Esplanade closure begins February 1st

‘Parking Day’ offers glimpse of what Portland streets could look like

Posted by on September 20th, 2013 at 4:20 pm

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A display on SW Stark drew large
crowds to enjoy public space
that’s usually dominated by private automobiles.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland took part in PARK(ing) Day today. The global event, which started in San Francisco in 2005, seeks to create temporary public spaces in what are usually used as auto parking spots. This year saw Portland’s largest ever PARK(ing) Day display with an entire downtown blockface devoted to the demonstration. In addition to SW Stark between 10th and 11th, there was also a display on SE Grand Avenue between Alder and Morrison.

I swung by both locations today…

On SE Grand (a.k.a. Highway 99E) I ran into Beth Flanagan and Alley Hector enjoying a game of bean bag toss. With about 2-3 parking spots fenced off, the folks from Alta Planning + Design created an oasis on this urban highway, which is usually loud and inhospitable. They used real sod grass and even had a hot tub for folks to relax in. Even though it wasn’t filled with water, Alta employees Nick Falbo, Derek Ave, and Elliot Akwai-Scott seemed to enjoy it.

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Left to Right: Nick Falbo, Derek Ave, and Elliot Akwai-Scott

Then I made my way to the main attraction, the large public space demonstration on SW Stark between 10th and 11th.

This section of Portland’s PARK(ing) Day was organized by Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman of the Think Urban blog you might remember Katrina from her involvement with our project for GOOD Magazine). Katrina and her crew commandeered all the parking on both sides of the street. In its place, several adjacent business owners got involved and created their own displays for people to enjoy. Pips and Bounce, a local business that rents ping pong tables for parties and other functions, had several tables out for people to play on. The Ace Hotel had a few couches, a table, and some popcorn in front of their entrance, and near the new Union Way shops, volunteers had set up several seating areas for people to eat, lounge, and take part in various activities. Extra bike parking was brought in (I’m told it was at capacity during lunch!) and there was even a hammock available if you wanted to chill out, take a nap, or read a book.

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Katrina was there too, giddy with satisfaction at how the day had turned out. To capture other people’s thoughts on this new public space, Katrina passed out surveys. When I saw her at about 2:30 pm, she said she already had about 50 of them filled out. For Katrina, and others that I spoke to at the event, this isn’t being seen as a one-time event. There’s a strong desire to make this block of Stark into a permanent public plaza. And why not? It couldn’t be more perfect. With the Ace Hotel, a popular deli (Kenny & Zukes) a popular restaurant (Clyde Common) on one side and a movie theater (Living Room Cinemas) and brand new, promenade-style shops (Union Way) on the other, Stark is begging to become a public plaza. During today’s event, the street teemed with life and was more vibrant and interesting than I’ve ever seen it.

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While I observed the street today, it was amazing how naturally Stark seemed to take on its new attributes. When no cars were around, people comfortably crossed Stark mid-block (gasp! jaywalking!), their shopping bags dangling as they went from Union Way directly across the street to the Ace Hotel. Several people riding bicycles — perhaps emboldened by how the chairs, couches, and presence of others calmed traffic — rode the wrong way on the one-way street. The people that did drive cars down the block, did so at much slower speeds than I’ve ever noticed before.

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This woman was walking with a cane, then broke out into dance as she crossed the street.
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Conversations, interactions, experiences — all the essential building blocks of successful cities and great public spaces.

Katrina and others shared with me that a few PBOT employees stopped by for lunch and were really inspired by what they saw. So was I!

Portland is dying to have a public plaza on par with what New York City has done at myriad locations. Today, thanks to Katrina and her PARK(ing) Day crew, we saw what the future of downtown Portland could — and should — be.

Thanks Katrina! I have a feeling this city will be hearing a lot more from you in the future.

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Lead organizer of PARK(ing) Day PDX Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman.

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  • Hart Noecker September 20, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Great write-up and photos, thanks, Jonathan! So wonderful to see so many comrades and passersby enjoying this block and across the river at Alta in exactly how streets used to be enjoyed. Things can only go up from here.

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  • nut4squirrel September 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    After reading “Parking, People & Cities” (,Parking,CitiesJUPD.pdf) I realized that car parking is the main diluters of urban density, much more than roads themselves. Causing extra costs to the businesses and cities that maintain these static paved areas. Bikes, walking and public transportation are the countermeasures that can help put more activities within reach of more people in less distance.

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  • Amy Subach September 20, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Irma (my three year old in the banner grabbing and chalkboard drawing photos) and I had so much fun hanging out there today. Thanks for the write up, and I’m glad that we could experience this.

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  • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Glad that people had fun. But was there any meaningful economic
    activity? It looks like Occupy Portland, as re-imagined by IKEA. Doesn’t
    anyone relaxing on the street have a job?

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    • SilkySlim September 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

      Building communities through shared spaces that foster healthy interactions is invaluable.

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      • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm

        Sure, which is why I support Portland’s public swimming pools. But my question re: jobs remains unanswered

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        • Amy Subach September 21, 2013 at 3:44 pm

          Personally, I spent a lot more time and money downtown than I would’ve because a) it was great to have a place to rest and place and blow off steam with my 3 year old, b) said three year old was excited to stay downtown because it was fun for her.

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        • Paula F September 21, 2013 at 5:36 pm

          My employer is at NW 2nd and NW Everett. We biked up to the area as our September Bike to Lunch day ride. It was great, and all too soon, we had to go back to work. Great fun and great event.

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    • Chris Anderson September 21, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      I’m pretty sure Amy (previous commenter) bought some clothes and shoes and food. I’m employed enough for the both of us…

      But anecdotes aside, you don’t have to look hard to find plenty of write-ups about the benefits of “bikonomics.”

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    • Alex Reed September 21, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      Maybe the people using these spaces were on their lunch break. Maybe they have flexible schedules. Maybe their spouses work and they are taking care of the kids and bringing the kids to cool things in their city. Maybe they work a non-M-F schedule and this was their day off! Maybe they’re freelancers in a rare period between jobs and are taking advantage of a low-budget recreation opportunity close to home. Maybe they work swing shift and came to this event before their job.

      If your question is, “How would implementing something like long-term this help Portland’s GDP?” my answer would be “By creating a more vibrant city, we attract vibrant companies and workers, and thus build a stronger economy.” But I don’t think GDP is the only thing that matters. “Fun” is important too and a worthy objective of cost-efficient government activities!

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    • Greg September 21, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      The more I read your comments here and elsewhere Oregon Mamacita, the more I think you are just looking for a fight, as opposed to actually having meaningful dialogue.

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      • Oregon Mamacita September 22, 2013 at 9:01 am

        Don’t pretend to be a mind reader. I am pro-bike but I question bike evangelism and the worship of Allan Shoup. There are some uncomfortable truths about bike evangelism, and they have to do with an over-simplification of economics and also with problems of class and equity. From the picture, the event looked like a bunch of white people
        who had tons of leisure time. I asked about jobs because I wanted to know.

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        • Melissa Rosales October 14, 2013 at 8:59 pm

          Excuse me, “mamacita,” but I am a person of color, and I was at this event. I felt pretty welcome, and I also felt that this group was pretty representative of downtown Portland. Maybe you should have been there. Do you want to keep a tally of diversity? Who gives a fuck. It was a bunch of people having fun.

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    • was carless September 22, 2013 at 10:03 am

      Who cares? Its public space.

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    • Lillian Karabaic September 23, 2013 at 10:58 am

      I work multiple jobs at different swing shifts, and made a point to stop by between my crack-of-dawn-job and my early-afternoon-job. Then I stopped by again on my way to the Timbers game, where (as usual) I spent a hearty amount of my disposable income on a Portland-owned sports franchise and in the surrounding drinking establishments.

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  • SilkySlim September 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I’ll go back in time and take a survey for you…. Maybe I’ll make one the questions, “Don’t you agree how a M-F 9-5 job, that doesn’t allow you to even take a lunch break to connect in the dead center of the city with others, is the best thing in the world?”

    I’ll start: Yes, I have a job. Yes, it is in building downtown. Yes, I took an few precious minutes of the day to go contribute to the community rather than the economy. And yes, what a pleasant space compared to the normal parked cars!!!

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  • jim September 22, 2013 at 1:30 am

    I noticed in the picture that nobody set up chairs in the bike rack area.

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  • Spiffy September 22, 2013 at 9:44 am

    looks like the presence of people so close to the auto travel lane caused vehicles to encroach into the bike lane…

    this is why we can’t have nice things…

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  • Andrew K September 23, 2013 at 9:14 am

    I love these pictures. Watching people using city streets as a space for community and interaction as opposed to just zipping by to their destination always warms my heart.

    I work downtown, and I have noticed that on this day in particular the people I work with are always in a better mood. They come back from lunch hours talking about the fact that they just played ring toss out on the street or they ate a sandwich on a hay bale.

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  • Tim Davis September 26, 2013 at 12:34 am

    Andrew K, you so beautifully captured the essence of what this day (hopefully to be made permanent throughout this entire block) is–I quote, with particular fondness for the “hay bale” part LOL:

    “I work downtown, and I have noticed that on this day in particular the people I work with are always in a better mood. They come back from lunch hours talking about the fact that they just played ring toss out on the street or they ate a sandwich on a hay bale.”

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