While Last Thursday tonight on NE Alberta will see some hubbub in a bottom-up attempt to make the event car free, another intriguing negotiation among neighbors has been unfolding all year right in the center of Last Thursday's territory.
The vacant lot on the corner of 20th and Alberta, across from the popular Mexican restaurant Don Pancho's, has not seen $1 of improvements in ten years, despite the gentrifying boom in the rest of the neighborhood. Two years ago, the owners pitched the idea of building a 65-foot tall condo complex on the lot but neighbors were against the design ("It's massive!") and then the housing market went sour and the plan fell through.
Since 2006, the lot's value has increased by $84,000, but the only development activity has been to acquire complaints about weeds and garbage.
But what's interesting is what's happened in the absence of development: people around Alberta have claimed the lot as a community place and are engaged in low-key, grassroots battle for the grassy space.
With weeds coming up in the lot rather than condos, neighbors started using the field as their own, partying on the grass and swiping blackberries and figs from the lot's well-known row of trees. Then in 2007, a metal fence went up, encircling the lot and cutting neighbors off from their beloved figs. A few weeks later, though, the fence was mysteriously torn down in the middle of the night. The partying and fig-eating continued until last winter, when a new fence went up - this time it was painted red and covered in "No Trespassing" signs. But, one night in the Spring, some crew of rapscallions tore the fence down again. The fence lay on the ground for a while until apparently metal scrappers picked it up.
Alberta resident and artist Dan Beyer was glad to see the fence go -- he describes the lot as a park. "The park is very uniquely Portland, it has very specific attributes that are unique to the neighborhood. It facilitates society, for crying out loud - people set up their art there, on Last Thursday people picnic there," says Beyer, adding that one of its most appreciated qualities is simply, "It's not a condo."
This silent back-and-forth between neighbors and the lot owners continued into summer. In early July, a tiny gazebo appeared in the Alberta-side corner of the lot. It was a pretty little structure, about four feet tall with a roof over a pile of white stones and planted flowers. A hand-painted sign next to the gazebo declared the lot a guerilla garden. Two weeks ago, the gazebo and sign disappeared. Now all that's left is the stones and weeds: