Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Cool Things in North Portland: Alleys

Alhough my little girl seems to have...ummm...issues with getting back to sleep early Thursday morning, Blogger seems to have been having issues with uploading pictures, which makes blogging hard for a daddy up in the darkness trying to reaquaint his daughter with the idea of "get in my crib and go night-night".

Mmrnph..! (dissatisfied noise somewhere between a grumble and a sigh)Other than sleep, I've been thinking about what makes living in North Portland cool, and it led me back to this little series of photos I was working on right before we got our original referral in July, 2007: the alleys of North Portland.

One reason is that right now North, like the rest of Portland, is wretchedly cold and wet. I've been working outside most of late December and now all of January. These pictures made me remember the lovely warm days of late July. Nice.

The other is that the City of Portland has a terrific online resource - PortlandMaps - that allows you to see things like your tax lot map and political detail about our neighborhood. Here's ours, courtesy of the nice people at what a friend of mine used to call the "City that Meets"...

Notice that although we're all just "Portland" now, just rectangular city blocks full of little brick houses for you and me, back in the day we were "subdivisions" just like the monstrosities now devouring the Tualatine Valley: "Owen Addition", "University Heights", or the "Brazee's Addition" in the Town of Portsmouth, said town being a legal fiction that, if it ever existed, exists now only the maps themselves.

Each of these additions was laid out a little differently, but most of them have a similar feature - the narrow alley that runs through the center of the block.

Another cool thing is that the layout is a ittle different in each subdivision. Check out the picture below. Do you see how the alley in the "Owen Addition" block between N. McKenna and N. Wall has a T-shaped alley that doesn't connect with McKenna, but the next block over, part of "Brazee's Addition" the alley runs straight from N. McKenna to N. Montieth?It's actually cooler than that, since the left-hand leg of the "T" in the Owen Addition block doesn't really exist. It's a notion, another artifact, like the "Town of Portsmouth", that is on the ground just part of the lawn at 6004 N. Amherst Street (an odd sort of little house on a double lot, currently inhabited by an irascible old woman who fills the position of local "crazy lady")...

So in fact the alleys vary wildly, from tiny, hidden, ovegrown paths that recall the rural St. Johns days, to virtual roadways, paved and guttered in concrete urban style. The example below, near North Syracuse, is very close to the question about the presence of the alley here.Here's another example of the paved version, this one the extreme endmember down across Portsmouth near University of Portland. No foofy sissy plants and gravel here: this is AutoWorld, by and for our wheeled masters.Okay, now scroll down. This is a pleasant little shaded alley south of us, near "The Bluff" (scroll down the link for some nice pictures of the Portland Marathon winding through NoPo). Not quite a street, but not really the little abandoned alleys we see in U PArk, eitherThe example below is a lot more like it: this is actually the alley between N. Yale and N. Amherst that runs behind our house. We've got lots of undergrown alleys like this between N. Portsmouth and "The Cut". These are the kind of alleys we found and loved when we moved in here.

A little known fact of City of Portland parking law is that it is technically illegal to park on the street for more than a 24-hour day without moving. Really. No shit: here's the regulation - the City considers you're storing your property on the street, and the term used for this violation is "in lieu of garage". Most of these alleys are associated with older platted additions like ours (platted out before 1920) and I assume were planned to serve the function of what a Londoner would call a "mews" - a service street used for stables, or in North Portland, keep the Portland police off your ass for parking the car on the street.While most of our alleys have some pleasing feature, I really enjoy finding the most "unimproved" of them, like this little hillock. The sad fact is that this isn't an "alley" at all: it's N. Saratoga Street between N. Borthwick and N. Willard. Another artifact of the "subdivision" system used to develop Portland was that the City let the developers decide whether to bring the streets up to code. This developer clearly...ummm...didn't. North - and Southeast - Portland are full of these "streets" what the residents would now have to pay to improve. Despite what a Republican will tell you, there are some things the market doesn't do well. This street sure looks like one, doesn't it?

But based on the dual tracks someone has driven this mountain path. WTF! Who? And why?One of the joys of summer and the Peeper has been taking walks with my little guy along these quiet lanes. He has his favorites, and we venture down them, behind the houses, between the fences in search of ripe blackberries on hot late summer evenings.

So stop for a moment and let yourself feel the warmth of an autumn afternoon on your arms like heavy golden sleeves. Listen to the hum of the mowers and inhale the green smell of late-cut grass in the air as you savor the taste of the fruit of the hidden grapevine you've discovered burying the fence beside you, sweet and warm, the flavor of earth and sun in your mouth as the day fades around you.


walternatives said...

Truly, I'm not meaning to rub it in, but last weekend, it was in the mid to upper seventies here. No lawn mowers buzzing, but I was wearing a sun visor as I walked around my folk's neighborhood. They also have alleys in that teeny town, but the best part is that they can toss there leaves in it, and a huge city truck comes along and sucks up the whole pile - no bagging required.

Thanks for all the pics and a tour o' your hood.

FDChief said...

Ta. I envy you your sun visor like a drowning man a bit of sandy beach...

It poured today. Again. Glub, glub...