So I still have one ARE left. The last two I took, Structural Systems and Building Systems, were probably the two hardest of the seven, but they are finally behind me now and I am signed up to take my final one January 30th (I wanted to sign up earlier, but there were no available dates). So I decided to try and get back in the blogging game.
I wasn’t sure what to write about at first. The Envision Little Rock came a perfect time for me to start back by writing about it and the Quapaw Line was something I had been wanting to do since last summer but I just never got around to till a few weeks ago. But there was an important event that happened last year in November I had been wanting to write about since it happened and that I felt was a pretty significant part of my life downtown.
Pop Up Main Street.
Studio Main was approached in June by another young professionals group, Create Little Rock, about an organization called Better Blocks that has put on several different events in cities around the county, most recently Tulsa. The movement was started back in 2010 by Jason Roberts in Dallas. The idea of Better Blocks is to make a forgotten, desolate or car dominated street into a thriving complete street for a weekend. This was the video for Tulsa’s Better Block project called “Polishing the Pearl” that inspired it all. (PLEASE WATCH IT!)
Everyone at Studio Main was hooked.
Create Little Rock said they wanted to do something similar in Little Rock and felt that South Main was the perfect location for it. They also needed help coming up with a plan and graphics and wanted to join with Studio Main to make it happen.
Currently, South Main Street is a lightly traveled four lane street that only has any relatively heavy traffic during rush hour. But because it is 4 lanes with mostly empty parking spots on either side and little traffic, cars fly down the street making it uncomfortable for anyone else not in a car. Despite this, South Main has slowly grown into a new retail district all its own. But what if cars weren’t flying down the street? What if the street gave equal importance to everyone using it? What if it felt more welcoming to pedestrians, cyclists, residents, tourists, shoppers, and diners?
After months of meetings, planning sessions and coordinating with the city we came up with a master plan to transform three blocks of South Main between 12th and 15th streets into a complete street demonstration for Little Rock to observe, engage and hopefully replicate.
Early one Sunday morning, we barricaded the three blocks of Main Street, and started re striping the street. We took black duct tape and covered up the existing lane striping and put down white duct tape to create a median, a car lane and bike lane on each side and turning lanes at the intersections.
But white tape can only do so much to change people’s driving habits. So we called around and found 120 hay bales that were donated by Wildwood Park from their annual Fall Festival. A crew of us went and picked them up the day before and lined the median with them to create a physical barrier between the lanes to help calm traffic and keep drivers in their lanes.
The original plan was to put the whole thing on for one weekend, but after a meeting with city officials, we were encouraged to leave the street restriped for a full week and observe how people reacted to it. It was interesting that over the next few days, some of the businesses along the street would move the hay bales around as needed to allow places for people to turn into parking lots at the EZ mart and Boulevard Bread.
Traffic ran pretty smoothly during the week. We kept an eye on it regularly, making sure everything was maintained. The following Tuesday after a heavy rain, one of the strips of tape that designated the east bike lane came loose at one end and was completely pulled up after a car drove over it! A group of people got out there early that next morning during rush hour to restripe the lane while dodging in an out of traffic. Everything ran pretty smoothly after that.
The following weekend was when we were going to put on the actual Pop Up Main Street event. In addition to the hay bales, we had 43 trees that were loaned to us from a local construction site. We didn’t want to leave the trees out all week unattended, so we decided to put them out for one weekend only. (Because none of us really wanted to pay for them if any of them were stolen!) So early Friday afternoon, we blocked the street off again and unloaded the trees down the median. And what a difference they made!
After that we set up the rest of the street amenities for the following day…
A Pop up dog park with donated construction fencing.
Outdoor café seating in parallel parking spots built from donated wood pallets.
Goodwill came and set up a pop up store in one of the vacant storefronts.
Now like I mentioned earlier, we were a little concerned about leaving the trees out on the street at night. They were very nice, full size trees and it wouldn’t take much for a couple of guys to load a few up in a pickup and drive off. So the first night, Buckley O’Mell, Chris East and I all camped out at Studio Main to periodically check on them through the night. Buckley brought is guitar and I brought the fiddle and we jammed through the night. We also eventually made our way to Midtown around 3 am, but that’s all a little fuzzy… hehe…
When the sun rose the next morning, all the trees were still there and though we were slightly delirious from almost no sleep, we were ready for the day!
Food trucks and vendors showed up to line the parking lot across from Oxford American (old Juanita’s) to try and build back the street edge. We felt it was important to fill in any of the gaps along the street (i.e. surface parking lots, empty storefronts, large blank facades) to try and rebuild an active street edge along the whole 3 blocks.
We set up tables in the street side café seating areas for people to eat lunch.
One of our biggest attractions was across the street at Oxford American. Matt Bell, the chef at the soon to open South on Main Restaurant and Bar, set up a booth in front of his future restaurant with samples of the southern classic, cornbread, beans and greens. Matt made his mark in Little Rock at the Capital Hotel with his modern take on southern classics and will be opening his new restaurant in collaboration with the Oxford American early this year. We were thrilled to have him set up shop Friday night and Saturday afternoon!
The pop up dog park was a big success with the local residents. (and the pood)
We had a disc golf course put in on a vacant lot on Scott Street near the dogpark.
Local high school students used a bunch of donated wood doors to create a mural wall on the blank wall across from Community Bakery.
The Color Run was also going on that morning. The route ran down Scott street, right by the Dog Park and Disc Golf course.
I even had a bike tour that afternoon. We took a little detour so we could ride down the new bike lanes.
Overall, it was a successful event, but there were a lot of other events going on that weekend as well so we didn’t get as big of a turnout as we wanted. But those who did come were thrilled with the changes, especially the trees.
We had a lot of comments during and after the project, mostly positive. There were also some critics who thought our design was a hindrance to traffic and a waste of time because they knew for sure that nothing was ever going to change and we were wasting everyone’s time. Many of these were responses were more sad than angering to read. But while a lot of people were excited to street changes, most people just seemed thrilled in seeing a group of young individuals take interest in the SOMA neighborhood and undertake such a big, grass roots effort to make a difference.
There are already plans to do another one next year on another street somewhere in Little Rock. And with one successful attempt under our belts, next year’s should be even better!