Tag Archives: Portland


Pedestrian: a person traveling on foot; a walker, esp. on city streets. Undistinguished, ordinary, dull.

The two main definitions of “pedestrian” are at odds with each other, in my experience. Sure, the most ordinary way human beings move through space is on foot, walking. We walk from here to there all day long, not even thinking about it.

But walking is hardly dull. How better to move through a neighborhood than on foot? You see and hear and smell things you miss at a faster pace. You meet other people face to face, maybe even have a little chat.

Compared to a car, biking is more experiential too, but you move pretty fast and need to keep your eye on the road.

Portland is designed for walking. Most neighborhoods have a central area with shops that provide basic services within easy walking distance. You feel safer on the sidewalks because they’re nicely separated from the street by planter strips – often with trees.

Perhaps because Vancouver, WA (where I live) was primarily rural until quite recently, sidewalks are rare except for downtown. On some of our lovely country roads cars may be occasional, but they go fast and a pedestrian often has to dive for the ditch to stay alive.

For years developers ruled in Clark County. They didn’t want no stinkin’ sidewalks because it added expense they couldn’t easily recapture. Furthermore, cars rule in rural and suburban America – only fools and poor people walk.

Now the county planners are wising up and requiring new developments to incluede sidewalks, but the result  is still a mishmash. You’ll have 100 feet of sidewalk along the roadway, then 1/4 mile without, then another couple hundred feet with sidewalk, etc etc. Maybe ten years from now it will be continuous, but meanwhile these pathetic little strips only emphasize our lack of foresight.

On Monday The Oregonian ran a front page story on the Sunday-Parkways car-free streets event. Interestingly the photo was of a mob of assorted human powered wheeled contraptions – mostly bikes, but also strollers and tricycles. My pedestrian friend and I started early enough that we weren’t run over. But for that couple of hours, this pedestrian loved being king of the road.

Powells Books: Portland’s pride

Visitors to Portland with the teeniest smidge of intellectual curiosity must make a pilgrimage to Powells Books – a behemoth store that takes up a full city block but feels like a rabbit warren of intimate spaces instead of the vast space it really is.

Aside from being able to find almost any book on almost any subject, they also BUY books. What a great service to the community (and a profit center for them, most decidedly).

So I loaded up my car with FIVE boxes of books culled from the eight bookcases in my house and hauled them in to sell this afternoon. They took half of them and gave me $120 cash (could have had more if I’d taken store credit…). As far as I am concerned it’s a win-win situation.

Now I’ve got to go over the remainders to see which to try to sell on Half.com and which to donate to Friends of the Library for their annual sale.

Portland for pedestrians

This morning, as a culmination of the Carfree Cities Conference here, 6 miles of street in North and NE Portland were closed to autos so that people could walk or bike or skate or whatever around several neighborhoods. The organizers hope to make Sunday Parkways a regular event.

A friend of mine and I came over from Vancouver to join the fun, and fun it was. Not to mention good exercise. What I loved:

First, this is a gorgeous time of year in Portland. Everyone’s gardens were at their baroque best, with roses at their peak on every block. The Rose Garden at Peninsula Park is a true gem.

Second, it was a treat to explore neighborhoods that were new to me, mostly of modest but well-kept older homes, front porches, trees.

Third, to live in a neighborhood where public transportation and grocery shopping is within an easy walk on real sidewalks (Vancouver has a shocking dearth of sidewalks), means you really could live most of the time without a car. Bringing the MAX light rail line out Interstate has transformed North Portland.

Everyone was so happy and friendly. Serious athletes, little old ladies, dogs, kids, couples with strollers or kids in bike carts, policemen.

Oregon’s income tax rate is 9% (Washington has none), housing prices are steeper than in Vancouver for comparable properties, and their property tax is pretty high. But if I didn’t have to drive everywhere? If I could hang out on my front porch and meet my neighbors? Truly I am ready to move over there.

Paths: Japanese Garden, Portland

Today I went to the Portland Japanese Garden, ostensibly to see the ikebana show that is an annual adjunct of the Rose Festival (demonstrating how to incorporate roses into this traditional flower arranging art).

The arrangements were interesting but couldn’t hold a candle to the garden itself, which was arrayed in every shade of green imaginable, a perfectly framed view in every direction no matter where you stood. Here’s one shot to give you a sense of the lush beauty:

What really entranced me, however, were the paths… each one different, each one meandering off to another place, each one so irregular that you have to mind your step.

The paths don’t just take you from here to there; they are metaphoric – designed to make you think about your own life’s journey.  Life’s twists and turns, dead ends, new vistas.

You are supposed to sloooww down. Look up. Look down.

Look around you.

Some of the paths have random rocks inserted in them, others have end tiles from roof caps, still others ask you to stop and simply appreciate the design at your feet.

I loved this detail. It’s an abstract work of art in stone and moss.