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Posted In: Features

Building a ‘Better Block’ in Church Hill

Max Hepp-Buchanan

February 24, 2014 1:56pm
Pray chalk sharrows at the Better Block in Norfolk. Credit: Max Hepp-Buchanan

Spray chalk sharrows at the Better Block in Norfolk. Credit: Max Hepp-Buchanan

My first hands-on experience with the Better Block project came this last November in Norfolk. I had heard about Team Better Block through the grapevine, and had even seen Jason Roberts – one of the founding partners – speak at a conference about a year ago. I still didn’t really know what it meant to “build a better block,” so I drove down to Norfolk to check it out first-hand.

Within minutes of arriving at their Better Block project site on a sunny afternoon, I was put to work as a volunteer. Three hours later, I had built a shiny new crosswalk where one had not existed before – and I built it out of a dozen rolls of white duct tape.

About an hour later, what had been a fairly desolate and neglected stretch of W. 35th Street was transformed into a bustling businesses district for that Friday night and into the next Saturday afternoon. People were flocking there on foot and by bike to purchase food and merchandise from dozens of “pop-up” shops – restaurants and stores that popped up about as quickly as the crosswalk I had build out of duct tape.

Team Better Block is lead by a couple of guys – Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard – out of Dallas, Texas, who decided to create a movement to improve our public spaces without dealing with zoning ordinances, traffic engineering regulations, or other typical bureaucratic roadblocks. The Better Block project is designed to cut through that red tape and transform – albeit temporarily – a city block into a walkable, bikeable, vibrant place for people to gather, shop, eat, and socialize. While these demonstrations are gone after a weekend, there is a lasting focus on what can be made permanent in the short term to make the block more livable and attractive to businesses, residents, and developers.

Team Better Block does its thing in Norfolk. Credit: Max Hepp-Buchanan

Team Better Block does its thing in Norfolk. Credit: Max Hepp-Buchanan

Richmond’s first Better Block project is coming to North Church Hill on June 13-14 of this year. An initial partnership has formed between the Sports Backers, Bon Secours, the City of Richmond, Groundwork RVA, Storefront for Community Design, Partnership for Smarter Growth, and about a dozen community leaders to bring this experience to N 25th St between P Street and R Street. This partnership continues to grow, and any and all Church Hill businesses, residents, and organizations are encouraged to play a role in making this a success.

The first kick-off event in the several-month process of planning the North Church Hill Better Block project is Wednesday, March 12. Team Better Block will guide the community on a walk-through of the project area, starting at the corner of N. 25th Street and Venable Street at 6 p.m. The walk will be followed by a presentation and discussion at the Robinson Theater (2903 Q St) at 7:15 PM.

The Better Block at dusk. Credit: Max Hepp-Buchanan

The Better Block at dusk. Credit: Max Hepp-Buchanan

People who are interested in learning more or participating in the North Church Hill Better Block project can visit the Richmond Better Block webpage and click “volunteer” to sign up, RSVP for the March 12 Community Walk + Talk on Facebook, or email me (Max Hepp-Buchanan) directly. It’s going to take a whole community to pull this off, and everyone is invited to participate. We’re looking forward to building a Better Block in Richmond this summer!

About Max Hepp-Buchanan

Max Hepp-Buchanan is the Director of Bike Walk RVA, a regional program of the Sports Backers dedicated to making greater Richmond a safe and comfortable place to walk and bike. Max was raised in Seattle and received both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees at the University of Washington. Before joining the Sports Backers team, he did advocacy work for several years at Cascade Bicycle Club, one of the nation's largest bicycling organizations. Max, his wife Anna, and his son Lars, moved to Richmond in March of 2013 and settled in the Bellevue neighborhood.