Neighborhood Revitalization, One Block at a Time



Revitalizing a neighborhood can seem like a daunting task for towns. Engaging the community can be expensive and time consuming, political buy-in from elected officials and decision makers can be difficult to build, and momentum can be hard to maintain over a lengthy implementation process. Team Better Block has spent the past eight years refining a new approach to transforming neighborhoods from the ground up, one block at a time.

This webinar explores the Better Block approach—a 90-day process that focuses on rapidly transforming a block using low-cost materials and volunteer ingenuity and power. The result is an empowered group of new leaders, a clear demonstration of the community’s vision, and an over-night road map to safety, mobility, and quality of place improvements. Communities build powerful connections around the shared experience of “making” a vision for the future together.

Andrew Howard, founder of Team Better Block provides background on how the project began and how communities can put the lessons to work.

Andrew Howard //
Co-Founder & Principal // Team Better Block

This webinar aired on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.

Eligible for 1 AICP CM credit from the American Planning Association, event #9148273.




We here at Community Builders would like to send out a big thank you to Andrew Howard from Team Better Block for such a fun and engaging webinar! If you missed it, Andrew led a great presentation on what happens when you partner with a community to rapidly transforming a block in their neighborhood using low-cost materials and volunteer ingenuity. Andrew weaved audience questions in throughout his presentation, but there were still a few questions left that we didn’t have time to get to. Thankfully, Andrew has agreed to answer these leftover questions in writing. Both questions and responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How can Better Block projects stimulate increased social cohesion? Appreciation of diversity?
Andrew: There is no better way to meet your neighbor than to swing a hammer together! Salt water cures everything, sweat, tears and the sea. Do some work together, share stories and you will break down barriers faster than any public meeting or diversity mixer.

Q: How much does a context sensitive solutions approach matter to your current work?
Andrew: I helped write the first CSD guidebook with ITE! It is now just second nature to me. I think we put a lot of labels on city design. Just design a place that you want to fall in love with and the rest will work out.

Q: How do you handle pilot projects on state-owned roads that require “crash worthy” materials for parklets, bumpouts, etc.  That is – pumpkins and hay bales aren’t enough.
Andrew: Crash worthy materials are available to the masses now! Check out the rubber form materials we have been using on our “works” page of teambetterblock.com

Q: Do communities often have concerns about the paint and it washing into storm drains (potentially violating stormwater/MS4 permits)?
Andrew: Yes. If using latex paint follow the striping guidance in your city. If using tempera or finger paint eat some in front of the city employee and watch them gasp!

Q: How do you bypass a DPW department that will not allow this to take place?
 Get a special event permit and don’t include details. Only give them what they ask for in the permit reqs.

Q: We have a state highway through the downtown with 30,000 vehicles a day traveling through it at 35 to 45 mph with the posted speed limit being 30 mph.  Any suggestions on downtown traffic calming improvements?
We do things a bit backwards. We start with the shops and with how people want to use the street. Do people want to gather, walk, bike, close the street? What would they do with added space? How would adjacent businesses use the new real estate found from traffic calming? Start on the edges and work inwards. Measure the decibel level. Then make it irresistible for drivers to not stop and get out of car to see what is going on. See the “works” section of our web site for ideas from other cities.

Q: Have you ever done projects in very rural or frontier communities?
 I want to! I think talent can be found in any population. 5,000 is about the smallest town we have done. Check out the works section of the web site.

Q: Couldn’t the Better Block process also be used to complement a community’s economic development by creating pop up vendors, tax revenue, etc.?
 Heck yes. Stop having golf tournaments and trying to attract the old factory back to town.

Q: Have you ever applied for funding from a local gov’t managing CDBG funds?
 No, but why not!

Q: Have you ever done something similar to the better block process to reimagine an oversized or underutilized parking lot as a public space? I am thinking of this as a way to better integrate a shopping center into its surrounding neighborhood when the street itself doesn’t lend itself to a Better Block project.
 Yeah, check out the two mall projects on our works section of the web site. They actually won a world retail experience award!

Q: For the Akron project, what was the most prominent vehicle mode?  Did this Main Street take freight (3-4+ axles) traffic or was it predominantly 2 axles (passenger vehicle and box truck)?
 It had some trucks. Bethel had many more. It had logging trucks go through…so cool to see them slow down and wave!

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