Frustrated by city officials’ estimates that it’d take several years to even consider a major redesign of 3rd Avenue through Old Town, a group of neighborhood businesses is teaming up with a team of livable streets advocates to create their own three-day demo of what a better street could look like — two weeks from today.
Inspired in part by the “pop-up” street projects that have helped reshape New York City in the last five years, organizers say Old Town’s three-block project will be one of the country’s largest such projects ever.
It’ll use wooden planters in the street to create more than a thousand square feet of new pedestrianized space between NW Davis an SW Ash, a protected bike lane, a series of new sidewalk cafes, a marked crosswalk and a huge new public plaza in front of Voodoo Doughnut adjoining Old Town’s thriving Ankeny Alley.
The Portland Business Alliance and the city’s fire, police and transportation bureaus have all signed off on the plan, which will run from 7 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 3 until Sunday, Oct. 5.
“We’re starting to build planters this weekend,” said Boris Kaganovich, an organizer of the project for the group Better Block PDX, the volunteer group that has partnered with the Old Town Hospitality Association and Old Town Community Association to do the project. “I’ve built the first two prototypes. Now we’ve just got to build 150 more.”
It’s by far the biggest undertaking to date by Better Block, the all-volunteer nonprofit group that last year created a spectacular PARK(ing) Day on Southwest Stark and a temporary “Popcorn Plaza” this spring on Southeast Clinton Street.
Dan Lenzen, owner of the Dixie Tavern and a leader in the hospitality association, said in an interview Thursday that the demo is going to be “awesome.”
“It seems to be a pivotal opportunity for many people — businesses, residents, tourists and visitors — to look to see what it could look like with this change, how it might be able to positively affect the neighborhood on a broader scale,” Lenzen said. “It could be the catalyst for us to look at 3rd and 2nd and 4th street management changes.”
Here’s what 3rd Avenue looked like yesterday at 4:45 p.m.:
Standing at 3rd and Couch Thursday with Lenzen and Dixie Tavern manager Jeff Hebert, Kaganovich said the weekend demo would be a way to explain the benefits of changing 3rd Avenue that’d be more memorable and intuitive than Photoshop visualizations.
“We’re going to say, here are real people sitting down enjoying it,” Kaganovich said. Hebert nodded approvingly.
“I like it,” he said.
Better Block recruited Nick Falbo of Alta Planning + Design and Adrienne Leverette and Yelena Prusakova of Fat Pencil Studio for pro bono planning support. Lenzen and Kaganovich are also recruiting businesses along 3rd to move tables and chairs into the street, where Kaganovich said businesses will be allowed to offer food service even though non-customers will also be allowed to sit there during the event.
“It’s going to be privately owned furniture, but public seating,” he said.
Lenzen said he’ll be on site during the demo to organize any necessary changes.
“It’s flexible, that’s the beauty of this thing,” Lenzen said. “If it’s not working one way, let’s try another way. If we don’t have enough tables out one day, let’s get some more out the next day.”
“Because it’s temporary, no one has any objections.”
— Boris Kaganovich, Better Block PDX
“Because it’s temporary, no one has any objections,” he said. “We have a chance to get a bunch of stuff wrong and we can fix it in another round.”
Kaganovich, whose own day job is as a communications engineer for TriMet, credited the city for being responsive and open to the idea once he and Better Block’s other organizers figured out which city employees they needed to talk to.
“What’s amazing about Portland is that more than anywhere in the U.S. right now, I think, you can basically pick up a phone and talk to any city staffer,” he said.
That’s turned out to be great news for the Old Town business group.
“They’ve been trying to get the city to do this for a really long time,” Kaganovich said. “And we said, hey, we can do this in a month and change. And everyone’s eyes got really wide. … We couldn’t say no, given that all the stars seemed to line up.”
Better Block’s core team is meeting today to discuss plans for recruiting volunteers and soliciting enough donations for the project, whose cost they estimate at $5,000 to $6,000. If you’d like to help make this project happen, you can donate online to support the effort or email Kaganovich, firstname.lastname@example.org, for details on how to volunteer.