Historic Northwest Rising: Food, Music, and Community Engagement

Food and music are powerful community engagement tools. We were reminded of this fact last month as we launched the public phase of the Historic Northwest Rising project in West Palm Beach. Historic Northwest Rising is an initiative to shape the future of the Historic Northwest, a vibrant low income African American neighbourhood on the edge of downtown West Palm Beach.

At the heart of the community is a historic jazz club called the Sunset Lounge. Today, the Sunset Lounge functions as a local pub, live music venue, and hip hop night club, in addition to hosting community events. The City of West Palm Beach purchased the Sunset and an adjacent property with the hopes of restoring the building and introducing new public space to the neighbourhood (read more here).










In early November, 8 80 Cities and a team of local partners led by the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency hosted a series of public and pop-up events to collect residents’ ideas on how the Historic Northwest should grow, and what should become of the Sunset Lounge. We kicked things off with the weekly crab boil night at the Sunset. Delicious fish and crab were served outside, while a live band performed inside. All the while, we spoke to dozens of residents about their hopes for the community, and reminisced about their younger days at the Sunset.










During the day, we set up our survey boards in various destinations throughout the neighbourhood. We spoke to community members as they waited for their lunch at D’s Best BBQ food truck, as they dropped their kids off at daycare, and as they waited at the nearby train station. We also visited the local Salvation Army during the after school program, and were immediately swarmed by dozens of kids eager to talk about their ‘dream park’ in front of the Sunset.

On the final day of our trip, a Saturday, we hosted a community block party in the lot across from the Sunset. We brought in carnival games, snow cones, live music, and a variety of local food vendors. The Better Block team worked with local volunteers to construct modular furniture from their Wikiblocks toolkit. In a couple of hours, the team built two dozen pieces of furniture – including chairs, high tables, benches, planters, and two stages – with nothing more than a rubber mallet and elbow grease. Despite some early rain, the event was a huge success, and offered residents a sneak-peak of what’s to come when 8 80 Cities and Better Block return in April 2017 to turn the ideas we collected into reality by using more Wikiblock furniture and community leaders to program the space.

Click here to download our summary report.

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