I was not built for the heat, and now Karma has decided to exact her revenge because a few weeks ago I mocked the 90 degree weekend we had here in Portland, Oregon. I called it Portland’s two days of summer. I’m pretty sure Karma snickered when I saw a the forecast for this week, 90s all week, topping 100 later in the week.
As I walked home last night, I tried my hardest not to smirk – it’s been a dry heat.
I apologize to everyone in advance as I am sure we will pay dearly with humidity for my smirk.
I was all set to take the bus home from downtown Portland last night. I had just missed my bus and had decided to walk to the next bus stop via the river. Once along the waterfront, the 90 degree heat was tamed by breezes off the Willamette River. Turned out to be a perfect evening to walk home.
My path took me along the McCall Waterfront Park.
The park was created in 1972 when Harbor Drive was ripped out. In the words of The Dill Pickle Club, “This was the first freeway to die in Portland.”
To see the park today, I find it impossible to imagine it as a freeway.
I’ve mentioned The Dill Pickle Club before. They created a 10-volume set devoted to Oregon history – a 10-volume set of comic books. A great introduction to history in my opinion. I’ve been working my way through the volumes (albeit randomly): Vol. 1, Lone Fir Cemetery; Vol. 5, The Streets of Chinatown; Vol. 8, The Vanport Flood; and now Vol. 3, Portland’s Dead Freeways.
I love a good road trip, but when I am home, I can’t imagine anything worse than getting around by car. I need to walk and bike my city, and for that reason, I’ve never owned a car. I choose to live in a neighborhood where I can walk to a grocery store and, yes, a gym. (Without a car, I also make sure I live near bus lines or subway stops.)
Following World War II, the U.S. went on a freeway building spree. Rivers were once our nation’s highways and we’ve treated them poorly. As a final insult, we built freeways that separated our cities from their waterfronts, (and leveled neighborhoods – usually poor neighborhoods). In contrast to Waterfront Park, the other side of the Willamette River in downtown Portland is bounded by a highway.
Highways have a tendency to create a need to drive by encouraging people to travel greater distances to shop and work because those same services no longer exist in their neighborhood. And if the highways don’t flatten neighborhoods outright, they destroy their value.
It took a community group to fight plans for a freeway to save the French Quarter. Other neighborhoods weren’t as lucky. The Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, one of the first free black communities in the U.S., was decimated by the Claiborne Overpass. Claiborne Avenue, once lined with oaks, was the commercial center of the neighborhood until the overpass was built over it. (The same happened to the Albina neighborhood of Portland when I-5 ripped through it.)
When it comes time to repair downtown highways, we have choices.
One of the choices we have is to tear them down.
To help you imagine how neighborhoods can return to life when the freeways are replaced with a traditional street grid, visit San Francisco or Milwaukee or Portland or Boston. (Seattle is joining the list.)
Blight that sits alongside freeways can give way to development. Preferably the development of neighborhoods with streets that can be walked or biked because your house, your office, your park, your grocery store, your bank, your school, your favorite restaurants and cafés are just down the street.