As the Blumenauer Bridge opening day events settled down, a block party was just getting going a few blocks south. Depave hosted a seven hour long block party on SE 7th Ave between Sandy Blvd and Stark Street. The event showcased how an expanse of underused city street can be reinvented as a community space. From the turnout, I would call the party — and the plan that inspired it — a huge success.
The party kicked off with local band Ten Spiders Band performing a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” The lyrics “paved paradise and put up a parking lot” echoed with beautiful irony of the multiple vacant parking lots flanking the closed-off 7th Ave. Just imagine how this mostly-forgotten land could benefit our community and the Central Eastside!
People poured into the block party to check out the sights. The cornhole, skateboard ramps, vendors, free ice cream, beer, bands performing under shade and ride-through misters attracted people from all walks of life. Even houseless residents came to join the festivities, cool off, and access resources. Katherine Rose, Depave’s communication and engagement coordinator, mentioned that “our misters and shade structures are actually providing an oasis in a part of town that doesn’t have other cooling centers set up.” This block party showcased some of Portland’s highest values: imagination and community.
Ted Labbe, a Depave senior board member, mentioned that the project PBOT plans to begin construction on this week in the area are only the beginning.
Depave is partnering with the city to create a new public space on SE 7th Ave between Stark and Sandy. All three proposed design options increase the urban canopy, greenspace, and prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in this area.
Below is a look at current conditions compared to Option 1, the cul-de-sac:
Rose said that Commissioner Mapps and Chris Warner, the director of PBOT, visited the block party to look at Depave’s design concept. The focal point of the block party was to inform as many people as possible about the redesign concept. I asked Dylan Rivera, PBOT’s public information officer, what people can do to help the city make projects like this a priority. “Make your voice heard when an opportunity like this comes up,” he said.
Well, there just so happens to be a survey to share what you think about this proposal.
As the sun began to set on the block party, people had gotten on top of the vacant building abutting 7th Ave to enjoy the view from above. The skaters had stopped traffic on Sandy to let one of their finest accelerate downhill on 7th and jump over a barricade. When he stuck the landing, people from across the block cheered and applauded. It inspires hope to see how closing a city block to car traffic and bringing in a few vendors and games can inspire so many to see a new possibility.
As I was rolling away from the party I overheard a quick conversation. “What is going on?” a couple approaching the party asked.
“It’s a block party for the celebration of the new bridge. But they want to put some green space in here” a woman replied.
“That would be great! It’s just what this area needs.”
Filling the asphalt expanse of SE 7th Ave with people made this section of inner southeast Portland feel alive. But the “For Lease” signs, boarded up windows, and graffiti on the surrounding buildings reminded me that this event was only temporary. The Central Eastside needs a permanent community space to bring life back to these blocks of underused buildings and street space. If you think this is a good place for it, make sure to let them know via the survey.
Paxton is a trained engineer and engaged community volunteer. He is interested in urban transportation and organizations that build community through reducing dependence on fossil fuel infrastructure.