Taking over Texas, starting with Oak Cliff: one bike lane at a time

(c) The Better Block: A Tool to Rapidly Revitalize Neighborhood Blockshttp://betterblock.org/
(c) The Better Block: A Tool to Rapidly Revitalize Neighborhood Blocks
Check their website!

Jason Roberts of Dallas, Texas shares his story on “how to build a better block.” Following a trip to various European cities about 10 years ago, Roberts was struck by the livability of European city streets and public spaces – by bike, by foot, as well as spaces and places for the young and old to linger. He came back to Oak Cliff, Texas (a district of Dallas) with new visions for his city: to revamp the city’s historic architecture, to inspire the re-introduction of street cars, bring outdoor cafes and green spaces, and build a cycling reputation. With persistence and creativity, he has helped to turn the city-district around – one neighbourhood block at a time.  Roberts states, “I am not the leader of a bicycling movement… but I became one. And this is what I tell people all the time: if you are passionate about something, you are probably going to become a leader, because that passion will be broadcasted to the community and people are going to want to get behind you….So take that charge and run with it.”  

Roberts recommends three steps to help change your community:

  1. Show up – bring your skills
  2. Give it a name – identity
  3. Set a date and publish it – commit to change
  4. And I will add a fourth one – watch the video!
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5 thoughts on “Taking over Texas, starting with Oak Cliff: one bike lane at a time

  1. I had the chance to meet Jason when I lived in Dallas. Honestly, it was because he was a charismatic and genuine regular guy that I felt that “anyone” could make a difference and got interested in community affairs.

    There were meetings in a cool place with good pizza and good beer and a group of 30 people would talk about what they see the issues to be.

    That was shortly after the first Better Block and just before I left Texas. In some respects I wish I had stayed because they have went on to do even more great things, but a movement like this needs to spread in the most unlikely of places, i.e. Peoria, Illinois…

    Sadly, I think we get lost in “Becoming European” which blurs the real understanding why their cities benefit people more than U.S. cities.

    1. A few years ago, when working for the City of Malmö Local Authority (Sweden), I participated on a European-U.S. cities tour on local climate policy. Together with representatives of Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, Warsaw and Copenhagen, we traveled to several U.S. cities (including Austin and Huston) to share our policy perspectives on climate change, sustainable development & quality of life. (And certainly learned something from these US cities!) As a half-Swede, half-Seattleite, I was impressed (and humbled) with all the things underway in different Texan cities. You don’t hear that much about Texas from an environmental point of view in Europe, but one should! It was so encouraging… and some things, uniquely Texan. But I agree with you about the “becoming European” bit vs. “quality of life” – the latter being the end goal after all. Still, there are also many great U.S. cities that are on their way as well (with or without the Disneyland feeling to go along with it.) From the video, it seems this is the case also in Dallas, which is encouraging!

      I think it is great work that you are doing also in Peoria, Illinois – we need this movement to spread across the U.S. However, if you are ever looking for a little inspiration (or a study tour) I might recommend http://i-sustain.com/. I worked there years ago (as an intern, and they have evolved a lot since then). Anyway, I-Sustain is Seattle-based (recently moved to DC though). THey organize interesting educational trips for urban planning and city professionals in cities across Europe, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. They also bring foreign delegates to US/ Canadian cities to learn from some of the things underway… Their approach is two-fold: a focus on activities in the city (i.e. Seattle in this case) to stress quality of life, and then there are the trips (i.e. taking city leaders to other inspiring examples). In Seattle we organized a fancy dinner party on the street years ago with Jan Gehl (my ultimate urban planning hero) and the Seattle Mayor as guest speakers together with various artists for entertainment; we also organized car vs. bike photo shoot to demonstrate space occupancy issues. And then there are the trips… More importantly, these various activities have helped facilitate real changes in and around Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, etc. by taking good ideas and applying them in a local context. Anyway, check out their website! And good luck with all your work in Peoria!

      1. Thanks, and thanks for the link! Cities For People is in my on deck circle to read. Had a roommate in college from Malmo. Visited him there a couple times, great place. Between there, Copenhagen & Amsterdam I’d love to take our good ol’ Midwestern dignitaries there to see how things have evolved and where we stand to learn. Any certainly there is more to learn from than just the lutfisk.

      2. Ah, Malmö is one of my all-time favourite cities… my muse. Check: http://malmo.se/sustainablecity for the city’s continous sustainability quest. I love it so much, best job I ever had, and the best source of inspiration! I have been afraid to write about it, because I want to make sure to do the city justice! 🙂 (Plus, I started the blog only since I moved to Amsterdam). Happy to call cities like Malmö, Amsterdam, Seattle and Stockholm as home. Plenty of inspiration and experiences to share!

        And Gehl, yes… enjoy the book! I used to meet up with him when I lived close to Copenhagen, enjoy a glass of wine and people watch. So many amazing stories, so many connections, and yet he takes the time to foster ideas in young people and his students. My hero for sure – up there with the mayor of Malmö, my father and my favourite professor!

  2. i loved your website, it always help me when i want to understand more about some subject, thanks a lot for helping us to get this information.

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