Streets for Sojourning

PBOT’s own Denver Igarta recently had the opportunity to visit four European cities on a German Marshall fund fellowship to look at how their street networks function.

His take-away? Start by designing local streets as places to be, not to move through. Check out his report (PDF, 2.4M) to learn what makes a great street for ‘sojourning’.

5 responses to “Streets for Sojourning”

  1. Something that almost no commercial street or district here has is a plaza or some kind of pubic space other than the street. Help me name one! Not NW 23rd, not NE Alberta, not SE Hawthorne. Hollywood has a very modest one.
    Also public buildings like Post Offices are sited with no regard to district form or function; loction is based on the need for parking. Likewise with churches and other institutional destinations. Every neighborhood should have a Pioneer Courthouse Square of some sort.

  2. Lenny, it sounds like you’re talking about two things here…

    In reverse order:

    Every neighborhood should have a Pioneer Courthouse Square of some sort.

    Agreed: There are a choice few. In the Pearl District there is Jamison Square, very popular for locals, tourists, lunchtime visitors, and especially families in the summertime. Nearby, there is Tanner Springs, for a more tranquil experience.

    But these oasis are surrounded by local streets, much like Pioneer Courthouse Square is surrounded by streets, whereas traditional European plazas are surrounded by buildings, often anchored by a major historic, religious, or civic building.

    So in that sense these Portland spaces are much like the park blocks or neighborhood parks, rather than plazas.

    Which brings us to…

    “almost no commercial street or district here has is a plaza or some kind of pubic space other than the street”

    At the other end of the spectrum we have purely pedestrian-only plazas such as Lovejoy Fountain or the nearby Pettygrove Park. These don’t have nearly the use or visibility of the more spectacular Ira Keller Fountain (which is surrounded by streets and therefore not a traditional plaza). The Lovejoy and Pettygrove plazas, while pedestrian-focused, seem disconnected and the surrounding buildings seem to face away, rather than toward … and oddly bicycle and disabled access is difficult due to all the stairs, so these are self-limiting spaces even in terms of car-free users.

    Is there something in-between? Something with strong civic “bones” and attractive activating uses, which is not immediately surrounded by auto-dominated streets? Even the PSU Urban Plaza, while transected and surrounded by transit, is still framed on 2 sides by major streets.

    Perhaps the lauded 200ft Portland block size, a boon in many ways, prevents the natural formation of true public plazas because it is difficult to fit useful buildings at a perimeter of a block while still having large spaces in the middle?

  3. Lovejoy Fountain strikes me as a potentially great European-style plaza if the surrounding buildings were remodeled/repurposed at ground level to bring life to the area. With thousands of students, residents and workers in the immediate area, there’s no shortage of people to fill a lively pedestrian space 18 to 20 hours a day. They just need a reason to be there.

    Right now, the only reason to visit Lovejoy Fountain is … to look at the fountain. That’s it. There’s no coffee house, no restaurant row, no chess tables, no antique shops or art galleries or interesting museum or strange little boutiques, no other park activities — nothing to draw people.

  4. My wife’s former neighborhood in Frankfurt, Bockenheim, has a kilometer long commercial street, Leipizer Str. Its surrounded by 5 story walk up apartments and once had a streetcar line and now the U-bahn runs underneath. The university district sits at one end. About midway along the street (which is paved with cobbles, but open to motor vehicles) is a large square with a small church, faced by the local post office, a U-bahn station, etc. I can’t think of a neighborhood commercial street in Portland with such a public space combined with meaningful destinations. Multnomah Village has a tiny triangle where Troy angles off Capitol Highway; Mississppi has a small refuge where the developer cut back from the street; Beaumont Village? nothing; Hawthorne? nothing; Belmont? nothing. N Williams? nothing, but lots of vacant lots! NE Broadway? a modest space at 12th Avenue…probably the best example of what I am talking about. I think St. Johns has a little plaza as does Hollywood, both along their state highways!

  5. The reality is that European cities were built (not designed or planned) the way they are, and it serves a very useful purpose – very large, broad boulevards (often eight, ten, twelve lanes or more wider) for cars, but not many businesses actually line those streets. Rather, businesses are located on side streets (often narrow with just one vehicular lane, and generous parking, sidewalks and bike facilities).

    American streets, and specifically in Portland, are designed to mash everything together – no boulevards, but assume every street is a “main street”. Thus too many people competing for the same space causing congestion, discouraging its use. Freeways do not serve the same purpose as a European style boulevard, they serve their own very useful function (and they very well do exist, often in a better form, in Europe.

    Want to change it? Create a few boulevards – turn Burnside, Naito, M.L.K., into eight lane streets. That’s already a non-starter, so we have a problem – we’re NOT going to be Europe. Doing that will separate through traffic from local traffic – and create more space for local uses on the local streets.

    It should also be noted that very few cities in Europe use a grid system like most American (and especially western U.S.) cities. Again – they weren’t planned, they just were built that way. We tend to plan – overplan – and as a result in many ways we have planned for failure rather than natural, organic growth. In Europe, it’s as simple as drawing a line, and saying “build what you want, but build within the line”…in America, we want to micromanage the growth, only serving to cause resentment amongst everyone and nobody is very adequately served.

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