Better Block Challenge to add more life downtown

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BRATTLEBORO — A Better Block is defined as "a temporary project that adds life to underutilized or unwelcoming downtown spaces."

So the Better Block Challenge is about finding such projects for downtown Brattleboro.

"We're looking for teams to make submissions of projects that they might want to see implemented in downtown," Brattleboro Planning Director Sue Fillion said Thursday.

Applications can be found at wp.placesense.com/brattleboro. Submissions are due by 4 p.m. Aug. 12.

Three "pop-up" projects will be selected by the Brattleboro Planning Committee to be installed Sept. 20 and 22. According to the website, projects can include "pop-up shops or eateries, art displays or performances, spaces for games or exercise, improvements to sidewalks and crosswalks, bike lanes or parking, outdoor seating or reading areas, streetscaping and landscaping, changes to building facades, etc."

"These are temporary installations that the community members will propose and then we will give them some assistance," said Fillion.

That help could be with permitting or finding sites. Teams will get $500 to buy supplies.

Guidance will be given by consultants from PlaceSense, who have been hired by the Planning Commission to work on a downtown design plan to incorporate "green" stormwater practices and improve circulation, access for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The town received a $22,000 Vermont Municipal Planning Grant and will contribute $18,100 in matching funds toward the design plan. The plan is anticipated to be completed by early 2020.

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The Better Block Challenge is one of two opportunities for community members to be involved in identifying projects aimed at "creative placemaking," Fillion said, meaning the use of art or culture activities to "enliven" areas.

The People for Places Charrette will be a three-day event in October. That's "going to give a chance for the public to get together to do some visioning, get consensus around changes to public spaces and infrastructure," Fillion said. "People can respond to the plan."

Fillion said she hadn't yet received any applications for the Better Block Challenge. She noted the applications ask "four simple questions." They are each weighted from 15 to 25 points.

"Will the proposed project create a welcoming, inclusive and accessible space for all people without regard to age, ability, race, ethnicity, identity, etc.?" the applicant asks. "Will the proposed project improve safety, routes, access and/or circulation for pedestrians and/or bicyclists? Will the proposed project incorporate arts and cultural activities to enliven and revitalize public spaces? Will the proposed project benefit the downtown business district and the economic viability of downtown businesses by attracting new customers, diversifying the population frequenting downtown shops and restaurants, enticing people to stay downtown longer, or providing goods and services currently not offered downtown? Will the proposed project 'green' downtown by incorporating streetscaping, landscaping,green stormwater practices (rain gardens, stormwater planters, etc), renewable energy or energy conservation measures, etc.?"

For those who want to be involved but don't have their own project, Fillion said there is a "match-up form."

"We want anyone who wants to be included to be included," she said. "So I am happy to talk with anyone who is interested in connecting with other groups."

Fillion counted a couple of people affiliated with local organizations at Tuesday's kick-off meeting.

"People are talking about it," she said. "They're considering ideas around things such as art. I think there's some interest around bicycles and accessibility and things like that. I don't want to give anything away for anyone who hasn't exactly nailed anything down yet."

Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Executive Director Stephanie Bonin said her group will submit a project or help other applicants.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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