Common space. Who needs it?

Before I dive into my research I guess I need to ask myself a simple question. Do Portlanders really want to share more common space with their neighbors? If not, why not give up on streets as a place for anything other than motor vehicles? After all, doesn’t the backyard play structure and McMansion address our need for elbow room?

My first thought was, like it or not, our neighborhoods will become denser necessitating a more efficient use of valuable space. Most would accept the logic that more people will live here in the future and the urban growth boundary isn’t going to vanish any time soon.

I didn’t grow up in a city or a suburb. I grew up with acres and acres of open space to roam among the walnut orchards of rural Northern California. We had enough space to hit golfballs down the rows of trees with no risk of putting out a neighbor’s window. Despite all this space, my childhood desire to expand my “home turf” never seemed to be satisfied. My sense is that if people felt safe spending time outside their front door they would do it.

But what about interacting with neighbors? It has taken me a little while to feel comfortable with it, but I love living next to people who want to know me. Strong neighborhood identity is without a doubt one of the most unique aspects of living in Portland. The desire to know our neighbors was one of our key factors for choosing where my wife, Tine, and I bought a home. Generally speaking, those less interested in really knowing their neighbors tend to gravitate to the suburbs.

In the end I have to believe that we all have a deep desire to experience community where we live. Perhaps for some it is just buried a bit deeper down than for others.

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About Denver Igarta

This blog was established to document my search for streets that my 5-year old can play near without my constant supervision. Where kids can live active lives and learn independence. My quest began when I was selected as an Urban and Regional Policy Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, for info: gmfus.org/cdp/fellowships. I am a multi-modal transportation planner for the City of Portland (OR), America's sustainable transportation capital. SHORT BIO/PROJECT DESCRIPTION Denver Igarta (October-November 2011), Urban Planner, City of Portland Bureau of Transportation Project: Livable Streets Where People Live: Fostering People-Friendly Streets by De-emphasizing Automobile Traffic in Residential Areas Cities: Munich, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Malmö Denver Igarta is an urban planner with the Transportation Bureau of the City of Portland. He works on a broad range of transportation policy, street design initiatives and pedestrian, bicycle and freight planning efforts. He recently served as one of the principal authors of Portland's new bicycle plan. He is currently staffing two “active transportation” projects: a rails-with-trails project along the Banfield Freeway and a local street system plan for one of the state's most diverse neighborhoods. He performed his graduate studies at the University of Dortmund, Germany and the University of the Philippines and holds a Master of Science in Regional Development Planning. Portland is struggling to reverse generations of auto-oriented development patterns and make neighborhood streets more “livable” (people-friendly) by restoring their multimodal and placemaking functions. Mr. Igarta's research will evaluate how cities in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have enacted policies to restore the multiple functions of public streets through traffic management, green infrastructure and giving priority to sustainable travel modes. He will meet with local practitioners, policymakers and civic leaders involved in transportation planning, traffic safety and neighborhood livability projects, street design, and implementation of multi-modal traffic policies. The ultimate aim of the study is to compile a set of best practices and policies implemented in European cities that have broadened the role of residential streets beyond automobile mobility. Additional focus will be given to understanding how acceptable policy tradeoffs are determined within city agencies and the level of public support for measures that restrict car movements, such as reduced speed zones, bicycle streets, shared spaces, residents-only streets and residential parking restrictions.
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