Tuesday's Portland Tribune features a look at Martin Luther King boulevard, assessing the progress and challenges it faces economically, culturally and socially.
MLK is the city's principal north-south artery. Known prior to 1991 as Union Avenue and running roughly from the Ross Island Bridge terminus in Southeast Portland to the nearly the Columbia river in the north. But when we're talking about MLK, that usually means the stretch of it north of Broadway, where it goes from a one-way couplet paired with Grand Avenue to a both-direction street again. (Notice that the couplet portion is a less pleasant environment, especially for the pedestrian?)
As such, MLK symbolically has long been associated with the African-American community rooted in North and Northeast since the end of WWII and the Vanport flood (as well as other minorities and communities of course). But that's changing with gentrification, an unfortunate Catch-22 casualty of the good work people did in achieving lower crime and more home ownership in the neighborhood.
Incidentally, the Tribune article by Anna Johns spotlights Paul Knowles, owner of Geneva's Shear Perfection salon on MLK and often called the unofficial "mayor" of Northeast Portland. I first met Knowles about 10 years ago while working at the Urban League, where he often visited, and later wound up profiling him in the Business Journal . He's a vibrant, likable, colorful personality with good stories and is known for his trademark ship captain's hat. (It reminds me of a documentary about Count Basie I once watched, in which Basie sauntered into a reunion with old band mates in a similar hat and was teasingly asked by one of them, "You leave the ship outside?")
Knowles is a symbol of the pride and diversity that do today and hopefully will continue to characterize MLK. But there are other issues besides gentrification to consider. Namely, what is the architectural character of the street? It seems like such a mishmash to me, with industrial buildings, the occasional decrepit old shack, markets with suburban-style surface parking lots, and increasingly an array of appealing shops and restaurants and housing. What is the answer for MLK, or is there one, in terms of going forward with things like condos, retail and office space?
Also, MLK is also a highway, with a high volume of traffic. The Tribune article looked at the medians installed in the 1980s as a street scape improvement, "but business owners say they prevent drivers from taking a left turn at most intersections or pedestrians from crossing the street," Johns reports. Isn't a median supposed to be pro-pedestrian? Who's right here? What are some of the long-term desires we should seek transportation-wise? A streetcar has long been discussed for the street, for example, but my understanding was that it would mostly cover the lower split portion of MLK with Grand.
I'd like to encourage an open forum here on anything architectural or transit related on MLK. Part of me thinks the gentrification debate has already been done to death: it's a mix of bad and good, okay? But still, I think there's a lot to talk about in terms of MLK Jr. Boulevard's present and future.