Working every evening for two weeks in a warren of unfinished rooms three stories above Old Town, more than a dozen enthusiastic volunteers have almost finished building the street features that will remake 3rd Avenue for one weekend, starting Friday morning.
“We managed to clear every store in town out of kreg screws,” organizer Boris Kaganovich of Better Block PDX said Tuesday, taking stock of the group’s inventory so far as he walked through the building. “And three Home Depots’ worth of Astroturf.”
The main tools in the plan: 150 handmade wooden planters that’ll carve out a protected bike lane on the west side of the street, sidewalk cafe space on both sides and a big pedestrian plaza in front of Voodoo Doughnut and Ankeny Alley.
Also on the wall of Better Block’s third floor command center is a whiteboard map of all the activities planned.
The group plans to set up a ping-pong table and a set of giant dominoes (on loan from the Portland Bureau of Transportation). Several Old Town storefronts, including Voodoo, plan to set up in the space outside their doors, and Old Town employer Airbnb is planning to take over an entire block face with office furniture. (Or something like that. Kaganovich said the company hasn’t gone into detail about their concept.)
Under the terms of the demo, members of the public will be allowed to sit in any temporary seating along the street. Restaurants will also be able to offer food service but no oudoor alcohol.
Better Block’s prep work will continue Wednesday and Thursday nights and through the weekend, Kaganovich said. Volunteers are still needed for cutting strips of Astroturf, stapling them to the top of plywood planters and (starting at 7 a.m. Friday and continuing around the clock until Sunday evening) sitting in Old Town streets in order to fulfill the Portland Police Bureau’s request that a volunteer be on site at all times to help move the planters in case of an emergency.
Part of the reason volunteers are contributing hundreds of hours is on the hunch that the City of Portland might see this weekend’s “pop up” event as a model for future community-driven street experiments, as New York City began doing a few years ago.
“We’re also hoping that if this is a success, that the city will be more open to this kind of project in the future,” said Ben Chaney, a Better Block volunteer, as he fitted an impact driver into the screw on a half-assembled planter Tuesday night. “I think it’d be pretty awesome to see a ‘temporary street rejuvination permit.’”
As it is, the city is charging Better Block $1,500 for three days’ worth of lost parking revenue. To make room for the new amenities, the demo will temporarily remove parking from both sides of 3rd between Ash and Davis, as well as all but one general travel lane on the one-way street. Safety signage is costing the group another $2,000, the construction materials $5,000 to $6,000.
Better Block has found sponsors for the event’s costs: $3,000 from regional government Metro, $1,500 from the advocacy group America Walks, $1,000 from Dixie Tavern and $1,000 from architecture firm Ankrom Moisan, among others.
If you’d like to lend time, chip in money for the next such demo or otherwise find a way to help out, write BetterBlockPDX@gmail.com.
Or just come by Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday to enjoy the new urban space and help imagine the ways it could be permanently improved.
“I’m just very excited that all of the various plans have come together in the last two weeks,” Chaney said Tuesday. “Everything’s really fallen into place.”
Correction 2 pm: A previous version of this post incorrectly described the planned bike lane.
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