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

Parking Day-16
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.

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.

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.

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.

This woman was walking with a cane, then broke out into dance as she crossed the street.
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.

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

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