Portland's Painted Intersections

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We have all seen them, maybe even admired them. Portland's painted intersections are distributed around the city, usually on quiet neighborhood streets. Have you ever wondered how they got there, or who designed them? We were able to get some inside information on the intersections from Greg Raisman and Hannah Schafer from Portland Bureau of Transportation, who both work closely with the city project.

FP: When did the project get started ?

HS: The first street painting was in 1996 at the intersection of SE Sherrett and 9th Avenue.

FP: What was its original goal?

HS: Create a stronger and safer community.

FP: How many painted intersections are there in Portland?

HS: Since 1996, there have been 71 street paintings permitted in the City of Portland.

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7 of the newer intersections we visited with a drone

FP: Have there been any disasters ? / painting didn't turn out well or it rained and ruined things / not enough volunteers?

HS: No disasters to report. If it is going to be a rainy day, most projects will reschedule so they can do it when it’s not raining out.

FP: Is there a visual map of all the intersections, or some database where people can go and see the artwork or get info about the artist?

HS: No, we do not have this type of resource. Also, there is no tracking of any specific artists. As these are community designed, installed, and maintained, the whole community acts as artist and creator. There are often more multiple neighbors collaborating on designs.

FP: Is there an ultimate goal?

HS: The goal of street paintings is to build community, foster relationships through creative placemaking, and empower residents to create their own place where they live. Our goals are to encourage the community to see our streets for what they are – our largest public space. The biggest misconception of them is that they affect traffic. We do not see any changes in speed, number of motor vehicles, compliance with traffic control like stop signs and crosswalks, nor crash activity. They have a neutral impact on traffic, but are a great way to build community.

FP: Any interested in the program from other cities?

HS: We are constantly sharing program information and experience with cities from around the country and beyond.

FP: Which one if your favorite and why?

HS: They are all amazing in their own way. Some examples:

  • N Emerson & Haight: a community expression of peace after a violent event several years ago
  • NE 85th & Milton, 85th & Beech: part of a comprehensive CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) strategy to combat history of negative activities on the street that created social isolation for residents on the street.
  • NE 109th & Skidmore: First painting in outer NE.  Excellent article about the super successful community event: https://midcountymemo.com/2018/10/first-authorized-street-mural-hits-outer-northeast-portland/
  • N Reno between James and Smith: A cookie tree design that was the outcome of design work by children who reside in nearby affordable housing complex
  • SE 91st between Foster and Reedway: A painting led by ROSE CDC and installed by Lents Youth Initiative. This painting is adjacent to affordable housing complexes and the Asian Health Services Center.

FP: Does it make you sad to see them degrade over time?

HS: No. The purpose of street paintings is to build community and relationships between neighbors. The process of conversation between neighbors to explore what they love about where they live, their visions for the future, or shared values are incredibly meaningful and impactful. These projects are completely owned by the community. If they decide to maintain them, that’s great. Repainting is a great way to maintain the relationship work that is realized through this work. However, these new relationships and conversations can lead to other collaborative work between neighbors that can be separate from the street painting. We are happy any time that a community engages the process and are happy to help them as they find their own path with the projects over time.

If you're interested in getting an intersection in your neighborhood painted or curious about the process and guidelines, you can find that information here

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Jazzy Winston is a Visual Designer at Fat Pencil Studio