The Five Points intersection in Vickery Meadow has a new look. The area, one of the most crime-ridden in Dallas, was a point of interest for U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox’s program, Project Safe Neighborhoods. Over the past year, the program has proven effective, but while the crime rate has decreased, a recent murder in the area drove Assistant U.S. Attorney P.J. Meitl to engage the Oak Cliff-based nonprofit Better Block to transform the feel of the intersection.
“The work we do is looking at how can we make spaces better for the people who live there,” Better Block managing director Krista Nightengale says.
Better Block takes a simple approach and focuses on the block level to help neighborhoods reduce crime and traffic speeds or encourage entrepreneurs to start small businesses, for example.
Their collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice has a focus on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles. Created in the ’70s, it’s an approach to deter crime and build a sense of community.
One concern for the project was the Sam Tasby Middle School students whose walk home is anything but pleasant.
“One woman who was like, ‘I took my daughter out of the school because I did not want her to make that one-block walk home,’” Nightengale says. “Ok, so what can we do to make that walk home better?”
The Better Block team had to convince business owners to remove burglar bars from their windows. Better Block did it because of the “broken windows theory” that taking away visible signs of crime in itself reduces crime. Having burglar bars on the windows makes a neighborhood seem dangerous, and that perception can inspire criminal activity. In addition, the organization power washed businesses’ signs and did a little painting and sweeping up.
Better Block also focused on making the intersection more pedestrian friendly. It eliminated right-turn lanes to open up walkways and created a lively plaza with bright paint and potted plants. One community member suggested a stage for performances and gatherings.
Adriana Espinoza, owner of Monaraca Fruit Stand in the Five Points intersection, says Better Block’s work has helped.
“I’m very happy knowing that somebody has taken initiative to do something positive in that area,” Espinoza says. “There’s a lot of families in that neighborhood, tons of kids, even if we don’t hear it, I can see the kids liking the way it looks.”
Along with a stage and fruit stand, the plaza also has a shipping container that can be used as a kiosk or pop-up stand. During its first weekend, Half Price Books donated a mini library.
Better Block also wanted to make sure the plaza had a place where kids can play on their way home from school, so it built swing sets. And apparently, bad guys don’t like hanging out around classical music, so the local 7-Eleven now plays Beethoven and Brahms on their speaker system.
Nightengale says she’s received more hugs from this project than from any of the dozens Better Block ventures taken on every year.
“I think it was 6 o’clock that Friday night when we were finished with pretty much everything, and about 100 kids descended on us at once,” she says. “The space just came alive when they were in there, and they were squealing, and they were so excited, and they were so happy to see the space.”
The next step?
“Making sure the community understands that this is theirs and it’s an asset. They can use it. Let’s activate this space, and let’s see what it really can become,” Nightengale says.
Thanks to funding from TBK Bank, Better Block will hire a programming manager to make sure the plaza remains activated.
“I think it’s a beginning. It was a very fast project,” Espinoza says. “The first event was done very quickly, but I’m thinking and hoping more people know about it so they can come and participate. It will give the project a better result.”