We instituted the Summer Grants Program to provide an avenue for engaged National Street Service volunteers to continue to do great work in their local communities by building better streets in creative, meaningful, locally relevant ways. Our amazing volunteers have come through on this promise with an inspiring range of projects.
Coming fresh from the National Street Service Soul Searching training and community engagement, our volunteers had a chance to further bring their own ambitious ideas to life. Each project, in its own unique way, altered the tangible experience of the street, and invited members of the community to comprehend the possibilities of how much better streets can be.
We believe that this program has been a huge success in accommodating longer-term engagement, maintaining our relationships with volunteers and continuing our commitment to lasting change in the cities we are invited to work in. With the creativity and passion demonstrated in applying even a small project budget, this work shows the full potential of our volunteers to continue to act as change agents within their cities and bring their ideas into fruition
Street Pride and Humble Beginnings
Brian Cirskey - Philadelphia, PA
When the Summer Grants Program was announced, Brian jumped at the opportunity to continue the work he began during his time with the National Street Service. In a historic city, already dotted with historic markers, Brian created and hung three historic markers to honor the recent local history of his neighborhood street. His signs catalogued inspirational tales of businesses who, from humble beginnings, got their start to become fixtures of their local communities. With help from the Summer Grants fund, and production support from Public Workshop, Brian created eight more signs, each sharing the story of a local business.
From the start, the project was intended to spark discussion of what street pride means to the community; this discussion has been captured via social media (check out his Instagram here: @baltimore_ave_street_pride). Since beginning the project, messages of support have poured in from the community –
“I think it’s very cool that your project is highlighting super-local history and adding context to the sights and places we pass every day.”
“Look at how Philadelphia, Pennsylvania acknowledges the contributions of Malian immigrants. #awesome”
The local businesses featured have also shared their appreciation on social media, and there is interest in continuing the project for even more businesses –
“organizations have followed us on Instagram and asked about collaborating in the future.”
Deborah Mullner - Boise, ID
Deborah graduated from the National Street Service program with an ambitious project in mind – to make her neighborhood more livable and more connected as a community, by making improvements to a street which has long been a source of tension between local business owners and people who live in the neighborhood.
“Because of the way these buildings were built, there are no windows in the back side - so people come in at night, and throw their garbage here.”
The street was beautified with the addition of five murals, with the help of five local artists. Four from the Treasure Valley Artists Alliance contributed under the lead of Jesse Bateman, and one local artist from the neighborhood, Anne Moore. The result is the transformation of an uninviting alleyway into a space with more life.
“The best way to measure the impact of the murals is to look at how many conversations about the murals are taking place in our neighborhood: neighbors, business owners and artists talk with each other, teenagers that pass by stop, look at the murals, and talk with each other. I think that it is a step in the right direction to make this neighborhood more livable and more connected with the cool businesses that we have around here.”
Deborah’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, nor unappreciated by the local community. Feedback from the neighborhood demonstrates that there is broad support for further street improvements –
“During fund-raising I had the opportunity to talk with many residents, and many appreciate our effort very much. They would love to see more art in other places of our neighborhood. Some residents are also talking about street art to make some of our streets safer for pedestrians and bikers.”
Street Soul 2018 Tour
Nicolas Rivard - TX & AK
Nicolas, owner of Participation Studio TX, and the city lead from our San Antonio pilot was brimming with creative ideas to build support for better streets in his home state of Texas. When he came to us seeking a grant to use his ice cream truck / mobile office / sleeper van to conduct a Street Soul Tour, we were excited to see what he would do to bring the National Street Service to even more places.
While the initial idea was to connect two of the pilot cities, San Antonio and Philadelphia, things did not exactly go to plan.
“Our cross country voyage hit an early roadblock after the stepvan’s motor failed with a jarring screech twenty miles west of Jackson, Mississippi.”
Following this hiccup, with a repaired van ready and waiting, Nicolas embarked on an amended itinerary which brought him to four cities. Tackling so many cities in a short space of time was a bold choice, and revealed a lot of insights of interest when learning how to engage in new cities.
1. National Street Service Town Square Popup, Hamburg, Arkansas
“Our most spontaneous and least successful event. We pulled off the highway on a whim and setup for an hour in an almost deserted downtown. Not a single pedestrian walked by - only one vehicle paused to ask us what we were doing through a rolled down window.”
2. Marilla Sidewalk Accessibility Audit - Dallas, Texas
“Organized by BC Workshop for AARP, this event featured a walking tour of a street connecting the public library and the farmer’s market. The City of Dallas is considering pedestrianizing this passage to encourage foot traffic. Our group walked the length of the connection, cataloging existing barriers to pedestrians with a set of sidewalk stencils developed by BC.”
3. National Street Service Sidewalk Popup, Waxahachie, Texas
“We invaded a stretch of sidewalk near the main square of a popular weekend destination small town along our route home. Ironically, there was a Chevy truck rally happening downtown that day, and our human-centered-streets message fell mostly on deaf ears. The historic downtown was built for pedestrians, and plenty of people were about on foot. However, most passersby were uninterested in discussing streets.”
4. Centro Siclovía Parklet - San Antonio, Texas
“In collaboration with the downtown business improvement district, Centro San Antonio, we developed a parklet/sidewalk cafe installation for San Antonio’s biannual Siclovía. The route, on a major North-South corridor into downtown, is slated for major streetscape improvements in the coming years. The parklet provided an opportunity to talk about the future of the corridor, what makes a street pedestrian friendly, and Centro’s ongoing advocacy initiatives.”
All of these events reflect well on the National Street Service’s values of experimentation and community engagement, and there is much to be learned from this tour – both from where it succeeded, and what could be improved the next time around.
First of all, towns lacking pedestrian activity are not suitable for the popup format; something else might prove more successful –
“A street ranger roving town to seek out conversations, enter businesses, and taking the conversation to people could prove more effective.”
Secondly, connecting with existing advocacy partners and events can strengthen the outcomes for both parties –
“Investing time in a detailed itinerary of partner events ahead of the journey is critical. Piggy-backing on existing programming proved an effective way to avoid undue effort planning events from scratch and maximize ROI. We realized the importance of buffer time between arrival and setup to and explore new places, test possible locations and setups, and build relationships with collaborators.”
Finally, a better equipped touring vehicle and more collaborators would free up more time for the important work of connecting with locals –
“Constantly reorganizing the Stepvan as a bedroom, office, kitchen, or travel vehicle ate up considerable time and energy. A modern vehicle with a more fully furnished interior and modern amenities would make for a more successful tour. A larger group would minimize time behind the wheel and allow for more well-defined roles throughout the trip.”
Strip-mall Park(ing) into Neighborhood Places
Deanna Smith, Sarah Taylor, Nina Schaeffer, Alexandra Monjar and Mike Stefancic - Boise, ID
From the Boise National Street Service training, a team of freshly minted street rangers continued pushing toward their shared purpose of making Boise’s streets into neighborhood ‘places’.
The team identified two strip mall parking lots which had the potential to be re-imagined as community gathering places.
“Both are located along very busy, people-unfriendly corridors - State Street and Vista Ave, which are barriers to neighbors walking to these businesses. As old strip-malls, they do not front the street but sit back behind a parking lot, making it less inviting.”
As part of a broader set of parklets created for PARK(ing) day in Boise (coordinated by Idaho Smart Growth), the National Street Service grant assisted the team to set up parklets within the two strip malls which opened up the parking lot to people. The parklets featured a range of fun activities and attractions, including live musicians, hula hoops, pet rock painting, corn hole and a giant chess set. Each parklet drew a crowd of curious neighbors of all ages.
The aim of these efforts is to demonstrate that changing the way that parking is used on busy streets can make Boise’s streets more appealing places for people to linger and enjoy, which is of benefit to local businesses.
“If we are correct we will work with the businesses and property owners to develop permanent outdoor places at these two strip-malls along these two busy corridors.”
Listen & Learn: Street Talk
National Street Service Youth Team - North Philadelphia, PA
The Summer Grants program has allowed the work of the Youth Team in North Philadelphia to continue to explore how youth of color can support and advocate for their communities generationally. This area of Philadelphia within the 19133 zip code is one of the most traumatized communities within the city, so sharing the voices of those who live there is incredibly important -
“We’re learning from what we see and what we hear from older people in the nation. I want to make the streets better for everyone.”
During the ten week training program, the team designed and implemented their own ideas, creating a Dream Wall, which connected people of all generations to share their childhood hopes and dreams. They also created a Community Listening Box as an outlet for members of their community to share their hopes for the future.
With community feedback in-hand from the Community Listening Box, the youth team staged an exhibition in their local neighborhood, displaying enlarged versions of some of the notes from the Listening Box -
“We would display them on Huntingdon Street as a street exhibit for neighbors to see what other community members are saying. Our goal is to foster more communication/discussion around neighborhood needs and wants versus what is readily accessible to community members.”