Urban Life Transformer Jason Roberts Visits San Jose

One of the advantages of working in economic development for an active, engaged city is that we get to meet creative and actively engaged people who are making amazing contributions to urban life.

This week, we heard from Jason Roberts, the founder of Better Block Project over a brown bag lunch in our conference room, with employees from all over City Hall.

Better Block is an effort that brings together a team of creative professionals and dedicated community members who want to transform their streetscape to create a more livable, people-centered environment that enhances urban life.

The program takes literally an overnight approach,  attaining quick wins to turn around an uninteresting or possibly even hostile block of a city.  The goal is to replace glacial municipal planning and implementation processes with virtually instant, reversible changes that totally re-orient the whole discussion about upgrading a neighborhood.  And when property owners, entrepreneurs, city planners and traffic engineers see what an incredible difference some found objects, donated plants and sweat equity can do in a few days, permanent changes will happen.

Jason Roberts, who is the founder of Better Block Project as well as co-founder of the Art Conspiracy and Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, formed the Oak Cliff Transit Authority in 2006 to revive the Dallas streetcar, and spearheaded the effort in garnering a $23 million stimulus grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

Better Block was organized in 2010, a grassroots effort of taking blighted blocks with vacant properties in Dallas and converting them into temporary walkable districts. The project has become an international movement, with organized local groups transforming over 60 neighborhoods in the nation, and improving neighborhoods and the quality of urban life through Better Blocks.

We are so intrigued with the idea of helping small businesses to set up in empty storefronts, building a piazza overnight, and lining bleak downtown streets with foliage!  Take a minute to look at the almost-instant transformations that are possible!