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Brattleboro Planning Commission member Josh Steele, left, talks about a Better Block Challenge proposal while fellow member Tom Mosakowski listens during an Aug. 14 meeting.

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Brattleboro planners approve 3 projects for pop-up challenge

Better Block Challenge seeks to revitalize the corners and alleys, connecting community in the process

BRATTLEBORO—The Planning Commission had good — and tough — choices to make as members winnowed 12 applications for the town’s Better Block Challenge.

During a special meeting on Aug. 14, the commission members narrowed the pool to three: new bike lanes on Flat Street, a “Story Walk” to highlight literature, and an outdoor photo project to enliven the alley at 167 Main St.

The chosen applicants will receive $500 for their respective pop-up installation’s construction, materials and/or programming. They will also receive assistance from town staff and advice from planning and design professionals with experience creating such projects.

The creative planning approach is the brainchild of the Better Block Foundation, a nonprofit that “educates, equips, and empowers communities and their leaders to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods,” according to its website.

More than 100 communities have used the Better Block Challenge project creation approach to create temporary installations in their towns.

The commission members praised the variety and strengths of all the projects. Interim Chair Tom Mosakowski said he hoped that even the projects not chosen would still happen through other channels.

“It’s a tough decision,” said Planning Director Sue Fillion.

Felicity Ratté joined the meeting via the telephone. “There’s a lot of really good ideas here,” she said.

Three projects

The Brattleboro Coalition for Active Transportation proposed creating bicycle lanes on Flat Street from Elm Street to Main Street. Also included in the group’s plans: a community street party on Sept. 20.

Brooks Memorial Library Director Starr LaTronica and Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Executive Director Stephanie Bonin submitted the Story Walk proposal.

“We will design an enticing invitation for pedestrians to meander down Main Street from the Whetstone Pathway to the Brooks Memorial Library, where they will contribute to a colorful, kinetic art installation that incorporations and celebrates a love of literature and a culture of literacy,” LaTronica and Bonin wrote.

The pathway will include an outdoor seating area at the library featuring a collection of picture books, snacks, and a garden. A permanent art installation will include strips of nylon on which members of the public can write the names of their favorite books and quotes from literature. Local artist Cynthia Parker-Houghton will weave the fabric strips into a metal fence in front of the library.

Representatives of the Brattleboro Bicycle Shop, Penelope Wurr, Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts, In-Sight Photography Project, A Candle in the Night, and Austin Designs collaborated on a submission to revitalize a “bleak” alley between the two buildings — 181–183 Main St. and 161–167 Main St. — where the respective businesses and organizations are headquartered.

The proposal included hanging student art and greenery in the alley. During the pop-up weekend, the group wants to hold a party with food and music.

While commission members chose three project to receive funding, they found multiple projects interesting and good for the town.

Conversations are ongoing between the 167 Main St. team and the Compassionate Brattleboro Committee after committee members inquired about the two groups collaborating and combining their projects.

Compassionate Brattleboro proposed a Sister Community Sign Post in front of the River Garden, signage that would include the names and country flags of Brattleboro’s sister cities in El Salvador, Haiti, India, and Kenya.

Committee member Jim Levinson said that the sign post would “give a nice sense to visitors” that Brattleboro is a “unique [town] with broader connections.”

Commissioner Josh Steele highlighted Peanut Butter & Jelly!, which proposed a community meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, at the end of the work day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Other items such as soup would also be on the menu.

Peanut Butter and Jelly! was submitted by Street People in Service to a Better Brattleboro.

The program received initial interest and support from the Brattleboro Food Co-op and Latchis Arts, and Loaves and Fishes had agreed to be the program’s fiscal agent.

Shawn D. Jones attended the meeting to provide additional information for another project, which proposed family activities such as laser tag, volleyball, and biking. He told the board he wanted to provide activities for all age levels but specifically provide activities for young people.

Steele said, “I dig your idea, and we do need more resources for kids in this town.”

The commission members recommended that Jones reach out to the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Part of a larger process

Both Better Block and the charrette belong to a larger planning process for the downtown area.

The planning department has partnered with planning firm PlaceSense to create a master plan for the downtown, slated for completion in 2020.

Better Block is one of two opportunities for community members to contribute projects to the downtown area. The next is a three-day People for Places Charrette, scheduled for the fall.

Fillion suggested including Centre Congregational Church and its land in the charrette, as three applications included using space at the church.

One proposal focused on creating a butterfly garden, another a community photography project, and the third an evening community event that included public art and food.

The Better Block Challenge’s pop-up project aims to revitalize the unused, ignored, or uninviting spaces in the downtown area. The projects will be unveiled over one weekend, Sept. 20-22.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #524 (Wednesday, August 21, 2019). This story appeared on page A1.

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