For one day, Fort Lauderdale neighborhood gets ‘re-imagined’

Typically, it’s a warehouse district. But a group of volunteers, for one day, transformed a city block into an urban destination — complete with dog park and farmer’s market.

06/15/2012 5:00 AM

06/16/2012 10:39 PM

For artists, the world is a canvas.

Saturday, the artists and art businesses of FATVillage Art District in Fort Lauderdale saw the canvas expand another dimension at their own front doors.

Typically, the block of First Avenue between Andrews Avenue and the Flagler railroad tracks is a row of warehouses with parking spots.

But for one day, it became a destination spot, where people could bring their dogs, sit in a park-like atmosphere, buy plants, fruits and vegetables and munch on popcorn.

The pop-up “re-imagination’’ is the latest happening in a national movement, called Better Block, that breaths life into concrete, city environments.

“We’re seeing what people can do with imagination and determination,” said art collector Doug McCraw, owner of most of the 20 addresses in the former 1950s industrial park.

Better Block is sweeping the nation from San Francisco to New York City. The Fort Lauderdale project was the 26th. More are in the planning stage, said Andrew Howard who co-founded the program in April 2010 with Jason Roberts, in Dallas.

“We definitely spurred do-it-yourself re-urbanism,” said Howard, a former urban planner. “Its not just about physical infrastructure, it creates a confidence in the community that we can fix ourselves, we can start our own businesses, we don’t have to wait for government to do something,”

The concept is similar to “if you build it they will come,” but citizens take the initiative to create a living example of what they envision and in the process prove its feasibility.

On Saturday, more than 25 painters pooled their talents to paint solid colors or murals on the exteriors of all buildings. Another 10 volunteers hand-built outdoor furniture and planters for new trees and shrubs. The parking spaces became a dog park and a farmer’s market. Food trucks and food vendors provided refreshments.

Thousands strolled the temporary streetscape. The art spaces, some galleries and some studios, displayed works by more than 100 artists.

“We’d like FATVillage to be this busy every day of the week,’’ said Rebecca Bradley, one of the organizers of Saturday’s Better Block event.

Although the makeover was a one-day event — at dusk everything was packed up and stored away.

Bradley said the scene could be easily reset during future events such as the monthly FATVillage Artwalk, movie and concert nights at C & I Studios, theater productions of Hair to be staged by Andrews Living Arts Studios and the annual Night of the Dead extravaganza hosted by Puppet Network.

Organizers are hoping they can persuade city and county officials that the neighborhood is worthy of investing redevelopment funds.

“We want to be known as the best spot to develop in Fort Lauderdale,’’ said Venessa Santiago, president of the neighboring Flagler Village Civic Association. “Everyone expects certain things from Las Olas Boulevard and Federal Highway. We offer the unexpected.’’

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