It’s been tried in San Antonio. This weekend it will be tried in Norfolk. Perhaps Salisbury could benefit from a quick and dirty “Extreme Makeover”?
This weekend a group of volunteers and the urban planning firm Team Better Block will unveil a temporary “makeover” of a neglected section of Granby Street (once Norfolk’s vibrant main thoroughfare). The key word in this is “temporary”.
Why would a municipality spend thousands of dollars to temporarily fix-up a section of town? It gives people a chance to not only visualize, but actually experience, a re-vitalization plan. Rather than spend hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars on a plan that may be good … or bad, Team Better Block’s approach is simple:
- Do Something
- Do it CHEAPLY
- Do it QUICKLY
People get to see the potential of an area. Potential developers / investors can be attracted. Bureaucracy is curtailed. The advantages are almost endless.
Many think of San Antonio as a “forward thinking” city. Turning what was little more than a fetid ditch into the now world famous “Riverwalk” has generated billions in economic development for the city. However, the “Riverwalk” is just a small section of a large city. San Antonio has used the Team Better Block approach in three separate areas of the city, including in front of the Alamo – an area which inflames passions anytime the word “development” is used:
Last August, on Davy Crockett’s 226th birthday, Better Block closed the street in front of the Alamo – a previously controversial concept in the community – and set up an outdoor market and a QR-code walking trail for those with smartphones. Historical re-enactors re-created the famous battle. Hundreds of people, including locals, attended.
The project was so successful that once-staunch opponents warmed to the possibility of closing the street once a week, said Colleen Swain, the city’s redevelopment officer.
"They were able to test something that we would have never tried on a permanent basis, but it was OK on a temporary basis," Swain said. "It allowed us to gather feedback."
While self-identified fiscal conservatives may wail at the concept, they should think back to Ronald Reagan’s approach to federalism – 50 state “laboratories” competing in the marketplace of ideas for the best solutions to our most pressing problems. The Team Better Block approach is a public / private answer to a public problem. It’s something that Salisbury should look into before committing millions of dollars to a plan that can’t be experienced until after its completed.