Portland's Village Building Convergence
-Inspiration from a West Coast neighbour
By Jordan Bober
|16th and Brooklyn Street Paint-in. A derelict pedestrian railroad overpass area becomes a place! - Photo courtesy of Brian Osterlin|
I was full of anticipation as I sat inside a Greyhound bus rolling down the West Coast and taking me to Portland for the first time. As a Transitioner, I had heard so many great things about Portland that to finally get to go felt like more than a pilgrimage than anything, especially since I happened to be going at that most special of occasions in Portland – the 12th annual Village Building Convergence, a yearly nine-day festival of placemaking and permaculture organised by City Repair that brings people together from across Portland and beyond to link up on projects scattered throughout the city.
|Portland's Union Station|
However, I’m happy to report that Portland did not disappoint in the slightest – on the contrary, I am even more excited about the place now than before I went, and am excited to share some of my experiences and impressions with the rest of the Village Vancouver community!
The first thing that struck me about Portland as I left the bus station was the beauty of its downtown. Something about the heritage buildings, the red brick and the street cars humming by made me feel right at home. A gigantic sign on the side of a building urged passers-by to “Keep Portland Weird” – another good sign. Just as can happen here in Vancouver, the weather changed on a dime. What was a beautiful sunny evening when I arrived was soon characterised by rain, thunder and lightning. I later learned from Portlanders that that was in fact the first time it had thundered and lightninged in the city in many years! As though to reassure the city that everything was still alright, the shower ended with a beautiful rainbow, and I was already in love.
|Portland is an extremely bike-friendly city!|
The next morning I got up early to get a good start on the day – I only had the weekend to spend in Portland, after all, and there was so much I wanted to see and do! I had the good fortune that my stay in Portland overlapped with that of my friend Kristy, a fellow Vancouverite who had just finished a bicycle maintenance course down there and was able to use her new cycling connections to score me a bike that I could borrow for the weekend. This was really a great bit of luck, because not only is Portland an extremely bike-able city, but as I discovered, there is no better way to zip between the unique neighbourhoods scattered throughout the city. Much like Vancouver, Portland benefits from strong neighbourhood identity that allows you to feel like you’re really somewhere even if you’re not downtown.
|The Attunement Centre's edible fungus mandala|
|Building a straw-clay wall at the Ujima Centre|
|The Planet Repair Institute|
|Making natural paint with Eva of the Mud Girl Collective|
My thoughts after a weekend at the Village Building Convergence in Portland:
1) Two days are not nearly enough! Next time, I’m going to aim to go for a whole week at least! There is so much to see and do in Portland and during the VBC that even a week would suffice only to scratch the surface of what is happening in our sister city to the south.
2) Let’s bring the VBC to Vancouver! Seriously, why not? The Village Building Convergence is a tremendous way to engage in Transition while having gads of fun, and the cumulative effects of many years of placemaking on the city is remarkable. Instead of looking south with envy, let’s look to Portland with inspiration and start our own home-grown placemaking movement!
I was not the only VV’er to head down to the VBC this year. There were several others, including Brian Osterlin who spent an entire 10 days in Portland and will be organising a couple of community events to share his experiences. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on that, and we hope you’ll come and be inspired to help make something similar happen in Vancouver!