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Learn How to Build a Better Block

Working with experts from the urban design firm Team Better Block, AARP and residents of Fort Wayne, Indiana, demonstrate how to, well, create a better block.

Team Better Block is a placemaking-focused “public outreach” firm of urban planners and architects who travel worldwide to temporarily reengineer “auto-dominated, blighted, and underused urban areas into vibrant centers.”

AARP has partnered with the Dallas-based consultants to launch several pop-up demonstration projects. The project shown below was held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in November 2017. When the Better Block crew works in a community, it works with the community. The team offers the following advice and a “recipe” for how to successfully pop into a community (even your own) to lead a pop-up project. 

The Before photo of a Better Block Demonstration in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Photo by Team Better Block

Columbia Avenue in Fort Worth, Indiana, before the pop-up demonstration project.

Recipe: Leading a Pop-Up Demonstration Project

STEP 1: Get the community involved

The people who live or work in the community will determine whether a Better Block effort will be successful. Organizers need to have an outreach plan for seeking input from residents, businesses, stakeholders, advocates, sponsors, organizations, nonprofits, politicians, government officials and potential volunteers.

STEP 2: Use placemaking principles

Every community has its own character. Determine which design elements (parklets, bike lanes, etc.) can demonstrate the vision of the neighborhood.

STEP 3: Program the event

Programming is key in creating a pop-up event. The formula for programming is simple: comfort + food and beverages + activities. Having something to do gives people a reason to go to a place — and return. Having seating that’s comfortable, clean and located

STEP 4: Collect data

Gather data that will move the long-term plan forward. Data collection might involve measuring vehicle speeds or conducting surveys.

STEP 5: Make it permanent

The lasting impact of a project depends on the com- munity’s goals. Pop-up projects are temporary but they plant the seeds for long-term change

The After photo of a Better Block Demonstration in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Photo by Team Better Block

Columbia Avenue, Fort Worth, Indiana, during the pop-up demonstration project. (Yellow swim noodles served as attention-getters for passersby and soft weapondry for mock battling.)

A Bit About Build Workshops

Pop-up events require people to work together to make and place things. Try to use materials and resources that are found in the community. Volunteers are typically organized into three work teams:

  • Art and Beauty
  • Streets and Public Places
  • Pop-Up Programming

Prepare in advance but be ready to improvise. Magic happens when people with enthusiasm and cool ideas are free to implement them.

An example of a Complete Street

Photo by Team Better Block

Learn what the numbers mean. Click on the image to read "See an Example of a Complete Street."

Painting the Street Purple, White and Blue

As seen in the photograph above, paint can be powerful. Here's how to paint pavement.

Supplies: Push brooms, measuring tape, chalk or a chalk line reel, industrial-grade duct tape, paintbrushes, paint rollers and poles, paint trays and paint (acrylic if permanent, tempera if not). One gallon of paint covers 350 to 400 square feet.


1.            Decide on a design

2.            Use the push brooms to remove debris

3.            Create a frame for the design by applying the duct tape to the street’s surface

4.            Measure and then mark with chalk the spots that will be covered (or “masked”)

5.            Use duct tape to cover the negative (or unpainted) spaces

6.            Apply the tape to the surface

7.            Pour the paint into the trays and apply with the rollers

8.            Allow to dry (30 to 60 minutes), then remove the tape

Tip: Pull the tape up at a 45-degree angle to avoid peeling off the paint.

This article is an excerpt from the "Create Thriving, Productive Communities" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Examples From America’s Local Leaders. Download or order your free copy.

Book published June 2018

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