First published on 21 Feb 2013. Updated on 11 Mar 2014.
"Innovation has to come from citizens acting," declares Andrew Howard, a founding member of Better Block and a transportation planner from Dallas. "We’ve become really reliant on government to come up with the answers and usually they’ll just spit back something that’s already been done. They’re not innovating."
We speak to Andrew Howard on his whistle-stop tour promoting the concepts of biodegradable bicycle lanes, cafe seating and pop-up businesses – and how to get around the business of breaking the law, Texas style.
Andrew, you’ve teaching Aussies how to ‘beauty bomb’ their own towns. How does this work?
Better Block’s ethos is "less planning, more action". It’s about recognising opportunities to innovate in your local area and just making it happen.
So, we used to have organisations that helped grow the community. We’ve lost that social structure so we’re reinventing it with the Better Block. Small, temporary improvements, such as biodegradable bicycle lanes, alfresco eating areas, pop-up businesses, all demonstrate a case study for a sustainable and mobile community, and an improved sense of identity in an area.
You’re touring Victoria at the moment. What have been some highlights?
I would say that we were there at just the right time. Folks were ready to hear a message that encourages them to be active participants in their community. Geelong was really receptive of the message of DIY activism. They had been talking about doing something for a long time but didn’t have the impetus for action.
Every place is different. For example, Geelong has a beautiful harbour and has made great strides in developing the waterfront. The old city now holds many opportunities to create an authentic destination unlike any I have seen in Australia as of yet.
I encouraged them to embrace their nautical history and incorporate using sails as shade structures and old ship ropes as roadway bollard ties. Quirky things like the mysterious knot tier should be highlighted! Use these know to give a sense of place and unique identity.
How can Aussies get involved? Where do they start?
Just show up! Be present, set a date that you’re going to do it, put it out there and the right people will find you. People are more than willing to help, if you just ask for it.
What’s next for Team Better Block?
We’re off to Minnesota, Toronto and France to do Better Block activations and we’re even starting a development foundation so we can buy some of blocks we’re helping revitalise. We’d like to own property when we do a Better Block as the ownership ensures we have someone who stays on the block to make the change permanent.