the Oklahoma City Federal Building. There are some changes you do notice since Better Block: reverse angle parking on Seventh Street. And there’s a couple cars going by, a couple trucks. Not many people out walking today, it’s a dreary day.
I visited the area a year later with Kristen Vails and Alison Barta Bailey, who brought Better Block to Oklahoma City. Scattered throughout the block: pop up shops, hawking everything from flowers to books. The quick transformation requires a buy in from the community and landlords.
“This was actually pretty easy last year, there was one property owner to work with. He was really cool with us just coming in and making it our playground essentially.”
As I stood on the street corner, I wondered what had changed though. For those involved, it’s awareness. Here’s Ashley Terry, who volunteered for the first one and now works on the block.
“There’s more of a social buzz about the area, that was left behind. And those things are great to have because change can happen when a lot of people come together. It does take small pieces, but sometimes it does take a big group of people, and so it’s nice to have that.”
Better Block is a nationwide initiative designed to educate, entertain, and inform. Tulsa has something similar, called Street Cred. They both aim to re-make neighborhoods to show what they hope the future looks like – walkable, livable, and more community centered. On the education side, signs next to trees and benches highlight how they help create community. For information, a map showing a neighborhood, and how far you could walk in ten minutes. Entertainment? Bands.
Down in the Farmer’s Market District, nuzzled between Walker and I-40 a bit southwest of downtown, a band entertained those out and about on this Saturday. And the variety of shops had expanded. There was a flower shop, sure, but there were also crafts, cooking wood, drums, artwork and more all for sale.
Since last year, Kristen Vails says they’ve learned a little bit more on carrying the momentum forward, so Better Block doesn’t just turn a neighborhood around for a day or two, but for a week, a month, a year, and beyond.
“We wanted to create more permanence with what we did this year in the Farmer’s Market District. More things that are going to stay and are not going to go away after we’ve done them.”
They saw potential in the area – a built in community, a set up that encourages parking the car and walking around, and space. Sam Douglas from Oklahoma City said this is the kind of event that brings out the future.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if people start wanting to invest more money and time into this area. I could definitely see that happening.”
It also brought out some businesses that are just getting started. Courtney Ramos was selling flowers to get the word out about her new shop, Dutch. But why this event, what was it that made it one to show up to?
“I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit of everything, in a good way. Yes, I do think it brings other people, maybe people you wouldn’t have at the bigger events. This is more cozy, neighborhood friendly.”
Alison Barta Bailey, Kristen Vails, and their team of volunteers have now been through two areas…Hudson and Seventh and the Farmer’s Market District. They’re in very different places along the development process. Alison sees what has been done in other parts of the country, though, and that gives her hope.
“People just know that area and they’ve made it a part of their life. And we want this to be that for our Oklahoma City citizens.”
“This is going to be an area that we look back 20 years from now, and see all sorts of really cool things happening. And I’m going to take pride that we as Better Block hopefully kicked part of that off.”