Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

Design critics: Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of Ecosistema Urbano

My project was about creating temporary public spaces within underutilized parking lots at Eastport Plaza, a shopping super-block in Southeast Portland.

There are expansive parking lots at this mall, some of which are heavily used, whereas others are predominantly empty of cars. According to the mall manager they “exceed code,” the groundskeeper said he has never seen the parking lots at maximum capacity and from personal observation about 15-20% of parking is rarely used.

I propose to fill in these empty spaces with public uses during the warmer months of the year. These uses are as simple as a playground or putt-putt golf to more complicated uses like a petting zoo or live musical performance. While there are many ways to create public space, I am proposing a low cost solution of sculpting public space with straw bales to create a unique environment and one which is different from the existing parking lot. Straw bales are inexpensive, locally harvested, easily handled, tactile, modular and fun.

The straw bales can be shaped in many configurations to house events. They can create booths for a farmers market, bleachers for a basketball tournament and create barriers for a small race track, etc. From information gathered in a survey and personal research on events the neighborhood residents were excited about sport events, farmers markets, petting zoos and cultural dance and food festivals.

There is an Asian cultural influence within the area. Eastport Plaza hosts two events throughout the year. The first event is a parade, along with a car show, Asian cultural dances, and food. The second event is Santa Clause who comes during the month of December.

The players in this event would be the Eastport Plaza manager, the local businesses and the community residents. During the research of the site and neighborhood I found the major demographic of Eastport Plaza users are families with kids. Events would be directed towards this group.
Eastport Plaza businesses would financially support this event because hosting public events would make their existing customers happier, especially families, as well as bring in new customers interested in the event. This increase in popularity of Eastport Plaza would potentially increase revenue for the businesses. Another advantageous way in which the local restaurants could be supportive of the events is by supporting them with food stands located next to the events, built by straw bales.

The events would be implemented through funding pooled together by local businesses. As a group they would buy at least one semi-truck load of straw bales (600 bales at $3 a bale plus delivery is about $2,000). This amount of straw bales would support simple events like playgrounds, as well as more dense configurations like big toys for two to three sites at Eastport plaza. These straw bales would be reused throughout the summer and fall, if the plaza needed more they can purchase more and the bales that fall apart would be sent to local farms to be used for bedding or compost.

After the straw bales are shipped to Eastport Plaza they are stored in the corner of an unused parking lot. The local businesses would hire a designer to mediate the situation between themselves and the public. The plaza manager would designate where on the site, how many parking spots, and what type of layout in terms of how the traffic will be mediated within the parking lot. Then the designer would come in and define what space the public may build within by demarcating the area with straw bales. Soon afterward the public would come in and building something they wish to build.

This event would kick-off during the 82nd Avenue Parade. At first, children would design their own playground using model blocks. Then, in the same weekend volunteers, parents and their kids would build the playground. The initial designer would oversee the whole situation, seeing that it is safely built.

In future weeks, after the first event, the public space will be remodeled depending on the wants of the community. At the end of the warmer months, (late October) and because of the busy winter shopping season, the straw bales would be sent to local farms, gardens or composted and next year the cycle would start over again.

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