Jason Roberts

Always on the go, Roberts is involved in myriad projects and groups in Oak Cliff and around Dallas. Photo courtesy Jason Roberts

Much has been written about community activist, urban planning enthusiast, and Oak Cliff resident Jason Roberts. His energy is infectious as he spreads the gospel of urban revitalization around the world: building better neighborhoods by transforming vacant and underused properties into vibrant, thriving blocks abuzz with business, activity, and local participation.

His Better Block concept started in spring 2010 in a small part of North Oak Cliff, where Roberts asked the questions, “why are these buildings vacant and what can we do to rapidly transform them in days, not years, into bike- and pedestrian-friendly places that people love?”

The answer was a rapidly planned weekend project that created pop-up shops, filling underused or vacant spaces with the businesses he wished the area had: coffee shops, flower shops, and cafes, among others.

Better Block has since gone from a local experiment to a national and international model for urban redevelopment that showcases the possibilities in a neighborhood, no matter its current state.

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Monte Anderson

On Tuesday night, the Greater Dallas Planning Council honored North Texas developer Monte Anderson with its inaugural Urban Pioneer Award at the Urban Design Awards.

Anderson is the president of Options Real Estate, a multi-service real estate company that concentrates its work in southern Dallas and Ellis counties, specializing in creating sustainable neighborhoods that invite “gentlefication,” as opposed to gentrification.

Here’s a great working definition of “gentlefication”:

Moving into a neighborhood in an effort to reduce crime, create harmony, and build community. As opposed to “gentrification,” which changes neighborhoods by forcing out low-income residents with high-income folks seeking the next hip thing. Gentlefication helps long-term residents take back their neighborhoods, stabilize property values, and build safe spaces for their children and grandchildren.

“The award means a lot because it means people are staring to recognize that incremental development, or ‘microsurgery’, not big silver bullet deals, works in our southern Dallas neighborhoods,” he said. “My approach is to come in and get other small developers and entrepreneurs to come in very early and be a part of the change. These are the people who make it cool, like artists and restaurateurs, and they [usually] end up not owning anything and getting pushed out in the end.” (more…)