Schooled On Main Street


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. 

It’s main street.

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.



5 thoughts on “Schooled On Main Street

  1. Hello Dave, I finally got around to reading your blog. Great job and thanks for the shout out. I hope to be back in Portland often and educating everyone about the value of each neighborhood district and how the Main Street program philosophy can help bring back the vibrancy and empower the neighborhoods to support and get involvoed with the efforts. Until then, keep up the good work and keep shopping local.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      I talked to man yesterday about shopping local and supporting neighborhoods. He said he does his part by going to Costco everyday. He lives in that neighborhood, but I don’t think he understood the concept.

  2. jack says:

    Hey Dave, I remember when Main street was a perfect paradise. A guy could wake up in the mornin from under the bridge at 99w and walk down to the Health Habit (now closed) and take a shower for a buck, Then walk down to Labor Ready (now a Hooka shop) and make a few bucks cash. Then cross the street and hit the liquor store for some MD2020 and take the scenic trail down along fanno creek park and sunbath on a picnic table and finish the bottle off. yeah it was great! Then all those slickers went and ruint it!

    It’s not too hard to see why business’s are a little wary of opening up in Tigard. They have quite a reputation…

    The city was the respondent in (and eventual loser of) the landmark property rights case, Dolan v. City of Tigard, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1994. The case established the “rough proportionality” test that is now applied throughout the United States when a local government evaluates a land use application and determines the exactions to require of the recipient of a land use approval.[6]
    In the 2004 general elections, the city of Tigard won approval from its voters to annex the unincorporated suburbs on Bull Mountain, a hill to the west of Tigard. However, residents in that area have rejected annexation and are currently fighting in court various moves by the city.

    Love ya Dave !! Great Blog !

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Yep, Main Street’s not what it used to be. At least you can still buy glass and get it cut by the best cusser I’ve heard since the Army. Your comment reflects what Kathy La Plante says about core neighborhoods. It’s all about cooperation. When I left the meeting with her I drove down N. Mississippi and it was hopping hard for a week-day night.

      Get in here more often.

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