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Rethink Old Town's Public Space!

The above video features Project of Public Spaces (PPS) founder Fred Kent sharing his insights on comfort in public space, including why it matters, what to look for, and how to make it happen. Many of his examples in this video and accompanying article could have easily been photographed here in Portland as I did while at Directors Park one sunny afternoon.

But just not in our neighborhood, Portland's Caring Community Old Town Chinatown.

Since we have a considerable population of citizens who make our doorways and sidewalks places to rest, eat, and sleep, we have to rethink the design of public space in a caring community like ours.

What if the planning and sustainability folk in town were called upon to re-design more of our public spaces (and parking lots) as a "third place" here, in this neighborhood, as part of efforts to decrease person and society crimes, create safer entry ways to residences, and bring more vitality to street life by making our neighborhood more comfortable. Yes, comfortable.

"When people are physically and mentally comfortable in a space, they open up, connect with others, and quite literally kick their shoes off. In this informal atmosphere, public spaces can become “third places,” those informal gathering places between work and home where our broader social lives occur."

Collaborative place-making, as such an effort may be called, is one way to engage our residents in community activities - a major complaint of the business oriented Community Association - and for residents to exercise their citizen muscle and become engaged. Involve residents in projects that are important to them. But first, collaborate on what exactly it is that they are interested in.

Left to our own devices we will improvise.

A bus stop is one thing and a street shelter another. Or is it?

"Designers and managers often make public spaces intentionally uncomfortable:

Hostile architecture and securitization have become commonplace in efforts to displace people experiencing homelessness.

These misguided efforts will always fail to create places that feel like home, and more importantly, they miss the whole point of public space—that it welcomes and gives comfort to everyone."

We need more folks like Fred Kent and local place-maker advocates to re-think Old Town Chinatown as a place that welcomes and gives comfort to everyone, rather than the present and sole place objective of increasing visitors and tourists.

It makes social, environmental, and economic sense.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, Portland's Caring Community, Old Town Chinatown, July 24, 2018.

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