In Oak Cliff, Temporarily "Rezoning" Seventh Street to Create a "Better Block"

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Over on Bike Friendly Oak Cliff Friday, Jason Roberts introduced "The Better Block Project" -- or, as he describes it, "a 'living block' art installation" intended to prove it's possible to turn an area zoned "light industrial" into something that's actual livable and walkable. The area will encompass the 400 block of N. Tyler Street, at the W. 7th Street intersection, where one side's zoned industrial and the other residential.

Several businesses will open for two days and two days only beginning April 10, during the Oak Cliff Art Crawl; among those scheduled to set up "pop-up" shops are a coffee shop with outdoor seating, a kids' art studio and a flower store called Wigwam, which will be run by, among others, Holly Jefferson. Says Roberts via follow-up press release, sent out moments ago, the experiment is "part art installation, part political statement."

"Part of the problem in this city are zoning restrictions placed on people who want too create, say, outdoor cafe seating or put up awnings or develop a retail presence," Roberts tells Unfair Park. "It's set to light industrial only, and there are restrictions on parking -- you can't open a business without so many parking spaces. We wanted to throw all those things into one single project and see what we could develop if we took away some of these kinds of restrictions that deter the creation of a true neighborhood. It's done as an art installation, but we'll have these businesses that wouldn't be technically allowed."

He tells Unfair Park the idea for the Better Block Project first came up back in June 2009, during the Tyler Street Block Party.

"We had so many people hanging out -- around 200 -- and bands and bike races and an outdoor screening of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," he says. "But the cops showed up and said , 'You need to get these people out of street. The streets are for cars, not for people,' which distills exactly what we've been trying to say. The whole thing felt safe. There were people everywhere. The streets were teeming with life, people were buying foor -- all kinds of stuff. It highlighted the opportunity to take that and turn this onto a truly livable block."

Roberts is among 15 people, including architects, working on the project, which will reclaim a section of the street built pre-World War II, back when streetcars allowed businesses to come right up to the sidewalk on 7th Street.

"Two things occurred that were bad for the area," Robert says. "Zoning changed to light industrial on one side and residential on the other, which means you can't do live-work developments. And when the streetcar went away in '56 ... Tyler and Polk became one-way streets, so you lost 50 percent of the visibility and made it an unsafe high-speed corridor. These blocks were built for people, but the environment around them became inhospitable. And we want to change that."

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