In the late ‘60s, the people of Portland, Oregon looked at the freeways proposed for their city, especially those in NE and SE. They saw the planned grid of wide, wide blacktop criss-crossing the inner eastside approximately every 30 blocks. And more and more of them started to say, “Um…no.”
They saw the plan and feared freeway overkill.
And they resisted.
The battle royale was over the Mount Hood Freeway, and when that freeway got cancelled – its funding funneled towards other projects, most prominently light rail from downtown to Gresham – most of the others withered in planning and eventually died. I-205 – honestly, perhaps the only new route that was truly needed – was the only new freeway to be built over there.
This week I saw a map of what had been planned. My jaw didn’t drop as far as it did watching Mt. St. Helens erupt, but I was stunned. East Portland – the part of town where I feel most at home – could have been cleaved. My current apartment could have been within sight of the 20th Avenue Expressway. Sellwood could have had a freeway running right through it. The house I lived in for a year-and-a-half near Mt. Tabor? Probably gone, or at best abutting the 52nd Avenue Freeway.
These are the places that would or could have been replaced by those roads: the Clinton Street Theater. Dot’s Café. The Brite Spot, the first restaurant run by the guy who later founded Elmer’s, and its bar the Space Room. The Mt. Tabor Theater. Multnomah Boulevard. Multnomah Village. Johnson Creek Boulevard, meaning the Springwater Trail Corridor would often have run near or right next to the Johnson Creek Freeway. NE Prescott; yes, unassuming NE Prescott. And literally thousands of homes, over 1,700 cleared for the Mt. Hood Freeway alone.
And the lay of the land I love? We’re talking walkus interruptus. Thirty blocks is not a long distance in Portland.
I want to tour the areas that would have been changed, the places that I never would have had the chance to experience had those roads been built. This will yield many chances to say, “Damn.” Portland is still at a manageable scale because its people decided their city didn’t need to be rearranged so drastically. It was a good fight, an important fight, and I believe Portland is better for it.
(Even though your reaction likely won’t be as strong as mine, you can read the article that sparked this entry here.)