In 1996, in Portland, Oregon, a group of neighbors did something that no one had ever done before. They proposed to paint the street and to create a community plaza. Initially, the Portland Department of Transportation was baffled. One volunteer remembers being told, “We can’t give you a permit, because nobody’s ever done it before. Besides, that’s public space, so no one can use it.”
The neighbors felt public space should be used – by everybody. They created plans and drawings to show how their “intersection repair” plans could build community. Painting the pavement with rings of “bricks” and pictures would attract pedestrians and calm traffic. After receiving the city of Portland’s approval, the project was repeated each year to repaint the street and small projects were added on the corners: first a children’s playhouse, then a community bulletin board and currently cupboards for sharing books and toys.
Gradually, the asphalt intersection became a colorful village not costing the city a penny. So, after the bureaucratic hurdles and the new projects were built, “Share-It Square” was born. The city of Portland and its citizens authorized this community building process now called Intersection Repair.
Share-It Square fascinates visitors as well. Where else can you find a 24-hour free tea station, stocked anonymously? Where else can you find a beehive-shaped newspaper box, offering free copies of “The Buzz” neighborhood paper?
Within five years, another Intersection Repair location was created in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Portland. Volunteers played with themes of recycled and natural materials, hands-on community art, and ephemeral gatherings that inspired lasting relationships.
In 2001, participating community members formed a non-profit organization, now called City Repair. They help communities to transform their neighborhoods at the grassroots level through intersection repair projects including assistance with connections, resources, instructors, permits, eco-designers, and donated materials. Since 2003, City Repair has also organized an annual Village Building Convergence (VBC). This is an event where interested neighborhoods in Portland work with City Repair staff and volunteers to design, build or install their own unique projects within a ten day period. At the end of the convergence, a self-guided tour is offered.
Andrea Erickson from St. Paul, Minnesota visited City Repair in 2006. She was enrolled in St. Paul’s LISN program, a new initiative to foster Leadership In Support of Neighborhoods. The program is borrowing elements from Portland’s Intersection Repair to spark similar projects in St. Paul, called ‘Paint the Pavement’. “There is a big push in St. Paul for traffic calming,” says Andrea. This lead to the approval by St. Paul Public Works for a pilot ordinance. Through conversations with officials, community leaders, and others, Paint the Pavement is being tailored for St. Paul. One St. Paul neighborhood has already painted a street while another just happened in September of 2006.
By working together in our own neighborhoods, we change the world one street corner at a time. Visit the web sites listed, or call to find out how to get involved in your own neighborhood.
The City Repair Project’s Placemaking Guidebook, The City Repair Project. (PO Box 42615, Portland Oregon 97242, $15-25 per book, sliding scale; include $2 for S&H)
Mental Speed Bumps by David Engwicth, Envirobook 2005.
St. Paul’s Paint the Pavement Project
City Repair Project & Village Building Convergence
Portland, Oregon, 503-235-8946