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Main Street Gets a Makeover

See how a weekend transformation made downtown Bethel, Vermont, pop!

  • The Bethel Better Block logo
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Bethel Better Block

    In 2016, the planning group Team Better Block partnered with AARP Vermont in the town of Bethel (pop: 2,030) to demonstrate how placemaking and community design influence successful aging, health, economic vitality and overall livability.

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  • A Better Block plan maps the Bethel Better Block project.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    The Roadmap

    The event took place over a weekend in early October and featured temporary "pop-up" businesses, street modifications, new public spaces and many other small interventions aimed at improving livability in the downtown corridor. 

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  • Main Street Bethel as seen from above.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Bird's Eye View

    Bethel was a great place for a Better Block demonstration project because it featured a good street (suitably named Main Street) that could be made better. 

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  • Empty and struggling storefronts on Main Street, Bethel, Vermont
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Closed for Business

    Among the reasons Bethel benefited from a Better Block intervention was that many of its downtown buildings, including this historic one at 257 Main Street, were vacant and in need of a facelift.

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  • Active storefronts on Main Street, Bethel, Vermont
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Open for Business

    During the Bethel Better Block weekend, pop-up shops and services took upoccupency in the building's street-level spaces. 

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  • Examples of a parklet, bulb out and Blue Lane in Bethel, Vermont
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Take a Closer Look

    This bird's eye view image shows three demonstration projects that were added to improve Main Street's walkability.

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  • A crosswalk with bulb out in Bethel, Vermont
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Pedestrians Crossing

    Stripes added to the crosswalks and curb extensions enhanced by landscaping bulb-outs helped alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians and reduced the crossing distance from one side of the street to the other.

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  • Two parking spots become a parklet and gathering spot.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    No Parking

    Two parking spots were taken over for the weekend and transformed into spaces where people (rather than cars) could spend the day.

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  • The Crazy Gringo Taco Bar was open for business in the Bethel Better Block parklet
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Sidewalk Dining

    The floorspace within the two parking spots provided room enough for both a pop-up taco stand and a dining area.

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  • An aerial view of the Blue Land and sidewalk parklet.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Sidewalk Stories

    Sidewalk seating and dining brings activity and activities to Main Street. The food stand generated $900 in revenue during the three-day event. 

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  • A blue poster describes the Blue Lane and three tricyclists, both older and young, show how the lane can be used.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    The Blue Lane

    The most noticable change to Main Street was the addition of a dedicated, 700-foot-long walk-bike lane. (The lane borders were created by using straw wattles.) The Blue Lane concept originated in Denmark. Bethel was its first use in the U.S.

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  • A woman uses a stencil and white spray paint to add markings to the Blue Lane.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Street Signage

    A volunteer is shown spray painting an image of dancers, which was one of the several icons used to indicate that the Blue Lane welcomed all kinds of non-motorized means of getting around.

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  • Before and after images show how an empty lot can become a sitting area.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Before and After

    Small, seemingly discarded spots of greenery can be opened, tidied and shared as outdoor public spaces.

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  • A temporary bus shelter made of logs and wood provides shelter for people as they wait for the shuttle bus.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    There was Transit, Too

    After the weekend event, the private transit operator that was used to get visitors in and out of the downtown decided to add a permenant route through Bethel. 

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  • Visitors sit in a parklet that's decorated with a sign that reads Made in Bethel
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    A Parklet for the People

    When the weather is nice, it's nice to have a place for sitting outside. 

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  • Photo by AARP Vermont

    Swimming Along

    After the demonstration weekend, Bethel received a grant from the Vermont Arts Council to beautify public spaces with art. This fish-themed mosaic decorates a retaining wall on the way into town. 

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  • The Welcome to Bethel sign announces that the town was chartered in 1779.
    Photo courtesy Team Better Block

    Welcome to the Video

    See more scenes from the Bethel Better Block weekend and learn about the damage caused to the town when Tropical Storm Irene swept through in 2011. Watch the or video and read more about how the demonstration came to be.

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Slideshow published January 2017 | Updated October 2019

Learn More

Read how Bethel was able to prove its potential — and watch the before and after video:

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