Better Block needs volunteers for revitalization demonstration on Broadway and East Jones
When others see vacant, abandoned buildings and a car-oriented thoroughfare into downtown, Marita Roos and Jason Roberts see cafes and flower shops, bike lanes and sidewalk patios.
More than that, they plan to demonstrate what more can be done with what’s already there at the intersection of Broadway Street and E. Jones Ave. by setting up a temporary installation of "popup shops" and taking over the asphalt streets and converting them into sidewalk patios and bike lanes for a day.
Into the future, they see a walking path on E. Jones that stretches to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk. They see tree canopy creating shade that encourages people to walk. They see cars and pedestrians peacefully co-existing. And they see people inspired to walk and bike to that area when it becomes a destination.
“That space is absolutely underutilized,” said Roos, a senior planner with the City of San Antonio’s Complete Streets Initiative. “Some of the buildings are vacant. That whole intersection, except for the antique shop, is like an urban desert with basic sidewalks and lighting. It is not at all like the area around the museum, which is just a block away, with paver sidewalk and street lighting. And you drive a few hundred feet to Broadway, and it’s just – eh.”
Roos and the city are working with Roberts, the neighborhood revitalization activist behind The Better Block project, which temporarily revitalizes car-oriented, urban spaces to demonstrate how cities can bring cars, pedestrians and cyclists in the same place to peacefully co-exist in a thriving, revitalized neighborhood.
Starting Friday, Feb. 24, Better Block and local, community volunteers will be erecting temporary store fronts called “popup shops” in the vacant spaces at 1101 Broadway. Artists will set up a temporary gallery in the lobby of the antique shop across the street. In the razed, empty lots on that corner, the group will set up a garden and outdoor seating. They will temporarily claim street space and turn it into sidewalk patios, bike paths and on-street parking. They will have everything set up by 10 a.m., March 4, in time for Siclovia, the on-Broadway, near-downtown celebration of cycling and pedestrian activity. And when the party is over, Better Block volunteers will be taking down everything they've set up.
“The goal is to do it really quickly, put it up for a day or a weekend and then take it down,” Roos said. “It is temporary in nature, so that what you do is test out concepts that people have a hard time committing public funds and public right-of-way and lots of money toward. The idea is to temporarily demonstrate how you can revitalize an urban block with pedestrian infrastructure, mixed-use street design, art, culture, and street life.”
For this effort, the owners of a coffee business called Espumoso will run the temporary café. Peerless Tree Farm, a wholesale tree business in the Hill Country, will donate 30 trees for the day. And Milberger’s Landscaping & Nursery in San Antonio will donate other plants and heavy equipment to erect the trees, temporary garden and landscaping.
Last year, Roos’s office contacted Roberts, whose first Better Block installation in 2006 in his own Oak Cliff neighborhood in Dallas resulted in the allocation of public funds toward permanent infrastructure changes, to coordinate a project in San Antonio.
Watch this video to see the first Better Block demonstration in Oak Cliff:
“The city (of San Antonio) came to us and said that this was an area that they thought was underdeveloped, which had some great anchors, such as the museum and Maverick Park,” Roberts said. “We noticed while we were there doing a review that many people were asking us where the San Antonio Museum of Art was. And we thought it would be a great opportunity to work with the museum and the property owners in that area to highlight the amenities that are already there and to create signage and streetscape. There are great opportunities to make it more of a destination, as opposed to a thoroughfare, which is what it is now.”
For this demonstration, the City of San Antonio allocated $16,000 from a $16 million Center for Disease Control, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant, meant to encourage cities to develop public infrastructure that encourages walking, cycling and other forms of exercise to prevent obesity.
“Siclovia is the best-known demonstration of the CPPW grant,” Roos added.
Better Block and the City of San Antonio are asking volunteers to work on the construction, staging and setup of the popup shops, temporary streetscape, garden, art gallery, murals, and other installations for this demonstration on these dates and at these times: Friday, Feb. 24, 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 25, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, March 3, 5 to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, March 4, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Those interested in volunteering can find out more information by calling Jason Roberts at (469) 487-6263 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This YouTube video offers more background information about the Better Block demonstration process:
This story has been updated to reflect a change in NOWCastSA plans. We will not be producing a video of the Better Block process in San Antonio.