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Ottumwa Learns to Build a Better Block

We are thrilled that Ottumwa has been chosen as the latest site for an exciting placemaking project.  Placemaking is a term that many are unfamiliar with but at its simplest definition it is seen as an approach to capitalizing on the local assets of a community to inspire, plan and design public spaces that promote the health and well-being of its citizenry.  The Better Block Foundation has been chosen as a lead partner to assist the Ottumwa community in making its vision for downtown a reality.

The Better Block project started in April 2010, when a group of community organizers, neighbors, and property owners gathered together in a Dallas suburb to revitalize a single commercial block in an underused neighborhood corridor. The group brought together all the resources from the community and converted the block into a walkable, bikeable neighborhood destination for people of all ages complete with bike lanes, cafe seating, trees, plants, pop-up businesses, and lighting. The project was developed to show the city how the block could be revived to improve area safety, health, and economics if ordinances that restricted small business and multi-modal infrastructure were removed. Since that time, Better Block projects have been developed throughout the world with many of the temporary infrastructure improvements and businesses made permanent – now Ottumwa is the latest Better Block site.

The Ottumwa project kicked off on July 24th by holding multiple focus groups throughout the day and culminated in an evening reception at the Market on Main.  At the reception, hundreds of attendees learned from Better Block Founder Jason Roberts how placemaking can be an essential and innovative tool in creating a more vibrant downtown.  Now, Ottumwa residents have been asked to provide additional feedback via an online survey.  The survey, accessible at and open through August 15th, will allow organizers to capture ideas for the design build, which will take place on October 11th and 12th. 

We are proud to join the list of partners on this project which also includes: the National Endowment for the Arts, Iowa Economic Development Authority, Main Street Ottumwa, the National Association of Realtors, South East Iowa Regional Board of Realtors, City of Ottumwa, University of Iowa Business Leadership Network, Area 15 Regional Planning Commission and the Better Block Foundation.