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Hawthorne’s Lasting Impression – by Alexis Garcia

by | January 24, 2012 0 SERA General, Urban Design + Planning

To kick-off 2012, the Urban Design + Planning studio here at SERA hosted two out-of-state interns who were interested in getting a glimpse into Portland’s urban culture. As part of their time with us, each intern was asked to contribute a blog post as a reflection on their time spent in Rose City.

Alexis Garcia

Alexis Garcia, an undergraduate planning student from Texas A&M, starts us off:

When I stepped off the plane, it was clear to see I wasn’t in Texas anymore. Perhaps it was the distinctive northwestern trees protruding from the scenic mountain views surrounding Portland, or maybe it was just the transition from the Texas heat to Oregon’s persistently chilly January weather. Either way, I hoped to experience the sustainable lifestyle for which Portland is well-known, as well as witness firsthand the urban design techniques implemented to form an eclectic urban fabric.

South End of Waterfront Park

South End of Waterfront Park

Touring the city, I observed how the daily activities for the common Portlander emphasizes healthy living. Lining the streets were restaurants specializing in fresh, organic ingredients – including restaurants catering to vegan and vegetarian diets. At all times of day, people could be seen running “The Loop” along the Willamette River or through the downtown streets during a lunch break. Even more curious, almost every block has dedicated bike parking for the bike commuters, mostly from across the river, who wished to use their facilities. These are only a few physical examples of the many attributes businesses and individuals use to promote a healthier lifestyle.

As a student of Urban Planning at Texas A&M University, I am regularly exposed to themes of sustainability, which primarily emphasize walkable, mixed-use communities. In most cases, examples are cited from areas such as Portland, Seattle, and New York. As an individual who has spent most of her life in a suburb without any of the sustainable features suggested by sustainability experts, I had never experienced such a community until I arrived in Portland.

Hawthorne Boulevard on-street bike parking

Hawthorne Boulevard on-street bike parking

I had an opportunity to spend a week living in the Belmont-Hawthorne area on the near east side of the city. One of the most interesting features of Portland, in my opinion, lies in the neighborhood dynamics throughout the city. The Hawthorne neighborhood is a quaint area full of character, catering to creatively-inclined individuals. The streets are a collection of charming, historic homes sprinkled with modern establishments and lively parks. The eclectic nature of neighborhood is exemplified on the main thoroughfare, Hawthorne Boulevard. An organic grocery store stands merely a block away from local coffee shops and bookstores, a small cinema invites residents to pop in for a movie, and small, local restaurants are strewn from one end of the district to the other. I repeat the term “small” and “local” several times to underscore the difference between the chain restaurants (of which I did not see many examples) and the locally owned businesses that Portland takes such pride in supporting. In contrast to my suburban home in Texas, it is an incredible experience to see for myself a walkable community in practice.

Mt. Tabor Theater

Mt. Tabor Theater

Most of the people joining me on the sidewalks were residents who had walked, or biked from their homes for an afternoon of entertainment. Just as in other communities, residents take pride in their community and are an essential element of the local character. Members of the community also play a key role in implementing a sustainable strategies for their neighborhood. It is apparent that the Hawthorne residents take pride in sustainable measures and wish to maintain their reputation as leaders in sustainability efforts. In fact, the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association will be participating in a Civic Ecology charrette with Tim Smith of SERA Architects to take a look at how they can better co-ordinate the resource flows within their community.

Hawthorne has left a lasting impression in my mind and has given me a better sense of how an existing community can add a few sustainable attributes to make a big difference.

*All photos by Alexis Garcia

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