Tag Archives: Better Block

Better Block Ottumwa

4 Dec

This is from our friend, Nick Klimek, AICP

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to help the community of Ottumwa, Iowa build a better block in its downtown. More specifically, an official “Better Block” – the national movement that seeks to redesign the public environment through temporary interventions. The interventions may only last a few days, but with the hope that they serve to empower and inspire participants, community leaders, and property owners to immediate and sustained action.

My professional career began in Ottumwa, Iowa – first as city planner, then planning director – and allowed me the opportunity to aide a dedicated group of downtown advocates on the pathway to revitalize downtown Ottumwa; at the time, a task considered unattainable. Much progress has been completed since then (a new business incubator/downtown market, rehabilitated storefronts, and dozens of new apartments above the storefronts) but one question remained: how much more could be done without the millions of dollars needed to improve the street?

Main Street Ottumwa offered a solution – to use temporary interventions to transform the former highway corridor into the environment that its stakeholders want and need. Through a partnership with Main Street Iowa, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the community hired Better Block to lead the community in its transformation. Upon hearing of this project, I knew I had to be part of it.

I arrived back in Ottumwa on a Thursday morning to a sea of volunteers eager to help. We learned of the plan: to install protected bike lanes; install landscaped bump-outs and pedestrian crossings; arrange trees and flowers; install chairs, benches, and bike racks; design and set up three temporary businesses in vacant buildings; create public art installations; and to create a community event space. Quite ambitious for a days’ work. Continue reading