Could Salisbury Use an “Extreme Makeover” Downtown?

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.

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