Local businesses frame a community, but participation and unity from the people builds and sustains its growth. This past Saturday, on the corner of Old Bainbridge and Brevard, local food, pop up shops, a newly built greenhouse, and live music set an ambience of ease in Frenchtown. In an area some perceive as threatening, Frenchtown Better Block united a community to create a large interactive effort to improve Frenchtown and set new goals for the area. The project began on August 6th, with the help of volunteers from Florida State University, Florida A&M University, the city of Tallahassee, and Better Block, and finalized on Saturday with a block party to showcase the progress being put into enhancing Frenchtown. The Better Block Foundation provides and donates the resources to build, and the people of Tallahassee provide the vision to remodel the historical city of Frenchtown.
Saturday’s festivities were nearly impossible to miss if one drove by the Old Bainbridge block. Activities ranging from the multi-colored crosswalks to children and volunteers painting a multi-colored “Frenchtown” mural, brought enthusiasm and unity to the community. The pop-up shops from local businesses displayed the different talents of the town and their genuine ambition to renovate Frenchtown. “All we really need is a community effort to continue what Better Block started,” said one of the local businesses.
Devan Leavins, senior planner for Tallahassee-Leon County’s Planning Department who contacted Better Block Foundation to come to Frenchtown, credits a large portion of the success of the Frenchtown Better Block project to the Frenchtown residents communicating their ideas and desires for a better community. “I think how many people are out here is a success,” Devan says. “From that point forward the successes are what the people want to see left behind, what should stay and where it could use to grow in the future.”
He believes that the project will help change the perception some people have of Frenchtown by showing that it “is a safe place where people like each other and want to hang out and talk. There’s also a lot of talent in the community that people need to know about.”
Piecing the project together has also been impactful to those working on it from the start. Anthony Milordis, a graduate student in the Florida State University Urban and Regional Planning Department, has been volunteering for the project since it began in August. When asked about the challenges of the project, he tells that although the Frenchtown residents are very passionate people, it was a challenge reaching out to them due to their lack of internet and social media access. “A lot of them don’t even have emails, so we’ve been firing the neighborhood and getting to know people, which required a lot of manpower. It’s been challenging, but fun.”
The Frenchtown Better Block project has succeeded in getting word out on what the community wants to see and bringing people of all ages together to collaborate in a vision to renovate the neighborhood, remove its negative stigma, and imagine a new future for the historic area.