Better Blocks Philly is all about making the streets we use everyday a little friendlier. A result of the partnership between SOSNA, Wallace, Roberts & Todd, and Brown & Keener, and part of DesignPhiladelphia, Better Blocks has constructed temporary installations on a couple of streets in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood to exhibit “Complete Street” concepts to visitors and residents. With streetscape improvements, traffic calming efforts, and community events, Better Blocks hopes to raise awareness of these concepts and make people think about how to make their neighborhood a little more liveable.

On the 1700 block of Webster St., volunteers installed chicanes, or bump-outs from the curbs, to slow the flow of traffic by forcing cars to travel down the street in an S-shaped path.


Along with reducing the speed of cars traveling on the street, chicanes also provide new space for trees, plants, and grass, making the block more enjoyable for pedestrians and neighbors.

Looking west

Some of the greenery

Looking east now. Looks really cool in person

On the 1700 block of Christian St., the Better Blocks people created a mid-block crosswalk with curb bump-outs on either side, a parklet on the corner of 17th and Christian St., and a temporary retail space for events. With the YMCA bringing tremendous foot traffic to the middle of the block, the mid-block crossing makes crossing Christian St. safer for the young children, parents, and neighbors constantly coming in and out of the Y. The bumpout will prevent cars from parking in the crosswalk, and will reduce the street-crossing distance.

That's the YMCA

In the shadows, in front of the Y

The parklet in front of the pop-up retail space is simply for community enjoyment. You may remember the city’s first parklet in West Philly, from back in August, and it’s proven a popular concept, popping up in a couple of other locations in the meantime and in numerous places on Park(ing) Day in September.

Oh, hey there, parklet!

Image of the parklet in use over the weekend. From Better Blocks website.

The parklet is in front of the pop-up store and event space at 17th and Christian Sts.

We think this is a really cool exercise and hope that it causes people to stop and think for a second about whether we’re collectively doing enough to make our city as liveable as it could be. Looking at the design aspects, we can see how some people will think they’re interesting and worthwhile and others may not care for them- but we see that as part of the fun and an ingredient in a healthy debate that we should be having about our public spaces.

Better Blocks will run through next weekend, at which point it will be totally disassembled and the streets will return to their original state. It’s worth thinking about whether neighbors will be satisfied with a successful experiment or if they’ll want to recreate some/all of these installations on a permanent basis. Or whether people who live on other blocks or in other neighborhoods will want their own streets to be “Complete Streets,” either temporarily or permanently.

Would YOU give up a couple of parking spots on your street to create new green space? If you lived on a street with no parking, would you want chicanes to slow down cars? If there were permanent chicanes on any city streets, who would maintain them? How would you plow those streets when it snows?

We don’t know the answers or even all the questions- we’re just grateful to Better Blocks for starting the conversation.