Building block 

Plenty of optimists have probably looked around a depressed section of downtown and thought, "I could fix that."

Of course, most have stopped short of taking out a paint can and going for it.

Most, not all.

In cities across the nation, people are taking that can-do sentiment to heart and transforming small sections of their urban environments overnight to create experimental "Better Blocks" (betterblock.org). The operations are sometimes done "guerilla-style," and other times performed with the support of city governments. But the outcomes are largely the same.

For a day, a city block or two is given a temporary makeover: new paint, slowed or stopped vehicle traffic, bike lanes and bike parking, pedestrian cafes set up in lanes of closed-down streets, lively window displays, art and music.

The goal is to give people an idea of what is possible and, in doing so, spur change.

Colorado Springs residents will get their own taste of the Better Block concept very soon, when Pikes Peak Avenue between Tejon Street and Nevada Avenue is transformed from noon Sept. 21 to noon Sept. 22.

During the 24-hour experiment, traffic will be reduced to two lanes and slowed to just 5 miles per hour, and bikes, bike taxis and pedestrians will take over.

Expect cafes, plants, cheery storefronts and art.

If you like it, thank John Olson, landscape architect and planner at EVstudio. Olson saw a YouTube video of the original Better Block (performed near Dallas), a few years ago and was immediately intrigued.

During the past few months, he's worked with the city, and friendly businesses and nonprofits, to plan the event, which will cost around $11,000.

In his business, most big changes start on paper, but Olson says many people can't relate to that.

Better Block allows many people to "physically experience a place, rather than just looking at a drawing," Olson says.

Nick Kittle, the city's manager of administrative services and innovation, says that often it's difficult to excite the public about a big change. But with something temporary like Better Block Pikes Peak, citizens can get an idea of what a change will be like well before they're asked to commit to anything.

"It's important for us to have permission to try things," he says.

Though the format has yet to be decided, the city will have a way for citizens to comment on the Better Block experiment.

The city also plans to examine economic impacts.



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