Better Block Project sets its sights on Five Points -- and Sonny Lawson Park
What could a fresh coat of paint, live music and a comfortable place to enjoy a meal outdoors do for a block in your neighborhood? Residents of Five Points could find out this Saturday, May 11, when Denver's second Better Block project focuses on the 2400 block of Welton Street -- home of Sonny Lawson Park. The one-day mini-makeover of a city block will also include dance performances, food vendors, gardening demonstrations, walking tours and more.
Jennifer Koskinen A scene from last year's Better Block Project.
Last year's edition focused the Jefferson Park area, and the block of West 25th Avenue where the event was held is indeed looking better. In advance of Saturday's block party, Westword spoke with Gosia Kung, director of WalkDenver, the organization behind the project, about last year's success and this year's goals.
- Photos: Better Block project transforms Jefferson Park spot
- Five Points community gets to the point at cultural potluck today
- Photos: Corner House opens today with chef Matt Selby behind the burners
Westword: This is the second year for the Better Block Project in Denver. What do you have in store for the Five Points edition? What are you doing this year that might be different, and what was the impact of last year's?
Gosia Kung: This year's project is a little different -- it's a little less focused on economic development. We don't really have pop-up businesses the way we had them last year. We are more focused on activating a park, so it's more about public space and improvement of the park. It's about access to recreation and access to healthy food and kind of demonstrating how pedestrian improvement and environmental improvements in general can impact the community.
It's also an educational tool; we really engage with the community. It's a long project -- it took us six months this year to get to the point where we are. We started with public outreach and visioning of why this place is important. Why do people feel strongly about it? What kind of improvements do we want to demonstrate? Then, the "how" stage -- how are we going to put this together? The visual impact is really strong.
What is the purpose behind the Better Block Project?
What happens in a community like Five Points -- and really, any community in the U.S. -- is that there are planning processes that kind of go on for years. People get burnt out -- they go to public meetings, they listen to consultants. It's such a long time before anything gets implemented. Oftentimes, the plans just get shelved and they never get implemented, so there is a level of frustration within communities.
So to be able to actually demonstrate it kind of puts people in this environment where it's there -- if only for a day. But just doing it temporarily really triggers thinking and triggers the change. People become advocates for themselves.
In Jefferson Park, it is really amazing. We did it at the end of June of last year. Since we started working there, we have a brand-new coffee shop there. They just celebrated their one-year anniversary there and they are really doing great. There is a restaurant that opened a couple of months ago, Corner House, and there are three more restaurants that are under construction that are about to open. So that's five brand-new restaurants in an area where there wasn't really places to walk and eat. It's fantastic.
We also have seen this public, or civic, engagement that started with the Better Block continue -- I hear stories from people all the time that they want to shop locally. They've learned about local businesses, when they used to go out of their neighborhood to shop or get services. But now, they tend to stay locally. Also, we have concerts in the park, where the neighborhood had been thinking about it for years, but it had never happened. Once we had Better Block, we had a concert in the park the following day, and now there are three concerts scheduled for this summer season in Jefferson Park.
People want to keep getting together, so there are plans for like a "dinner on the block" -- not quite as elaborate as Better Block, but to invite some food trucks and have tables and chairs. A place to hang out together. So, there is definitely this momentum as well as the economic development and impact.
The outcome definitely exceeded my expectations -- I thought, maybe one restaurant? But we have five.