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Microsoft in your community

Creating vibrant public spaces across multiple communities

Urban design nonprofit The Better Block works with civic leaders to rethink and revitalize community spaces. The organization aims to spark a community revival by hosting two-day exhibitions that invite residents to sample proposed updates on designated blocks in different cities. The Better Block gives the space a design makeover, using modular wooden pieces that may be assembled for the event, without screws or glues, and then disassembled afterwards for flat storage, to be reused later as needed. Local leaders, volunteers, and partners like Microsoft Community Development come together to reimagine and build whatever the community needs to attract foot traffic and encourage people to gather and connect—street art and games, seating, a dance floor, to name a few options.

The objective of these projects is to breathe life into communities by helping people engage and connect with one another. “A lot of our work is focused on rethinking the priorities of a space and then bringing people together to experience proposed changes,” reflects Krista Nightengale, Executive Director of The Better Block.

A playful space to socialize and relax…

A recent event in the historic community of East Point, a neighborhood in Atlanta, brought art, food, music, vendors, and activities to the White Way block. Residents and community leaders came together with The Better Block and Microsoft to reimagine this block as a pedestrian corridor, “a playful space for the community to socialize and relax,” according to The Better Block Project Senior Manager Kristin Leiber. Created with input from residents and small businesses, the event was designed to engage the neighborhood and reflect the diverse culture of East Point. Community response to the event was so positive that the two-day event evolved into a month-long installation. Outdoor dining “parklets”, which are small gathering areas will continue to dot the space, as the block emerges as something of a foodie hotspot for locals.

The Better Block’s key resource for communities is Wikiblock, its vast online library of street furniture patterns for modular wooden infrastructure pieces, including various seating types, raised platforms, kiosks, street signs, planters, shelves, street décor, and even games like street chess and tic-tac-toe sets. Each feature is essentially a 3-D puzzle, which local volunteers create by cutting out wooden components on a CNC router according to the pattern and slotting them together. The pieces come apart for easy flat storage in a shipping container when not in use. The Better Block has also debuted the “Better Block in a Box,” a stylish shipping container outfitted with all the amenities for a successful community event, allowing the container to serve as a bar, concession stand, or ticket booth window. Communities can pair the container with outdoor seating and string lights for a complete pop-up event space.

Breathing new life into neighborhoods, block by block

Mecklenburg County, Southern Virginia: With a grant from Microsoft Community Development, The Better Block rolled out a pilot program in Boydton to promote community gathering with parklets and pop-up outdoor seating areas. The team debuted a temporary event space in Clarksville for two nights, hosting a dance party with local wineries and a family-friendly outdoor movie night. The focus of this event was a Better Block in a Box shipping container outfitted as a wine bar with an adjacent floor mural serving as a dance floor. Next, The Better Block plans to deploy the event container to Mecklenburg County Public Schools’ prom and a Halifax, Virginia movie night.

Quincy, Washington: The Better Block and Microsoft came together in July 2021 to host a several-day event for more than 2,000 residents in this rural eastern Washington town. Local high school students fabricated modular furniture, signage, and games using The Better Block’s patterns to create a vibrant outdoor community space. The project was a win-win for students and community: the students learned to use advanced building tools with The Better Block’s training, and the city now has reusable pieces that can be deployed for events as needed.

Phoenix, Arizona: The city of Avondale, in the West Valley of Phoenix, boasts a multigenerational population with deep roots in the community and a strong Hispanic heritage. The Better Block and Microsoft Community Development worked with local leaders and volunteers to host a two-day outdoor community event in early 2022 featuring live music, food, outdoor seating areas, and local vendor booths. The event brought Avondale’s Western Avenue to life with a variety of reusable modular pieces, from brightly colored cactus sculptures to parklets for outdoor seating.

Watch this video to learn how The Better Block and Microsoft Community Development is helping revitalize communities in the West Valley of Phoenix.