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Better Blocks: Southwest Center City's streets to be more complete for pedestrians and bicyclists

For one week in mid-October, pedestrians and bicyclists on Christian and Catharine Streets in Southwest Center City will be able to breathe a little calmer. This is thanks to the South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA), which will be implementing creative traffic calming techniques as part of their Better Blocks Philly celebration for DesignPhiladelphia.

While it would be a stretch to say all the details have been worked out by now, Katie Winkler, a design coordinator for Better Blocks Philly, was able to give a rough itinerary. In short, the event will raise awareness of safer streetscape and neighborhood design policy and local businesses, aiming to even the playing field between cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. Winkler says raised mid-block crossings will make it easier for pedestrians to cross streets, bump-outs will be constructed at intersections to slow down vehicles, and the installation of new signage will make sure motorists are aware to share the road.

Winkler is also aiming to beautify Southwest Center City. “We will be having trees generously donated to us from the new Tree Philly Program of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, as well as other planted material from Greensgrow Farms and County Line Nursery,” says Winkler. Additionally, the neighborhood will offer more sidewalk lounge space by crafting a parklet at 17th and Christian Sts -- similar to the recently opened one near Clark Park in West Philadelphia.

Another important component to Better Blocks Philly is the rehabilitation of unused building space. Winkler currently has two or three spaces in mind that she wants to turn into short-term cafes or shops. As well, a coalition of 30 craftspeople and thinkers called PhillyWorks plans to set up an open studio and/or think-tank space. Also, a group called Cartographilly might set up a space to showcase its Philadelphia mapping project.

Inspiration for Better Blocks Philly comes from a variety of different places. According to Winkler, Philadelphia Park(ing) Day, where parking spots across the city sprouted into one-day parks, was a weighty inspiration. Also, inspiration was gleaned from other U.S. cities including Seattle, Portland, and especially Dallas. Believe it or not, the Texas bastion was where the national Better Block movement originated. SOSNA is acting as the "project head," while Wallace, Roberts, & Todd is the "lead design coordinator" and Brown and Keener Urban Design is the "lead event programming and sponsorship coordinator."

Source: Katie Winkler
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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