March 6, 2011 by David Gillaspie
End The Confusion Now
Look out your window and what do you see?
If there’s a city bus stop, it’s urban; a cow or a cornfield and it’s rural.
Each place has at least one feature in common: Main Street.
If it’s a one horse town too small for a small stop sign, there’s a main street. It might be named Main Street. Or Broadway, or Times Square.
For some, main street lives in their memory until they see something that matches the image.
That’s the moment you see how things could be. More important, it’s the moment you wonder how an ideal main street like the one you see got that way.
Keep in mind, it’s not by accident.
You’re main street isn’t my main street, but if it means anything, it’s worth taking note.
Idealized neighborhoods never change, real ones do. If Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A changed it would be like every other street. That’s not why crowds flock to the Happiest Place On Earth.
Not every main street wants the Disney treatment, for obvious reasons. High maintenance, constant parades, mice. But the love is still there.
Isn’t love the feeling you want from your main street? Don’t you want to breathe deeper because the air in this special place is so rarefied?
Maybe you’ve breathed that rarefied air before, but where?
For some it means a trip to the Old Country. It could be the Gothic District in Barcelona or the Punting District in Cambridge, England that pumps life into their soul.
For others it’s more. Main Street means creating that air one step at a time, one building at a time, in the closest downtown.
Thursday night I trekked from my suburban driveway to Portland’s urban east side. North Mississippi looked like the most happening place in town and where I’d stop if it weren’t for a National Trust for Historic Preservation meeting.
Like most urban neighborhoods, Portland’s east side is changing. Even with news of recent shootings, the east side is a draw. It feels accessible and friendly compared to the sterile glass and steel buildings on the other side of the Willamette River.
The east side of Portland reflects the rest of Oregon more than the bright facades crowding the streets for attention on the west. In terms of recognizing an architectural jewel it’s the difference between peeling back decades of neglect and washing a window. There’s a limit to improving alternating stripes chrome and black mirrors.
Portland has plenty of unique neighborhoods and no one says the downtown core looks like a trailer part, but maybe there is a limit to design work that looks like stacked Airstreams. That’s a main street of no ones’ dreams.
A local suburb tackled their main street with a different approach.
Main Street in Tigard, Oregon suffered when a bridge went up over the railroad tracks. Highway 99W fed Main Street continuous traffic until the by-pass bridge. Then Interstate 5 took traffic from 99W.
The effort to boost Main Street includes creating attractions and anchor stores. The first big change seems to be the Tigard Liquor Store.
From the City of Tigard: “The program has two parts. The first part is the Façade Improvement Design Assistance. Design assistance will include 30-40 hours of architectural design services. The architect will meet with property and business owners to discuss their objectives for the building’s facade. Final results will include complete schematic design level drawings and also a general estimate of project cost. This assistance is completely free to eligible applicants and is available on a “first come, first served” basis.”
Tigard understands the need to balance its Main Street project. For example, the liquor store is across from an auto-detailing shop. A shopper can drop their car off before buying booze. The city police station sits at the far end of the street from the liquor store that runs at a right angle to Main Street, reminding locals to go home before uncorking their purchase.
Not every business district will have the advantages of Tigard, but they can get the same important information.
To make sure your area isn’t left behind, check with the Portland Development Commission, the PDC.
When you see the name Kathy La Plante listed as a speaker, or presenter, make plans to show up. After spending time with her you’ll come away with the first tool every good idea requires:
She’s an eye-opener.
Thank you, Kathy.