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Meeting could decide fate of Last Thursday on Alberta

Posted by on February 5th, 2010 at 9:10 am

A nearly carfree Last Thursday on Alberta-77.jpg

Last Thursday on Alberta: A tough crowd.
(Photos © J. Maus)

A community meeting this Monday (2/8) being hosted by Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Sam Adams could have a major impact on the future of the Last Thursday on Alberta event. The meeting’s event page states, “The Mayor and Commissioner are considering options for Last Thursday.”

Those options include:

  • Continue the event as is
  • Continue the event with significant changes
  • End Last Thursday on Alberta
  • “The City wants to neuter the event to make it into a First Thursday clone… The watered down event the City wants has no appeal to me. I will not
    run or help run that event. I like the quirky Last Thursday that we have had.”
    — Magnus Johannesson, Alberta St. activist and businessman

    The announcement alone has set off some alarms.

    Last Thursday, which began as an artwalk similar to First Thursday in the Pearl District, has evolved over the years into a distinct event that’s more of a free-form street fair than a wine-and-cheese stroll for potential art buyers. The event has also grown in size. Thousands of people come from all over the city to stroll down Alberta street and soak up the atmosphere.

    But the crowds and carnival-like ambiance are both blessing and curse.

    The event has a checkered past and tensions between the neighborhood and the City are well-known. In the summer of 2008, as the event continued to grow well beyond what the sidewalks alone could support, local activist and real estate developer Magnus Johannesson took things into his own hands.

    A nearly carfree Last Thursday on Alberta-66.jpg

    Can neighbors work out their differences?

    Johannesson parked a junked-out car in the middle of the street to create a roadblock. The result of Johannesson’s stunt was a de facto carfree street where people could walk and stroll without fear of passing cars.

    The carfree event was so popular that City Hall decided to (begrudgingly) work with Johannesson and his fledgling non-profit, Team Last Thursday, to allow it to continue. But that relationship has always been on shaky ground.

    Johannesson’s vision for the event — to keep it free (in all senses of the word), “spontaneous,” and open to anyone — has made it hugely popular (and he seems to relish the bargaining power that popularity has given him). But the crowds have also strained relationships with some in the neighborhood and in City Hall who have real concerns about parking, public drinking and urination, noise levels (from non-permitted live music), and so on.

    Johannesson feels like the city wants to “neuter the event to make it into a First Thursday clone.” If that happens, Johannesson told me he has no desire to be involved any longer. “The watered down event the City wants has no appeal to me. I will not run or help run that event. I like the quirky Last Thursday that we have had.” He foresees a hostile crowd at Monday’s meeting. “People that like the event are not likely to attend.”

    To the event’s detractors, Johannesson says, “We are all adults, but do we really want to be telling our children about the freedoms we used to have back in the day? Think about it before you just react. Come up with solutions, be a part of the answer.”

    In their current budget request, the Portland Bureau of Transportation — who has already been partially subsidizing the event — requests $25,000 a year (for the next three years) out of the City’s General Fund to pay for traffic control. City Commisioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and is well known for scrutinizing every penny in the City’s budget, has put herself in the middle of this issue.

    Sources in City Hall say Fritz is not a fan of what Last Thursday has turned into. (I have a call into Fritz’s staffer on this issue, Dora Perry, but have not heard back.)

    Fritz is now in the difficult role of balancing constituents who love the event the way it is, while having to respect complaints from some neighbors that feel it has gotten out of hand. Will Fritz try to shut the event down? If she does, will Mayor Adams stand up to support it? What does the majority of the neighborhood feel about the event (Johannesson thinks they’re on his side)?

    Come to the meeting this Monday night to find out and to share your input. Before you go, learn about the history of cops, clowns, bikes and carfree activism around the event via our Last Thursday on Alberta tag.

      A community meeting about Last Thursday on Alberta
      Monday, February 8 – 6:00pm – 8:00pm
      Acadian Ballroom (1829 NE Alberta)
      Event website

    Watch the 48 second video of the event I shot back in 2008 to hear from Johannesson and get a feel for the event:

    NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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      craig February 5, 2010 at 9:25 am

      The current issue of Portland Observer (free and in sidewalk boxes) has a perfectly balanced article on this.

      Freedom to enjoy the streets and the community is not lame. Freedom to crap/barf/piss/toke in neighbors yards is lame.

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        Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) February 5, 2010 at 9:32 am

        I agree it’s “lame” to do that stuff… but also i think we should look at the reason it’s happening (not enough leadership on the event and resources like porta-potties/enforcement/etc…). The huge crowds should be seen as an exciting opportunity and great event for our City… not as a problem that must go away.

        One of the big issues is that the Team Last Thursday non-profit does not have the volunteer power and organizational maturity it needs to handle the scope of the event.

        This is not an easy issue to figure out.. I’m glad they’re having a community meeting and I hope a reasonable decision can be reached.

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      tomas353 February 5, 2010 at 9:33 am

      Alberta Street becomes better the more it eschews cars for such events, but the businesses and neighborhood do need to come together on some parking and infrastructure (e.g., public toilets) options that could enable this many people to come and enjoy the Street without the localized annoyances.

      Instead of trying to broker a solution, the City should broker shared ‘outcomes’ and provide the neighborhood the opportunity to deliver on it. There’s great potential here, even to bring new resources to the table, but it will require some real finesse and leadership in the neighborhood.

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      ME 2 February 5, 2010 at 9:44 am

      If it is true that City Council wants to turn this into a First Thursday clone then they will hear from me. One of the great things about carfree last thursday is that I can enjoy it with my two young children.

      I know it seems an oxymoron to call it a family friendly event, but the early part really is, especially judging by the crowd. As a working family we cannot really afford to hope on our bikes and take in First Thursday, which offers nothing for families.

      Last Thursday, however, is a great option for my family to hop on our bikes and take in the sights at no to little cost. Portland needs more events like this with broad appeal. The last thing we need is another artsy event that caters to singles and childless couples.

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      neuteral February 5, 2010 at 9:47 am

      Yikes.. sounds like Amanda Fritz is turning into the Nurse Ratched of City Hall.

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      Todd Boulanger February 5, 2010 at 9:52 am

      Hi bicyclists and art lovers…for those who desire a more art centric and simple event (like Alberta was 8 years ago) check out Vancouver’s First Friday Art Walk. It is just 12 bike minutes from the EXPO MAX 😉

      And for Pedal Palooza in June 2010…the Angst Gallery will again be showing Bike themed art, so bike community start makin’ art!

      PS. I love the carfree flavour that Alberta has taken on…it has made the event easier to visit…once the sidewalks become too successful …too cluttered of merchants and cafe tables.

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      Black Dude on Bicycle February 5, 2010 at 10:09 am

      Might as well throw this out there:

      So the high class white folks in NW are upset that black folks have a successful art fair once a month? Driving last Thursday out of Alberta might be the final straw necessary to “move” the rest of the black folks to outer NE.

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      Paul Tay February 5, 2010 at 10:56 am

      OooooH, my GAAAAAWD. Public urination? What CREEP, or groups of CREEPS, would so such a thing in the ROSE City?

      Yep. I vote SHUT dis baby down, until those cretins can hold it, at least until they can fine a BIG tree.

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      carye bye February 5, 2010 at 11:26 am

      I sold art on Alberta Street Last Thursday for 5 years every summer (2002-2007). The sidewalks were a bit overcrowded by 8pm, but sometimes it was artists who set up that bottlenecked the sidewalk by setting up on both sides. I usually found spots that were fine. I welcomed the car free part and was excited when it happened. It was so great to have people roaming freely and no more cars parking at my back. But I did notice a change in sales, people were more interested in free spontaneous fun/dance parties/fire dancing, or quickly walking from bar to bar. Artist friends also said sales went way down when the street became car free. Even changing to face the street didn’t necessarily make it better. The event for me really stopped being about the Last Thursday artists. And that’s okay – events evolve – and I did too, in fact after 5 years, with so many artists setting up for free, it became hard to find a spot – and became stressful anyway. That’s the thing — success doesn’t always mean more — but it’s been fun to watch Last Thursday bloom, I love the performance art, and glad people like to get out and about.

      I probably won’t attend the meeting, because I have moved on from Last Thursday at the moment, but will be curious to find out what happens.

      that’s my two cents anyway.

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      jim February 5, 2010 at 11:43 am

      I took my daughter there last year aand she was pretty much freaked out by it. talking with her freinds that have attended were also not liking it either. There are hardly any children there, or anything for them to do. It is not a familly event. I think it would be better to have it be a once a year fair with more and better planning. The cost to the city would be lower, the impact on business’s would only be once a yr., neighbors, traffic, bus’s….. it only makes sense

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      hambone February 5, 2010 at 11:45 am

      paul, pissing and crapping in people’s yards really IS an issue with last thursday. if you had to clean up after a bunch of inconsiderate bourgeois drunks you’d be pretty upset too. i think we should take advantage of any opportunity to create a liberating, carfree street, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of people who live in the neighborhood.

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      cold worker February 5, 2010 at 1:38 pm

      last thursday and the hippy-dippy dance party element really isn’t my thing. in particular the hippies. and the dancing. and the horrible music most people/hippies want to dance to. ugh. i do still think that last thursday is pretty awesome. unless i’m totally out of the loop is seems like this is a fairly unique thing to portland (i haven’t lived or visited where there is something similar). seems like this should be embraced and work on figuring out how to keep assholes from pissing everywhere.

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      jonno February 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm

      I gave up on Last Thursday after I walked past the third “functional glass art” vendor in as many blocks. There’s no reason you can’t have both more organization and a unique arts & music scene.

      The last time I went, the carfree part was cool but the overall vibe was seedy, like an even-lower-rent Saturday Market.

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      GroundUp February 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm

      I’ve lived one block off Alberta for three years now and the worst I’ve ever had to ‘deal with’ is trying to find a parking space on Thursday afternoon. Otherwise, I enjoy getting out and dancing, eating and having a good time.. since the city went along with the carfree aspect, it has been very mild- some noise, an occasional obnoxious person, but otherwise just free fun. I’d be curious to know what the cops who patrol Alberta say about all this supposed disorderly behavior, I just don’t see it.

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      Paul Tay February 5, 2010 at 3:58 pm

      Hambone, point taken on public urination. So, set up Poop Patrol. Make a REALLY big deal. Pick up the poop. Then, weigh and post the results online!

      Also, keep cameras handy. I’m sure we’d enjoy all the wide-eyed deer caught on utube.

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      wsbob February 5, 2010 at 6:14 pm

      “Freedom to crap/barf/piss/toke in neighbors yards is lame.” craig #1

      Hadn’t realized the fun times over there had devolved to such obnoxious behavior. it’s been a long time since I’ve visited. Someone seems to think that “…Team Last Thursday non-profit does not have the volunteer power and organizational maturity it needs to handle the scope of the event.”

      Not enough volunteers? Not enough organizational maturity to run this thing? What about all the people that pleaded for the city and the neighborhood to allow the event to carry on? Haven’t they lined up in great numbers to volunteer with the chores necessary to put this event on? Maybe not enough of them have time to volunteer, or they don’t feel they have the maturity it necessary to do that.

      “… So, set up Poop Patrol. …”
      Paul Tay #15

      That’s funny! Take a page from the Rose festival? It has something like that to tidy up after the horses in the parade…a trailer pulled by an ATV ridden by a guy with a shovel. A bike should be able to pull a trailer that could do that job for the messy humans at Last Thursday on Alberta. Maybe even pull the actual porta-pottee.

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      RyNO Dan February 5, 2010 at 8:03 pm

      Last Thursday on Alberta is a very special, amazing and home-grown event. It should be preserved, but I am very sympathetic with the neighborhood residents who must interact with the significant negative side-effects.
      I agree it is great that the invested parties are getting together to discuss the future of this event. I really hope some creative results can be generated, changes definitely need to be made. (The city couldn’t turn LT into a FT clone if it tried, so I want to see more data on that rumor.) Good Luck !

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      Paul Tay February 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm

      Ladies and Germs, the Toilet Bike. Now, HOP to it.

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      Vance Longwell February 7, 2010 at 9:22 am

      Did my other comment post? Just curious.

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      adam February 7, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      I guess the more things change the more they stay the same.

      I have to say that the leadership that Sam has shown on this has really been really ineffective. If our “leaders” cannot find a way to bring all the groups together to continue an interesting and fun civic event while promoting local art and business and neighborhood then what good are they?

      I would hate to see such a cool event go by the wayside because the $10,000 worth of police presence that the city insists on cannot get a handle on public urination.

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      Scott February 8, 2010 at 1:03 am

      We’ve lived off Alberta long enough to miss Joe’s Place (now the The Nest -gag-). Last Thursday used to be a great little neighborhood arts festival. Open. Easy going and family friendly. It’s now an ugly slice of Mardi Gras that has little to do with the neighborhood or art. It now has everything to do with people from outside of the area coming in to party and behave as they never would on their own street (we can hope). Drunks. Violence. Trash. Public urination. And so on.

      We miss the old Last Thursday. But it isn’t going to come back so long as there are 10,000 attendees in a mostly residential neighborhood. To have something of this size and expect it to not negatively impact the neighborhood is somewhere between naive and absurd.

      As to Magnus, he’s a salesman who couldn’t care less about those of us who live here. His focus is on making it the biggest party possible. He can talk about “freedoms” all he’d like, but the fact remains that someone is paying for the mess – and we weren’t asked if we wanted it.

      It is a shame that this event will probably go away. But the only people to blame are those destroying it, not those insisting that they not have to put up with this much crap.*

      *it’s a city. we understand that we have to put up with a fair amount of noise and filth. This is indeed way above and beyond.

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      JayS. February 8, 2010 at 9:47 am

      WE live walking distance from Alberta and we see many neighbors when we attend I think it is mostly folks who live within a few miles of Alberta going and anyone who thinks otherwise should prove it.

      I bring my family to last thursday. We love it!! WE see friends with families and without. WE look at art and buy something every couple months. We always spend money in neighborhood restaurants. We enjoy the art, some of the music, the vaudville, the fire and the hippies. We went regularly before it was car free but it got to be crowded so we stopped going as frequently. Once it was car free it became much easier to enjoy.

      I wish more artists would set up facing both the sidewalk and the road. Most do not but that may be a big reason some folks don’t sell as much as they used to.

      I think getting some sort of toilet facilities could help a lot. Besides that I think it needs little change.

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      wsbob February 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      “… We went regularly before it was car free but it got to be crowded so we stopped going as frequently. Once it was car free it became much easier to enjoy.

      I wish more artists would set up facing both the sidewalk and the road. Most do not but that may be a big reason some folks don’t sell as much as they used to. …” Jay S

      Top paragraph…those statements sound contradictory. Not sure what you’re trying to say. Second paragraph…how are you thinking that vendors can be set up facing both the sidewalk and the road unless they’re on private property.

      I’d say a reasonable assumption would be that many people attending are from surrounding neighborhoods. Still, where there’s money to be made, a free event to attend, and operational budgets to pay off, nice little neighborhood events sometimes get publicized, build a rep, and develop into much larger, more difficult to manage proportions than original organizers ever anticipated or were prepared to deal with.

      Anywhere large numbers of people are brought together in a confined space, the challenge of addressing logistical problems related to providing for their needs becomes a big deal. I hope it all works out well for everyone there on Alberta. Nice neighborhood.

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      toddistic February 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm


      Thats why the streets are slammed packed with cars 2 blocks each direction of Alberta. All the neighbors. I think I just proved it.

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      Scott February 9, 2010 at 12:02 pm

      ” I think it is mostly folks who live within a few miles of Alberta going and anyone who thinks otherwise should prove it.”

      It doesn’t take much. Hang out on a busy sidestreet within a block of the meat of the event. Watch the migration of people from 9 pm to 11 pm. There are some people leaving after the event “closes”. There are as many or usually more headed in towards the event afterwards. It doesn’t take much detective work to figure out which ones are really local, and which ones are college students.

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    • […] night, at a community meeting to hear feedback on the Last Thursday on Alberta event (read my analysis here), Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Sam Adams heard loud and clear that many people love the […]

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