From the outset of the fall 2015 semester, the first-year cohort of PNCA’s Collaborative Design MFA was faced daily with the parking lot directly outside the west-facing entrance of the school’s new location at 511 NW Broadway. A blacktop divided by a chain-link fence and bounded to the south by the North Park Blocks and to the north by the U.S. Post Office, the lot left much to be desired aesthetically, especially for a space that served as the first physical impression for an art school—and a historic former federal building. On the south end loitered students tossing their cigarette butts at the base of a Lee Kelly sculpture, to the north, a cluster of permit-only parked cars.
We began our due diligence and learned that, in fact, Portland Parks and Recreation owns the lot, which is due to become the next North Park Block within a few years. From there sprang a series of conversations, first with Allan Schmidt of Parks & Rec and then staffers with various departments with the City and related organizations. What developed was a months-long dialogue about public space, community engagement, and how Block 112—its designation in official city documents—could best be activated given the diverse stakeholders and constraints.
On Saturday, April 16, 2016, in tandem with Design Week Portland, members of the first-year cohort—in partnership with Portland Parks & Recreation, the Urban Design Studio, Department of Planning and Sustainability, Portland Department of Transportation, and Better Block PDX—presented “Activate the Block,” an afternoon of activities, food, music, and neighborhood camaraderie designed to inform all who passed through—approximately 125 people in total—about public spaces in their city. Citizens lounged in Adirondack chairs, noshed on ice cream and sipped iced coffee, created art, played four square and hopscotch, and discussed the future of the park blocks.
The conversation is, of course, just beginning. Our aim is to continue considering the impacts of public space—with Block 112 and beyond. We are grateful to everyone involved for their time and participation throughout the process, and look forward to future efforts.