Ever dreamed of making the streets outside your abode more livable, pedestrian-friendly, and community-oriented?City Repair in Portland, Oregon hosts an annual Village Building Convergence where hundreds of people come together to build diverse projects for the benefit of their communites and to take back their streets via a process known as the Intersection Repair.This involves painting streets with a high-visiblity mural that creates a public square for residents to gather and one which gently encourages drivers to slow down when approaching these spaces. Over time the neighbors further enhance the transformation by adding amenities like benches, community bulletin boards, and introducing gardens & art. As you'll see, the possibilites are endless.StreetFilms visited three of the Intersection Repairs and spoke with Mark Lakeman co-founder of City Repair, Greg Raisman, the Portland DOT Liason, and scores of residents & volunteers about why they were doing it.
Mark: [00:16] So the village building convergence is a way where people come together for ten days and they do a myriad of different things, all of which talk about economy, ecology, community and power, where power is held. And they are very diverse, so there’s many different things focusing on many dimensions of civic life. We’ve done about 23 to 25 projects actually being built, and some of them are intersection interventions where people are embedding onto the street surface a graphic symbol of the community, where the community have said, well, we want to be symbolised by a tree, or we want to be symbolised by the ripples… a ripple effect as if we’re on a pond surface.
Marnie: [01:05] This year I’m the organiser of the Sunnyside Piazza painting. We are repainting the intersection which is a beautiful sunflower. And it’s just been a lot of fun just getting the neighbours involved and so many kids are out today and we do this every year, and every year the design is different.
Speaker: [01:22] I think the great thing about this type of project is that it brings the community together. I think, you know, often times today we’re very separated, we’re behind our computers and we’re behind our TV’s.
Speaker: [01:35] Often times, you know, everybody’s in their cars or they’re off at work or doing something else, but this something, somewhat centrally located for this, three, four, five blocks and people come and enjoy each other.
Lisa: [01:48] So we went through a lot of steps. We have to get neighbours within the four block radius to all sign off and agree on the design. So we have a revocable permit to paint this. But every year we have a block party to close off the street to get the neighbours to sign again.
Greg: [02:02] When City Repair comes to the Portland Office of Transportation, they need to work with us on design issues to make sure that we have designs that are safe, that function well for the street and I help them with conversations with the engineers and with permitting groups to make sure that all the design features work well for the public right-of-way.
Speaker: [02:23] A lot of these kids here are a group of home schooled and this is their community, so this project…
Speaker: [02:29] We just came out because we’d been learning about urban lifestyles and urban planning and we wanted to take ownership of something around us because we see a lot of people that kind of live in the cities but they kind of take it for granted.
Aaron: [02:41] Everything that I do is about making streets safer for children and making streets more accessible. And by slowing down the traffic, what you do is you make a street into a commons again, which it normally is not. So what this intersection does is by going and creating a very bright, very strong statement in the intersection, that this is different from every other intersection, people automatically see that there’s something to pay attention to.
Speaker: [03:08] Instead of having streets and intersections create dividing lines in the cities, these kind of things make it a community, it makes it a meeting point instead of a dividing point. And that’s one of the most important things about it as well. And as you can see, it works perfectly.
Marnie: [03:22] I think that one of the most interesting things about this intersection is that it has sparked other kinds of public artworks around this intersection. So for example, there’s a local artist in town who ties little toy horses to old horse tethering rings around town and so we’ve got a bunch of those here . Some people have spray painted some of the barrels that we planted, some plants in to decorate the intersection. It’s just become just like a safe place to create.
Lisa: [03:49] So this is our neighbourhood poetry garden. So we have a bench, a little lantern here, and this is our poetry box, inside here’s the poetry book and people just come by, kids, adults, they come by and read poems and leave notes here and draw pictures. I mean we have chalk so that people can come and write with chalk on the sidewalk, make poems.
Speaker: [04:11] This is community at its deepest roots. That’s why we need people in our lives.
Marnie: [04:17] I live right up there on that… that’s my balcony, and some nights I can hear… someone will come and play the flutes, sit and play the flutes right. I mean it’s just surreal.
Pedro: [04:47] In Share-It Square what we’re trying to do is recreate the village within the urban grid. You might notice the intersection repaired mural. So we’re taking the intersection, which is usually a place that divides people and is controlled by a transportation infrastructure, and we’re transforming that into an actual public meeting place. We have different places in Share-It Square that evoke the needs of the community. We have a place for the kids, a kids playhouse. It’s a place that has games and toys and neighbourhood kids will come and check it out, see if someone’s brought something there, maybe even meet some other kids in the neighbourhood. Welcome to the information station at Share-It Square. This is a village need to share information, kind of like the Town Cryer, and we have that ability here with the blackboard and various bulletin boards to post information. We also have a local newspaper here, it’s called The Selwood Bee, so we thought well, what better way to have, create a paper box to distribute The Bee and to create a beehive for The Selwood Bee. We started this out as kind of a produce exchange station, you know, you get so many zucchinis in the summertime, so here’s a place to put them to share with others. And it’s just transformed itself kind of into this free cycle distribution centre. We also have the neighbourhood library which works in the same fashion. If you have extra books you bring them, you want a book you take them. There have been studies done about people’s sitting behaviour. People like to have a variety of choices , so we’re trying to create as many sitting options as possible, even in this concentrated space of an intersection. This is a free water station and our neighbours keep it supplied with hot water, and all you have to do is put your water in your cup, a lot of cups available, teas and sweeteners, and you have yourself a free cup of tea. So the watering hole is something else that every village centre needs. You need a place to meet and here, like you get people who didn’t know each other and they get to meet around this structure.
John: [07:03] We did get married here in the intersection back in October.
Lyn: [07:06] That’s how much we love it.
John: [07:07] It was a phenomenal event. We got tremendous help from the community. Like 50 people contributed their talent and time and energy to help us get married in our community.
Lyn: [07:18] It felt so much more than a wedding, you know. I wasn’t wearing a white dress, I was wearing something pink with fake fur and balls on it and it was just exciting. It was a community event and we just wanted everybody to feel like they were, you know, it was a love fest and everybody was getting married. People are still now just like hi, it’s amazing.
John: [07:38] We’re going to get married next year.
Lyn: [07:41] Yeah, come.
John: [07:42] You’re all invited.
Speaker: [07:58] You said that you knew Freda.
Speaker: [07:59] Aha.
Speaker: [08:00] And what would she probably think about this tribute?
Speaker: [08:03] Oh, she would be delighted. Absolutely delighted. She loved people. She was a lovely, lovely lady, friends to everyone.
Thad: [08:10] The neighbourhood is very excited about this, like we’ve been excited for a long time. And it all started mainly because we were concerned about traffic and speeding cars going through here. There’s been a few accidents and there are a lot of kids on the block.
Ed: [08:24] Yeah, we’re just trying to make it a safer neighbourhood. We’ve got another crop of young kids coming up and we love our kids and we want to have a safe and happy community for them.
Linda: [08:34] I figured by this time in the afternoon everybody would be sort of scattering or going home. It’s amazing.
Marnie: [08:44] Some of the most amazing wonderful people I’ve ever met, some of the closest friends that I have, I’ve met while repainting this intersection. So it really does build community and it’s just a great thing.
Pedro: [08:53] We find that when you have a neighbourhood place where there are people on the streets, the cars will slow down. So this kind of colour, even though we don’t have Stop signs on these streets, it encourages people to slow down.
Lyn: [09:08] Share-It Square being the first intersection repair has like inspired so many others.
Lisa: [09:13] A big community event. It’s great for families and kids and just for creating a sense of place.
Ed: [09:18] I know that the neighbours on the next intersection were here and they… we have talked about that maybe next year and they’re all pumped up about it, so I think we may see a much [unintelligible 09:27] around the neighbourhood.
Linda: [09:28] Some of these neighbours I’ve known for 30 years and a lot of them are new and about the third generation of little kids since I’ve been here so way fun day.
Speaker: [09:38] I think there’s something really special happening in Portland because a lot of socially aware, socially and environmentally sensitive people that are, you know, flocking here and it’s creating quite a unique special community.
Speaker: [09:49] Portland I think is a city that really respects community involvement, so projects like this, a lot of people get involved.
Conversion of a sustainable society that’s I’m interested in is
one that is characterised by more ease, more time with children and
family, friends, more time for myself and my partner. So that’s
the kind of sustainable society that I’m interested in.