This Saturday, the City of Newark hosted an event, Better Block Newark, on Bergen Street between Lyons and Lehigh Avenues in the South Ward. This event was inspired by the Build a Better Block events that have been happening across the country. For those who have not yet heard of the Build a Better Block, it started in Dallas where several community organizers set up temporary improvements to the Oak Cliff neighborhood. Improvements included street scape, street crossings, a median created by placement of planters, and pop up shops. They took over a couple of lanes on West Davis Street and instead of the normal flow of traffic, created bike lanes and sidewalk cafes. It was a low cost and guerrilla style approach to neighborhood improvement. It has since launched similar project across the globe. Here in Newark, thanks to the work of the city’s planning department, it has landed in the Weequahic neighborhood.
When I first found out that the City of Newark was organizing a Build a Better Block event in the South Ward, I was very excited. I think that the Better Block events create a chance for low capital projects to generate large returns in investment, business development, and neighborhood revitalization. Additionally, I had an excuse to venture to the South Ward. In early April, Cailie and I attended a planning event at the Saint John’s Unified Freewill Baptist Church. We were able to see and take part in some of the planning efforts for this event. Eventually, we even hosted a bike lane sign painting party at our place.
This Saturday was the event and Cailie and I enjoyed our time there. The weather was great and the people were great. There were several groups selling food at the event. Cailie got some Indian food from a restaurant that apparently opened up in downtown recently. I got a fish sandwich (really good) from Save Your Soul Food, a restaurant in nearby (and socioeconomically similar to Newark) East Orange.
Street furniture and parklets provided great seating throughout the site. Code For Newark was hanging out at one of these areas providing a cell phone charging station. Newark public radio WBGO was there, as well as the Newark Print Shop, which was printing shirts and bags on site. The Floyd Little Double Dutch team was out displaying their skills. The Newark Bike Exchange had bike rentals and United Cycle lead a tour through Weequahic Park.
It really seemed like the city was coming together to create a great event. This event in many ways encapsulates what is great about this city. There is a ton of positive energy. People are active making their own creations while working together to support each other’s creations. While writing this post, I got a bit distracted on Facebook and saw a post by Starski The Poet, a prolific writer at The Newark Times, which showed a picture from the FOSHO album release party. I’m listening to the album while writing this post; it’s great. It’s great to be living in a city where so many people are creating and making positive contributions, both on an individual level and on a communal level. It’s great to see the City of Newark taking lead on such an event and I look forward to both its positive impacts on these two blocks as well as future iterations of the event.