What should a street like Portland’s NW 13th look like in the 21st century? Historically, the main purpose of NW 13th was to facilitate the movement of delivery trucks when the Pearl District was home to a thriving industrial sector. Today, the street has transitioned to accommodate commercial and residential uses, having more shopping and dining, while retaining many of its historic warehouse elements.
Currently, NW 13th offers an experience that is unique in Portland. It is unique because NW 13th (north of NW Davis St.) functions as a shared street where pedestrians and cars share the right of way. Commercial activity occurs at a raised level where loading docks are located, and pedestrians move about on disconnected raised platforms, which function as sidewalks and extensions of the storefronts. In many places, these raised platforms are not connected, which forces pedestrians to move about the street, in the middle or on the edge of the right of way, often maneuvering between moving and parked vehicles.
Rethink Streets sees NW 13th as a street with a strong “sense of place”. By sense of place, we mean that it has a strong identity and unique character that is deeply felt by local inhabitants and its many visitors. As the street has evolved throughout the years, so has the pedestrian experience. People have begun to claim the street from cars. Occasional cultural events such as “First Thursdays” take place on NW 13th, which closes part of the street to cars. These particular circumstances have led Rethink Streets to question the role that NW 13th plays as a street and the role that it plays as public space.
What is NW 13th to those who visit it, and why do they come these people come to the street? Could NW 13th be more accessible for the elderly, people using mobility devices, and people with strollers? Could NW 13th be more inclusive for visitors, people with marginalized racial and cultural identities, and the houseless? Can we build upon the civic culture that exists and envision a public space that is more culturally-rich and human-oriented? Rethink Streets seeks to answer these questions by exploring what this street means to local users. Together, we can create a new vision for what NW 13th could become in the 21st century.