How to make the most of your carfree Healthy Block this summer

What will you do on your Healthy Block this summer?
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The saying better late than never definitely applies to PBOT’s new Healthy Blocks program.

During the pandemic, PBOT prioritized business permits for outdoor dining and paused popular programs like block parties, street paintings, Sunday Parkways and Play Streets.

Now PBOT has reimagined their permit process for street closures and has made it easier for Portlanders to open up streets to support active and social neighborhoods. As a physical education teacher who’s worked on many open streets projects over the years, I’m very excited for this and hope many of you take advantage of these permits.

Here are some ideas to jumpstart your Healthy Block.

  • Build a cardboard box village: While purchasing expensive building materials like Imagination Playground is a fun option, there are more low-cost ways to get building. Save those shipping boxes before being recycled can you’ll have the building blocks of a great activity that will get creativity and collaboration skills flowing.
  • Create a workout group: Working out with your community can be one of the best ways to stay active when you don’t want to go to the gym. Imagine a Zumba session or yoga class in the street or in front of your house. By keeping physical activity local you are making it one step easier for yourself to show up and get the benefits of physical activity.
  • Dancing in the street!
    (Photo: Sam Balto)
  • Square dance: Being from the East Coast and vacationing on Cape Cod I always loved Wednesday Square Dancing on the pier. The town of Wellfleet uses part of the pier parking lot and hosts square dancing sessions which have turned into a cherished summer tradition. Open streets are an open dance floor! Make a playlist and have a great time dancing around. My personal favorite in the Pop-corn.
  • Pickleball: The newish sport of Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. I like to describe it as a combination of ping-pong and tennis. Sharing the cost of a pop-up Pickleball set with neighbors will provide hours of fun for everyone in the neighborhood. It’s easy to tape off or paint a pickleball court in the street (there are many in Portland already), and with a block party permit there won’t be any “Car!” to interrupt your game.
  • Traffic Garden: Last year during the pandemic BikePortland covered the movement to create Traffic Gardens around Portland. These cheap and easy-to-create miniature street networks for children can provide hours of fun while they practice their biking or scootering skills in a dynamic environment. Get the children involved with designing the street network as a fun way to incorporate STEM while the children in your neighborhood get valuable physical activity. Check out this video for more inspiration.
  • Chalk the block: Chalking can be an incredibly fun, creative and therapeutic activity for people of all ages. Provide chalk at your open streets event and let everyone go wild.
  • Recess: Creating a consistent “recess” time on your block could be a wonderful way to get the benefits of physical activity. Not sure where to start with games, check out this resource from the non-profit Playworks Game Library.
  • Inspired? Want to learn more? I highly recommend looking at the Designing Streets for Kids book from the National Association of City Transportation Officials and Tim Gill’s new, Urban Playground: How child friendly planning and design can save cities.
Sam Balto and son at Flanders Crossing opening day.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

One minor quibble with PBOT’s Healthy Blocks program: There’s no funding. Asking people to volunteer their time and resources to get a permit and set up their own activities is not an equitable approach. PBOT has given their Healthy Business program a financial subsidy and it would be great if they could help Portlanders offset the costs of making more open streets come alive.

By opening our streets to more than the storage and movement of cars, we can show our children that we are not limited by what is around us. Using street space as a canvas for supporting local physical activity, building community and fostering connections lost during the pandemic will benefit all of us as we move forward!

PBOT Healthy Blocks Program official website

— Sam Balto, and @CoachBalto on Twitter
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Sam Balto (Contributor)

Sam Balto (Contributor)

Sam Balto is a northeast Portland resident who teaches physical education at a local public school. In 2019 he was honored with a Weston Award from Oregon Walks for his school-based traffic safety advocacy. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachBalto.

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Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Lisa Caballero
2 years ago

Thanks Sam, you’ve inspired me to finally make an honest woman out of our 19-yr block party tradition—I’m going to apply for a permit this year!