Places & Faces
Better Blocks Build Better Cities
7/1/2019 1:00:00 PM
Better Blocks

Just what exactly is a "Better Block” and why is someone painting bicycles in the street? That question has been a topic of controversy and at times contention in Lake Charles for months.  Although it has the potential to be one of the best things to happen to our city in years, many residents don’t know what it is, why it matters, and how they will benefit from the temporary disruptions.

So, what is Better Block? Better Block started with an idea that occurred to Jason Roberts, a resident of a Dallas, TX suburb, after a vacation to Europe. Roberts was captivated by the inviting community spaces in Italy where families and friends could gather in plazas near beautiful fountains and open areas designed centuries ago yet still used today. He was fascinated by the cities and towns in Scandinavia where residents rode their bicycles and safely shared the road with motor vehicle traffic as they traveled to small shops and cafes that lined the streets inviting people to meet and gather. On his return to Dallas, Roberts saw the concrete and freeways and knew that was not the legacy he wanted to leave to future generations, and he set out to do something about it. Better Block was born from his idea, his dream, and his passion to make it happen. 

Roberts’ idea became a 501(c)3 organization to help people in any city wanting to improve the livability, safety, and beauty of their town and bring the community together in an inviting and sustainable environment. "Better Block” is an advocacy tool that educates, equips, and empowers communities and their leaders to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. 

When a group of Lake Charles residents and city leaders began to look at ways to promote the great assets our area already has to attract new business and industry, something was missing.  Lake Charles has great food, friendly people, wonderful music, and a gorgeous lake front but we were missing green space, safe walking and cycling spaces, and we had few community spaces to gather. 

Using tools from Better Block and Complete Streets, our leaders reached out to the community to hear what locals identified as needs or desires. Temporary bike lanes were installed downtown to gauge community reaction and usage before making any costly permanent changes.  A transportation study was commissioned and completed to determine what residents needed and wanted in public transportation routes and what areas the public felt were underserved or not served at all. The purpose of the study was to find ways to decrease traffic, provide a safe and efficient public transportation system to serve residents, tourists, and students in all areas of the city using community input and listening to both complaints and wish lists before investing funds in permanent changes.

Change is never easy. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But most importantly, meaningful change that is a success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes input from the people who will benefit or be inconvenienced by the change. THAT is the purpose of Better Block. It is a way to seek your input, hear your comments, discuss your opinions and ultimately make Lake Charles a better home for our families and a destination highpoint for anyone visiting Louisiana. Speak up and when asked to complete a survey or attend an open community meeting to discuss feasibility or change. Stand up and let your voice be heard.   

John O’Donnell is the Director of the Community Health Department at SWLAHEC and a passionate community activist.

Posted by: John O'Donnell | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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