Mt. Scott-Arleta residents celebrate vibrant plaza on formerly violent street

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty (in blue on left), danced in the new plaza last night. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“This slip lane was being used for drive-bys and a lot of violent activities.”

– Nadine Salama, resident

It’s rare that a sitting Portland city commissioner will dance at a public event. Rarer still when it’s in the middle of what used to be a street known for regular shootings and traffic-related violence.

But that’s exactly what happened Thursday night in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood as Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty joined neighborhood leaders to celebrate the opening of Arleta Triangle Square (yes that’s what they call it) — a permanent plaza and community space that has sprung up in the former slip-lane of SE Woodstock at 72nd.

As we’ve chronicled since October 2021, people who live near Mt. Scott Park lived in fear of regular gun violence — much of it involving reckless driving. They got together and pressured City Hall to do something about it and found a champion in Commissioner Hardesty, whose interests in non-police public safety efforts, love of neighborhood organizing, and leadership of the transportation bureau proved to be a perfect combination.

Hardesty and neighborhood leaders like Matchu Williams and Nadine Salama put together a multi-pronged approach that — judging by all the smiles and happy people at Thursday’s party — has worked wonders.

Nadine Salama (left) with Hardesty, Gillian Watson, and Habiba Ado.

“This slip lane right here was being used for drive-bys and a lot of violent activities,” Salama shared with me as she applied face painting to one of the many little kids at the event. Salama said they knew from the start a different approach would be needed because the problem was so complex and multi-layered. “We worked with the church to close their parking lot, we worked with Commissioner Hardesty’s office to get the [traffic] barrels down to slow down traffic, and now this plaza, it’s just so wonderful. I’m so grateful.”

The effort also included more patrols by Portland Parks rangers and police officers. But the centerpiece is the Arleta Triangle plaza.

Painted with a vibrant rainbow of colors, the new plaza has a permanent stage on one end, and large, colorful concrete planters at the edges. The site design was donated by Portland-based Bora Architects and Anderson Construction gifted installation of the furniture, benches, and stage. Central City Concern coordinated hundreds of volunteers to paint the pavement. Those are just a few of the many organizations who’ve contributed.

Commissioner Hardesty told me that because of all the partnerships, the City of Portland paid just $30,000 for the entire plaza project. PBOT has already secured an $800,000 federal grant to do 2-3 similar projects. “But I think we can do significantly more than three of these if we continue to build the partnerships that made this happen,” Hardesty said.

“This is about thinking of community safety in a way that’s different than just ‘law and order’.”

– Jo Ann Hardesty, city commissioner

When Hardesty first became PBOT commissioner in January 2021 she voiced support for carfree spaces like this one all over Portland. Last night she called the Arleta example a “community space that the community owns.” “This is about thinking of community safety in a way that’s different than just ‘law and order’ and this is a good example of community being in the lead and government being responsive, listening and trying something different,” she said as I tried to hear her over the Bollywood beats of DJ Prashant. “I didn’t know if it would work, but it was worth the effort to try it.”

Has it actually worked? There are a lot of skeptics.

I put that question to Salama, who lives within earshot of the plaza. She mentioned data that showed a clear decrease in gun violence after the effort began. She also said, “All I know is we went from a summer where we had 14 shootings in one month and then 10 the following month, to this summer where we’ve had barely any at all. And everything feels safer.”

A big part of it is just being present and together. “We’re utilizing our spaces in a positive way. We’re occupying this space,” Salama added. “It’s encouraging other people to come out, to go walking, to come to the park.”

And it’s encouraging people to dance.

We can’t wait to see more plazas like this spring up all over Portland!

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Champs
Champs
23 days ago

October 2020: my block asked for this same attention for the same issue
October 2021: PBOT does it in Mt. Scott Arleta, we ask for this specifically.
February 2022: Hardesty’s office asks us to sit tight and testify during budgeting

The budgeting cycle came and went.

We’re still waiting.

Don Courtney
Don Courtney
23 days ago
Reply to  Champs

This area has a very influential resident with the cliquish Portland non-profit scene who cares deeply about this patch of land, at this point perhaps believing it tied to her legacy. She now is in charge of the Street Trust. That may explain all this attention from transport types at the city.

Tomas Paella
Tomas Paella
23 days ago
Reply to  Don Courtney

Wow. I’d love to read all the internal city comms on how this location was selected over others. Could be some juicy stuff in there.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
22 days ago
Reply to  Tomas Paella

City staff know the dangers of public records requests and know better than to use email or memos for such discussions.
Staff are regularly reminded “don’t write something you don’t want to appear on the front page of a newspaper or appear on tv”.

cyclops
cyclops
21 days ago
Reply to  Champs

I think this makes a good argument for changing the city charter so there are more reps from individual districts. You can continue to make your case to PBOT- and i think that’s a good thing to do in general – while also speaking to reps from your district that are both more familiar with the issues affecting their respective constituencies and beholden to provide tangible results to said constituencies if they keep up the pressure.

I hope you get your plaza soon – I believe having these through out the city can be quite transformative much like food pods.

Matt
Matt
23 days ago

Yeah we know how much Hardesty hates that horrible “law and order”. Meanwhile for the last couple days we’ve listened to someone with a portable grinder dismantling vehicles on the street just a block from my house.Oil, coolant, and who knows what else just collecting along the curb. Yeah thanks Jo Ann.

ES
ES
23 days ago

I live in Brentwood Darlington just south of this area and I like this plaza: it’s colorful, and it takes space away from cars where it was really not necessary in the first place. (I happened to pass by when this event was going on and caught a glimpse of Jonathon there! Looked like everyone was having a great time.) However when it comes to gun violence I’m afraid making one area safer is just pushing that activity elsewhere. Last week about half a block from my house in we had 53 shots fired, then a couple of days later several shots fired near the Dairy Queen on Duke. I don’t know what the solution is, but now I’m thinking perhaps we can use these occurrences to lobby for more traffic calming infrastructure in the neighborhood!

steve scarich
steve scarich
21 days ago
Reply to  ES

I think we can all agree that (1) This is a good thing for this neighborhood and (2) It will have little, or no, effect on overall violence in Portland. A bigger question is: as neighborhoods claim their spaces and exclude violent criminals, what is the impact on other parts of the City? Of course, these exclusions will concentrate the violence into smaller, and smaller, areas. At some point, big questions will arise about who picks and chooses.

Riddle Me This
Riddle Me This
23 days ago

“formerly violent” – is this a joke? We’re on pace to tie or surpass 2021’s record homicides

John Shawen
John Shawen
23 days ago

Jonathan Maus on September 2:

I’m really disappointed that @JoAnnPDX, the commissioner in charge of @PBOTinfo, hasn’t made any statement about a guy who brandished a gun and raged through @SundayParkways or abt a street racer who killed someone waiting for a bus

What’s more surprising is that Commissioner Hardesty lives in east Portland and both of these incidents happened in east Portland. She’s also a bus rider.

Dangerous car culture is a very serious issue. We need leaders who get that and are willing to speak out about it.

Less dancing, more action. Please.

Pretending that some paint has solved our problems is gaslighting all of us.

Jim
Jim
21 days ago
Reply to  John Shawen

I don’t see anyone saying closing the slip lane and setting up a public community space has solved our problems. Nor has setting up traffic barrels “solved our problems” .

But shootings in that part of of the neighborhood are lower. Was it cause and effect? Was it coincidence? Who can say? Did it just push the crime to somewhere else? Maybe.

Shootings in the neighborhood went down after these “pointless” measures were taken . Citywide, shootings haven’t changed much in the same time period. Seems worthwhile to me.

For me, I’m waiting to see what happens after the police non-emergency phone service is moved over to the new 311 phone number. I’m hoping to see 911 wait times go down and people able to get someone to answer the phone when they call the non-emergency number.

Will that solve our problems? Nope, just another step to help.

Teresa Rutheford
Teresa Rutheford
23 days ago

90 homicides last year

64 homicides so far this year… and four months to go.

NoPoResident
NoPoResident
21 days ago

I’m curious why no other elected officials get the level of vitriol that JoAnn Hardesty brings out in BP commenters? This post shows vibrant pictures of a community-led project that permanently took space away from cars and has at least initially resulted in fewer drive by shootings in that neighborhood without the use law enforcement intervention. Yet reading the comments you’d think Commissioner Hardesty should’ve already solved the gun violence and traffic violence problems disregarding that both are a nationwide problem seen in every state and in cities of all sizes and political leanings. This is an innovative and cheap way to address 1 aspect of the immensely complex public safety issues we have in Portland without the use of law enforcement by repurposing public space that is normally used for cars. I’m trying to make sense of why BP commenters have eviscerated the most recent PBOT commissioners (except for Novick) for every step and decision they make and i’m really only coming up with the obvious answer. I wonder how predictable (and honestly very sad if this happens) to see if Rene wins how the conversation will shift.

Charley
Charley
21 days ago
Reply to  NoPoResident

Agreed.

dwk
dwk
21 days ago
Reply to  NoPoResident

Is Portland a better place to live than 5 years ago? Is it really hard to understand why NONE of the elected officials deserver re-election?

Hotrodder
Hotrodder
21 days ago

Is this a joke? Are you kidding? My god, this is the most asinine statement you’ve ever made. In my opinion.

“We” blew up the Portland of five years ago and now the taxpayers are living among the smoldering ruins while Jo Anne dances gleefully around a painted crop circle declaring some nebulous victory.

I’ve been thinking about you a lot since you posted that article on the PIR egress through Schmeer road.
On a roadride yesterday to Kelly Point Park along the Columbia I witnessed a dozen apocalyptic sightings, any ONE of which would have the cops called in any decent city in the country and would have an out of town guest wondering who the hell is in charge that is letting this happen.
The MUP’s (and most of the empty spaces) are in shambles with a fresh hell ready to greet us every time we try to ride our bicycles around the city, but the one time you ‘get scared’ you blast off letters to the police and PIR and get mad about a traffic event that at most lasted a couple of hours and solved a temporary problem; in the meantime, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the infrastructure that was bought and paid for by people like me who worked long hours at a job lays in ruin under mounds of garbage, stolen property and burnt out cars and camps populated by people who may or may not want to attack me as I roll by. And that gets little to no ink from your ‘journalistic’ pen.

You have a funny way of lookin’ at life. Sure ain’t my view.

I will say this. You did get the lamp post on the Broadway bridge moved. I’m grateful for that. Use your megaphone to do more of that kind of stuff.

Dwk
Dwk
20 days ago

How come if any other person says they are disappointed with Hardesty, some one posts like the above, that it must be race based even though they have no idea what race the person is who posted it.
Are you a racist because YOU are disappointed in Hardesty.

steve scarich
steve scarich
21 days ago

Wow! That’s a courageous statement. I don’t live in Portland, only visit occasionally and, at least in terms of traffic, cost of living, street people, a dying Downtown (the things visible when I visit), etc., it would appear that Portland is in a much worse place than it was five years ago. Raising consciousness is not part of my metric of civic viability. Changing inappropriate behavior, civil citizen behavior, safer streets, lowering the cost of living, better education of our kids….I could go on…those are the metrics that I use. I’m open to hearing your criteria, JM.

Chris I
Chris I
21 days ago
Reply to  NoPoResident

Did you read the article?

The effort also included more patrols by Portland Parks rangers and police officers. But the centerpiece is the Arleta Triangle plaza.

I’m trying to understand why you would omit this important detail, and I’m really only coming up with the obvious answer.

steve scarich
steve scarich
21 days ago
Reply to  NoPoResident

I suspect much of the dislike of Hardesty has to do with her history of very questionable ethics and behavior…right off the top of my head is her treatment of the self-employed LYFT driver and her dodging paying her personal debts, while making a very handsome income as a politician. Probably a bit of racism, too.

Chasing Backon
Chasing Backon
21 days ago

As a resident of this neighborhood, i’m happy to see both the church parking lot and this slip lane closed. They both contributed to dangerous auto traffic at a busy intersection. My kids and I hung out at the plaza on friday after school and it was very relaxing.

Jennifer
Jennifer
21 days ago

It’s a nice plaza, it’s probably safer to walk or ride nearby, sure. Tying that to a blip in gun violence, though? Seems pretty tenuous. This doesn’t make anyone less likely to pull the trigger, nor does it address the root causes of gang violence.

Chris I
Chris I
21 days ago
Reply to  Jennifer

But this is about the 8th time we’ve heard about it on this blog, so it’s clearly doing… something?

Tomas Paella
Tomas Paella
18 days ago

Imagine that, this intersection is in the news again