Our time in Portland is coming to an end with a bang!! Our last week here happens to coincide with the Village Building Convergence, Portland’s annual 10-day place-making festival. This year, there are nearly 30 projects going on all over the city, collaboratively imagined and designed by the communities themselves. During the day, neighborhoods come together to establish community gardens, build kiosks and benches, paint streets and intersections and work on other public art projects. In the evenings, the happy tired builders and artists gather at the central venue for an evening of delicious food, inspiring speakers, musical performances, and celebration. This is one of my favorite public events — such a great opportunity to meet new people, pick up some natural building and permaculture experience, and to create ecological and community resilience while being creative and having loads of fun.
Here’s what the organizers say about place-making:
The expression of public art, access to sustainable technology, natural building construction, ecological gardening, regenerative restoration, and public art is profound work. Socially, it provides an opportunity for collaborative decision making, conflict resolution, creative problem solving, and enhancement of local culture.This culture stands out on a basis of connection rather than isolation and independence. For most in the United States, “community” is hard to find because we are told we need to purchase the foundations of our lives, instead of meeting our needs through personal relationships.
A major part of this is “intersection repair.” Most American cities and suburbs are designed on a grid, with little or no space for people to stop, hang out, and get to know their neighbors. We lack the culture of the town square or the piazza. At the VBC, neighborhoods come together to carve out such a space at intersections, making them a place not just to rush through, but to linger at and to connect. They build cob benches for people to sit on. They put up community notice boards. Some places have a community tea stall, little library nook, and a playhouse for kids. Others set up community compost bins.
The most visible aspect of intersection repair projects, though, are the vibrant street paintings that convey to everyone who comes to that intersection: we are a neighborhood, we are a village in the city. Here are some photos I took yesterday at the re-painting of the Sunnyside Piazza sunflower: I don’t know about you, but when I see this kind of festive, collaborative all-volunteer effort to build community and a deeper connection to place, something in me says “This is how it should be.”