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Citizen urbanists launch ‘Better Block PDX’ to perk up public spaces

Southeast Clinton and 26th could be Portland’s next great public space.
(Photo by Nevan Mrgan)

The team of indie planners who two months ago reimagined a block of downtown Portland parking spaces as a public lounge have made plans for a sequel.

Or maybe an ongoing franchise.

“The key that we’re looking for is intersections where not too much effort can lead to a big reward.”
— Boris Kaganovich, Better Block organizer

On Monday night, the organizers of the city’s biggest-ever PARK(ing) Day announced that they’re forming a new organization to continue the work: Better Block PDX, inspired by a hugely successful “tactical urbanist” model that emerged a few years ago from Dallas, Texas. They also announced the next place they hope to (at least temporarily) rethink: the big expanse of underused pavement at Southeast 26th and Clinton (map).

“The key that we’re looking for is intersections where not too much effort can lead to a big reward,” Better Block organizer Boris Kaganovich said Monday.

What’s in store with their plans for a temporary plaza? Organizers plan to start by talking to neighbors and businesses in the community, maybe at an upcoming meeting at the Clinton Street Theater, which sits right on the intersection.

Sketching plans.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

In the meantime, the 15 or so believers in human-friendly streets who came to Monday’s get-together at Velo Cult crowded eagerly around a translucent map of the intersection that they laid out together with magic markers, discussing details like the angles required for successful bus turns and the possible spots that might work well for tables and furniture.

Kaganovich’s fellow ringleader Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman said she’s spoken with both Jason Roberts of the original Better Block organization, who gave the group his blessing, and to several officials at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, who clapped at her presentation about the success of PARK(ing) Day.

Johnston-Zimmerman was straightforward about her goal: to show Portlanders, as Better Block projects have in other cities, that many particular urban spaces can be used in more vibrant, pleasant, and socially and economically productive ways than they are today.

“We were hoping to inspire the city to make something permanent,” she said. “PARK(ing) Day isn’t enough.”

Eric Van Dyke, one of several people who brought grayer hairs and longer memories Monday night, said he was interested in a project only because it might lead to permanent changes. The key to that, he said, would be support from the city government — and the key to support from the city would be showing local business owners that a block that’s better for people would be better for business, too.

“They’ll be for it if the businesses are for it,” Van Dyke predicted.

Organizers aim to prepare their demonstration over the next few months. To help out, learn more, share ideas or just stay up to date with their activities, send an email to betterblockpdx@gmail.com.

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