Wilmington’s North Union Street might look a little different if you drive down it this week.
That’s because for the third year in a row, part of the corridor is getting a temporary makeover thanks to the Better Block Project.
Better Block is a nationally recognized program that aims to revitalize cities across America block by block. Working with local groups, the program has transformed the 500 and 600 blocks of Union St., shutting down one of the street’s three lanes to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, from Monday through Wednesday.
Colorful walkways, potted plants and outdoor seating now line the roadway.
The temporarily redesigned street also features art installations, live music and a bike lane. Family-oriented events, like face-painting, group bike rides and a petting zoo, will be held from 4 to 10 p.m. daily. The celebration is free and open to the public, but some features are pay-as-you-go.
Union Street restaurants like Mrs. Rubino’s, Dead Presidents and Wicked Vine are offering alfresco seating to their customers throughout the celebration. Some of the decorations, like the potted plants, were donated by Flowers by Yukie.
“Experience the possibilities, advocate for change” is this year’s theme. Sarah Lester, the economic development manager for Cornerstone West CDC, said that the mantra embodies the changes that Wilmington’s Better Block movement has gone through over the past three years.
Cornerstone West serves as the backbone behind the West Side Grows Together Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, helping to implement many proposals. The two entities were instrumental in bringing together all of the volunteers and businesses that make Better Block possible in Wilmington.
Lester explained that the idea behind the event is to highlight the potential that Union Street has to become a more vibrant and walkable corridor, as well as to implement some of the feedback and ideas that the organization has received from residents.
Since the first year of Better Block on Union Street, the project has expanded from encompassing only one block to two. Lester said that in the past three years, city officials have recognized the need for economic revitalization and safer options for pedestrians and bike riders along the street. She said that Cornerstone West is working with the Delaware Department of Transportation to try to make permanent some of the changes that Better Block brings, like the bike lane and outdoor seating.
“I think we’re proving through this event that people want to be out of their homes and walking around,” she said. “We want that to not be just three days out of the year; we want that to be year-round and ongoing.”
One of the Better Block volunteers helping to make this a reality is Brenden Cephas, a 10-year-old who lives in the neighborhood. Brenden has been with the project since it started three years ago, after stumbling across the celebration while walking down Union Street one summer day.
“I walked down here one day and they were fixing up the block and stuff, and I asked if I could help, and the next thing you know, I’ve been doing it for three years,” he said.
Cephas has high hopes for the initiative, which he said helps people in the area bond with one another and connect. He hopes that Better Block will ultimately help lower the rate of violent crime in the city.
“The West Side grows together,” he said. “The key word is ‘grows.’”
Troy Marshall, a cook at Wicked Vine, was out enjoying the celebration before his shift. This year marked his first Better Block, and he joined in on the fun by playing hopscotch with some residents in front of his restaurant.
“Everything that they are doing right now is really awesome,” Marshall said of the event. “Events like this bring the community together.”
A Wilmington native, Marshall said that he has noticed fewer people venturing into the city lately, but thinks that events like this are good for all of the businesses in the area.
Lester made similar comments, explaining that organizations like West Side Grows and the events that they sponsor are really helping to improve the overall quality of life for everyone in the neighborhood.
By working with DelDOT and city officials, she hopes that the organization’s vision for the area will soon be realized, such as making the bike lane permanent and installing more crosswalks at some of the intersections along Union Street.
“We’re very optimistic that between this year and next year, there will be some changes,” she said.
Contact Jordan McBride at email@example.com or on Twitter @JordanLMcBride.
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Wilmington’s Union Street gets redone for some fun.