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Event offers insight on needs

It wasn’t a typical block party, but Saturday’s transformation of a former Sherman Drive grocery store and parking lot into a vibrant neighborhood attraction drew a lot of attention, and with good reason.

Volunteers used power tools and paintbrushes to turn the site into a family-friendly destination with pop-up shops and a temporary splash park.

Denton Community Market vendors relocated from their regular location at Carroll Boulevard and Mulberry Street to the Sherman Drive parking lot for the day. Seating areas were built and lighting and potted plants were brought in. Several businesses responded to an invitation to set up one of the pop-up shops.

Last year, the Denton City Council agreed to a proposal to hire Better Block, a Dallas-based nonprofit, to help plan the event. The consultants worked with neighborhood residents on the temporary transformation, which was meant to show what’s missing from the area, organizers said.

Homes near the old store site date back 50 years or more. Residents there don’t have a homeowners association, but neighbors rallied recently after a developer proposed that an apartment complex be built in a vacant lot next to the old grocery. The project was ultimately denied.

Jason Roberts, an organizer for Better Block, said the idea behind Saturday’s event is to get people talking and hopefully seeing what could be a permanent destination. The nonprofit has been teaching communities how to creatively use existing spaces since 2010.

At the first planning session for the event, residents suggested what they would like to see in the neighborhood. They also learned that the building owner is planning for a new tenant, but that tenant won’t use all of the former grocery space. There will be room for more stores.

Saturday’s event gave neighborhood residents and other participants a better idea of what might work at the site and what types of features consumers would support.

Officials said Better Block has helped cities throughout the country translate the temporary projects into reinvestment and permanent improvements for neighborhoods. The firm’s $40,000 fee includes delivery of a full report with useful information ranging from sales tax receipts to noise reports that the city can use to help spark redevelopment along East Sherman Drive.

We like the concept behind the Better Block program because it actually shows residents what can be done to revitalize a neighborhood and allows them to participate in the process.

Using minimal materials, Better Block becomes the catalyst to help revitalize a neighborhood using existing space, without spending a lot of money to widen streets and put up new construction.

Saturday’s event showed that the neighborhood wants more small storefronts at nearby locations. Shops that supply goods and services that residents want and need could be successful here and in other locations around the city where buildings now stand empty and open space is waiting to be used.

We’d like to see more events designed to get residents involved in planning their neighborhood’s future. It takes a team effort to build a thriving community.

Friendly local businesses are one of the fundamental building blocks of a healthy city, and satisfied consumers make good neighbors.