Portland City Repair

While in Portland, I was eager to check out some of the projects spearheaded by a local organization called City Repair (“an organized group action that educates and inspires communities and individuals to creatively transform the places where they live”). One of their traffic calming “intersection repairs” turned out to be a few blocks from where I was staying, so I encountered it by accident on the way to breakfast:


These two women are also not locals, and when they asked me about the origins of this traffic circle I was proud to be able to speak with some knowledge about it (thanks to all the Portland promotion on Streetfilms).


This sheltered bench, located outside the Hawthorne Hostel, is an example of a centuries-old natural building technique called “cob” construction. It is one often used by City Repair because cob is an easy material to work with for those with little or no experience — requiring no forms, bricks, or wooden framework — and is well-suited to sculptural structures like this one. As I would soon learn on my upcoming sustainability-themed bicycle tour, cob is not made from corn cobs! It is made from clay, sand, straw, water, and earth, and formed by hand into bricks or blobs or whatever. After the structure is established the material can be shaped by hand like modeling clay. Portland is filled with cool hangout spots like this, thanks to City Repair’s annual Village Building Convergence (“a 10-day event in which neighborhoods activate to build shared public places that they have envisioned, designed, funded, and will maintain for themselves”).

What can I say? I’m impressed. And trying to envision a what Brooklyn version would look like. And planning a visit to next year’s Convergence.

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