I am constantly inspired by the places I have been and the people I have met over the course of my brief 29 years. Having been somewhat of a nomad, I’ve tried to dig deeper into the meaning of why I like the places that I do and why I say “meh” to others.
As I was starting to gain more and more interest in urban planning, community development and economic development, I came across an organization in Dallas called Go Oak Cliff. The organization‘s mission as per the website:
is a non-profit news, advocacy, and quality of life organization focused on supporting and inspiring the Historic Oak Cliff Community which lies directly southwest of Downtown Dallas, Texas. Go Oak Cliff’s mission is simple: to develop North Oak Cliff as the most livable community in the nation.
After four and a half years spent living in the Metroplex, I’d heard of the area but never ventured to it. So immediately, I was ashamed but inspired at the same time. Having read about some of the cool events they were having, one in particular caught my eye. The members of this organization and the local community came together to redevelop a neglected city block. The Better Block Project as it was aptly named, seemed like a helluva lot of work but a worthy cause to transform this neighborhood block into what it could be – a lively, vibrant neighborhood block.
This all seems like some folklore – that a group of community activists could get away with such shenanigans. But I guess when an area of the city has been written off you get a free pass to do whatever. Enter the DIY’ers and tactical urbanists as they are called. They come equipped with a vast array of planning and community development know-how. With some sweat equity and long volunteer hours, they transformed a part of forgotten Southern Dallas into one of the liveliest places around.
That itself, was just a springboard to show the local community and governing bodies what could be. When you show people that they can walk to an area, ride their bike to an area, stay and hangout in the area, feel welcome in an area, display cool businesses that could be in an area, you’ve basically staged an open house for an available space attracting people to buy in. I bought in…I wasn’t even there and I bit hook-line and sinker. It encompassed everything that I’ve felt missing about Northern Dallas with its strip malls and big boxes that I could only reach via a 20 minute car ride.
So I built up the courage to send one of the founder’s of this operation (Jason Roberts), an email saying, “Hey, cool stuff, love to help out…” Not knowing what he reply back with, I came to find that he was one of the most personable and welcoming people I’d ever met. I had a chance to make an appearance at a couple of meetings which were community brainstorming sessions. However, I knew I was going to be moving North and that my days left to help the cause in Oak Cliff were numbered. Although I may have spent most of my time in other places around the area previously, the majority of time near the end of my Dallas stay was in Oak Cliff. Specifically, the Bishop Arts District, which completely turned itself around as one of the “cool” places to be.
I took a lot from these couple of meetings and the time I spent down there analyzing why I enjoyed it so much. The other thing I came away with was a renewed sense of purpose. When speaking with Jason and hearing the other ideas coming out of these meetings, I was blown away at how far behind the curve I was. These individuals were really going to make an impact not only on this area, but in the whole city. So I set out on my own mission (chronicled in this blog) to learn as much as I can about the redevelopment of cities in crisis, experience as much as I can hands-on, get involved in any way possible, and continue to make a positive impact on the people and places around me.
With all that back story out-of-the-way, I’m pleased to say that my proposal and my efforts to transform the Main Street District in Pekin, Illinois have been heard. I’ve come up with several documents and plans as partially seen here (more to be released), but one in particular was to utilize the Better Block Project concept in what I named myMAINSTREET. In a city of 34,094, my goal is to show what could be in our neglected downtown and how easy it is to be inspired by these once forgotten blocks. This concept is also meant to serve as a process to turn the area over to the community. Their voices should be heard and represented in transforming our city to the place of the potential it HAS, not HAD.
I have only 3 weeks and no money but I DO have a lot of determination and ambition to make this event succeed. It is coinciding with a Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours and the property owner of a historic block that he is remodeling has been kind enough to open the doors and host this soiree. I’ll be posting updates and before/during/after pictures. Any ideas, suggestions or donations are more than welcome! Hell, if you’re in the Peoria, Illinois area on June 7th, stop by!
*For a detailed overview of the project check the Community Development page at the top.*