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Mace and Crown | May 25, 2018

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Building Blocks for a Better Block

Building Blocks for a Better Block

Transforming downtown Granby into the place we all know it could be

Downtown Granby Street transformed for two days over the weekend in a community-wide effort to create an arts district. The event was called Better Block Norfolk. The scene turned a long forgotten “auto-row” into a bustling pedestrian filled block-party. It was a celebration of what Norfolk is and what Norfolk could be with just a little help from our friends.

These friends included community leaders like Hannah Serrano of and Clint Dalton from Sparks Farms, on top of a $33,000 investment from the City of Norfolk.

The money went to Team Better Block, a well-known organization that has been featured on Ted Talks and specializes in the revitalization of aged areas. It has been used in over 40 cities to illustrate rapid street changes and the possible long-term outcomes. Team Better Block picked an area of Granby Street, in between Olney and Addison, to focus its attention for the possibility of Norfolk’s arts district.

The event kicked off Friday at 6pm after months of preparation. The intention was to properly show Norfolkians just how lucrative and unique of a venture this small block could be.

Hundreds of people of all ages and areas of Hampton Roads came to support the rally to revitalize this forgotten area. “What we’re really building is social capital – social infrastructure, and that’s what stays around,” Andrew Howard a Better Block founder, said to The Virginian Pilot, who spent the week in Norfolk. “We’re showing the community what’s possible.”

The multiple vacant commercial lots were filled with vendors and pop-up shops, and the street was lined with food trucks. Businesses that were already located on the street, like The Beauty Shop, participated as makeshift art galleries and hung lithograph prints in its windows.  There were two different beer gardens, one to benefit The Hope House Foundation and another sponsored by the locally owned O’Connor Brewery. Consumers could drink within the designated areas while listening to one of the two stages provided for live music.

At one end of the block was a glass-blowing station underneath a huge bamboo sculpture of a star, creating a unique area for people to stop and mingle. At the other end, a vacant warehouse was claimed by the young creative crowd and dubbed Alchemy NFK. Inside the warehouse there was a skate park, an art gallery with trendy prints hanging on the walls, and an in-service print shop by Prince Ink.

Everything was uniquely Norfolk, tailored yet shabby quirky which only our area can pull off. Unfinished wooden platforms were made for people to sit and talk, street posts were yarn-bombed and people were crossing the road (at the crosswalks) with traffic signs on poles that read things like “I’m at a crossroads in my life,” or “I march to the beat of my own drummer.”

Although it is hard to say if the temporary and quick transformation will stick,

Team Better Block focused on proving that Granby can be a rewarding location for entrepreneurs and business owners. This goal was supported by City Manager Marcus D. Jones. “It provides small business owners an opportunity to run their business and the city the data to discover ways to better serve them,” he said.

By Allison Terres