Streetfilms: Turning Streets Into Community Spaces

Intersection Repair
Running time: 10:42

Have you ever dreamed of making the streets outside your home 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 to create a kind of public square for residents to gather for community activities. The mural projects also seem to encourage drivers to slow down when approaching these intersections. Over
time neighborhood volunteers further enhance the transformation by adding
amenities like benches, community bulletin boards,
gardens, artworks, bulletin boards and even "freecycling" centers. As you’ll see, the possibilities 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 and volunteers about what they are doing and why.

  • ddartley

    Oy, Portland Shmortland already!

    Just kidding, there’s clearly a lot of humanity in that neighborhood that much of New York pathologically lacks.

  • I’d still feel like I was living in a nursery school.

  • Zam

    Yep. There’s something about the Portland depicted in this video that is just so extremely NOT New York City.

  • anonymous

    Is it the fact that the houses are small and standing alone, and surrounded by trees? Or perhaps the complete lack of teenagers in the picture?

    Portland is not New York. The people in the video talk about “villages”. Well, New York is not a village. It’s a large city, full of strangers. Any given neighborhood will, at most times of day, be full of people whom the residents don’t, and can’t, know, and the kinds of public spaces created for such a public are going to have to be different from this Portland neighborhood, which, in the video at least, has a bit of hippie commune about it.

  • Lars

    What I find interesting is that you say Portland is not New York City. Perhaps true, if you are talking about Manhattan, but there are dozens of neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and SI that do resemble the streets in these videos.

    And also, I live in Brooklyn Heights and I run into people I know all day long – neighbors, friends, fellow cyclists, shop owners, etc. Sure, you do run into strangers, and maybe the public spaces might be different, but I think you are selling New Yorkers and people in Portland short by calling us “strangers” and them “hippies.”

  • anonymous

    I’m not calling Portlanders hippies. I am, however, saying that the video, and the people in it, have a hippieish slant. And there are some pretty significant differences between New York and Portland. New York has about 15 times more population, with a much greater diversity as well, in ethnic and cultural terms. 78% of Portland’s population is white, while in New York, it’s 44%. In NYC, 21% of the population is below the poverty line, in Portland it’s 13%. I can cite a whole bunch of other statistics that show how different Portland is from New York. I’m sure the rate of automobile ownership there is much higher too. And
    I imagine that Brooklyn Heights is pretty similar to Portland, in a way that many other New York neighborhoods are not.

    So you have to be careful in emulating Portland, because not everything transfers so easily from a small, mostly white, city that is still car-oriented, to a large, ethnically diverse city, where the majority of the population takes transit every day.

  • There is an intersection in Kingsbridge (Bronx) that gets anonymously re-painted every St. Patrick’s Day with a HUGE green shamrock. It’s viewed with affection by some, and considered drunken graffiti by others. NYC also has its murals (an effort to convert graffiti vandals into community artists, often with great effect.) Each of these has an element of defiance and turf-staking that is at once celebratory and exclusionary. I guess I reacted to the Portland sunburst(?) as an annoying assertion of the stroller set, which is enough already in Battery Park City.

  • Maybe I’ve been away from NYC too long and have lost my edge, but I was moved nearly to tears by the simple humanity of the work in the video.

    I can’t imagine the same sort of projects where I live (outside Boston). I don’t think we’re quite ready for a poetry corner.

    But, my takeaway from the video was not the specifics, but the quiet urgency to take back the street. To treat it, as one person said, as a common.

    There are lots of means to that end. Some hippie and some less hippie.

  • As you know, I have done alot of these videos and I will say one thing that strikes me is that some of us have lost our ability to dream in NYC. In Bogota, Enrique Penalosa dared to dream, and turned that city around.

    Look at NYC twenty years ago: graffitti, crime, murder, financial crisis. But did that stop the city from becoming what it is today? I’ll bet people back then thought you’d be looney tunes if you said in 2007 you’d be walking or biking over the Brooklyn Bridge one day with hundreds and hundreds (yes, too many!) people without fear for your life. That there would be a beautiful greenway up the West Side of Manhattan. That we would have a Mayor pushing Congestition Pricing.

    Do envision the same treatments in NYC that Portland has done at their intersections? Heck no, we are New Yorkers – we have our own style and different things work here. But the inspiration is there. The possibilites are endless.

    I live in Carroll Gardens. The next time you are at the corner of Union & Henry stop and look. There are benches put out by shop owners on all four street corners. There are always people hanging out, with dogs, children, eating a slice, chatting up the neighbors. Even just more public seating can produce amazing neighborhood results.

  • anonymous

    Yes, NYC does seem to have lost the ability to dream. I don’t think it’s because of the people though. It has more to do with the stifling bureaucracy and the fact that it takes 10 years to produce a report on the feasibility of installing a bench on a street. Hell, we’ve been building the Second Avenue Subway for 50 years now. It’s not so much a lack of vision as a somewhat well-founded lack of faith in the ability of the government to get things done. This sort of grasroots neighborhood-improvement might be an answer, but you can’t build a city just on dreams.

    And if you love your Carroll Gardens so much, why not make a video about those street-corner benches and the business owners that installed them? I’d love to see what people are doing in NYC that works.

  • Anonymous,

    Right after I posted that about the benches, I thought the same thing. Thanks for urging me on. Yeah, I’ll bet people would love to see that.

    Now to find the time!

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