December Newsletter: Holiday events, new planters, and a very special plaza partnership

News Article
Portland's Public Street Plazas Banner featuring a cartoon scene of people enjoying a plaza.  People are running, biking, sitting, eating, socializing, dancing, and DJing.
PBOT Public Street Plaza Program's December newsletter. Featuring holiday events, new planters, and a very special plaza partnership with Ground Score Association.
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Happy Holidays from the PBOT Street Plaza Team!  As we cozy up for Portland winter, our team is celebrating the success of our Spring and Summer program while focused on delivering opportunities to enjoy your public spaces during Fall and Winter.  In this month’s newsletter we wanted to share new improvements to our plazas and give special thanks to another amazing plaza partnership.  Read on to find out more about Ground Score Association and their work uplifting those in need.


A crowd gathers at night in St Johns Plaza for the annual tree lighting.  A decorated evergreen tree sits at the center of the plaza.
St Johns Plaza's Annual Tree Lighting. Photo courtesy of the St Johns Boosters

Upcoming Plaza Partner Events

Saturday, Dec. 16 - SantaCon 2023 – With Ankeny Alley as it’s central hub, Stumptown SantaCon is a costume themed dance festival with dozens of participating venues, covered outdoor areas, and a DJ’d Dance party.  Thousands of Santas will flood the street all to raise money for local charities.  This 21+ event runs from 4:00pm to 10:00pm.

Saturday, Dec. 2 – Montavilla Plaza Tree Lighting - Join the Montavilla East Tabor Business Association at Montavilla plaza to help decorate a tree. Enjoy live music, mulled wine, hot cocoa, and holiday beer (rain or shine). The event runs from 4-6pm with the tree lighting at 5pm. 

Have a plaza event or activation idea for winter?

Winter markets, hot chocolate socials, winter lighting, snowball fights? We'd love to hear about it!  Keeping plazas lively throughout the year and providing a space for your community are big goals for us. Email your ideas to portlandstreetplazas@portlandoregon.gov or send in a free Small Plaza Activation Application. We've made our process easier than ever so that you can throw events in your community plazas.

Note:  to ensure your event is featured in our newsletter, please email us at least one week before the first of each month.


Partner Spotlight: Ground Score Association

By Tyler Smith

Stewarding PBOT’s Plazas is a highly collaborative pursuit. Our team couldn’t do the work without partnerships with local businesses, community groups, city bureaus, and non-profits. This year, we began an exciting collaboration with the Ground Score Association, an organization fiscally sponsored by the non-profit Trash for Peace. Ground Score is dedicated to maintaining the cleanliness of streets across Portland.  In doing so, Ground Score contributes to the beauty of our shared environment. The program prioritizes hiring those facing houselessness and housing insecurity, offering accessible low-barrier employment.  We are proud to support a values driven business like Ground Score that provides livable wages starting at $20 per hour.  With a current staff of around 45 people, Ground Score's impact on people’s lives is substantial.  A key factor in Ground Score's success lies in its peer-led approach. Its workforce intimately understands the challenges of houselessness and maintain strong community connections on the streets of Portland. This unique perspective enables them to operate effectively in parts of the city that may be resistant to traditional services. Additionally, their work has helped individuals get into housing and other social service programs.

A Ground Score employee is photographed on the job with his dog.
A Ground Score employee earns a living wage providing on site trash service with the company of his dog.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Nic Boehm, Co-Executive Director of Ground Score.  During our talk, Nic shared insights into the organization's major successes in supporting individuals experiencing houselessness and Ground Score’s benefit to the broader Portland community.  In our talk, Nic emphasized the truly transformative power of the organization:

“From my perspective Ground Score is foremost a labor organization. Some mornings we do open pick-ups, (similar to day labor) it's heartening to see as many 40 people come in to our warehouse at 8am sharp and line of up for the chance at a day of hard work.  We operate in the very dirtiest parts of our city in all weather conditions, but time and again they sign up and ask for more day after day. People tell me that working for Ground Score gives them a sense of pride in themselves and that the specific work we do makes them feel like they are giving back to the city as a whole. A little extra money helps but I really think that it's those intangibles: the self-confidence that comes from knowing that you are a capable worker who contributes to their community.-I think these are at the root of our success.:In addition to moving literal tons of pounds of trash off the streets each day, diverting as much recycling and hazardous materials from the landfill as we can, a survey of workers shows that 80% of those who've come to us unhoused are living indoors within a year and in many cases have begun treatment programs.  We've seen how hard work and the willingness to do it can improve the lives of workers and the communities that surround them.”

An employee rides a cargo bike, another rolls via motorized wheelchair to a nearby site.  Both wear high visibility safety gear.
Ground Score employees work in all weather conditions to make Portland streets cleaner. Photo courtesy of Ground Score

Nic went on to highlight the significance of Ground Score's work in the Public Street Plazas and the value placed on these roles by their staff:

Our workers have really responded to the plaza program; they have been eager to get those shifts. I know they take pride in doing something that benefits everyone in the city. Those with lived experience of houselessness understand that common public space is at a premium in this day and age. They consider it an honor to be able to serve the city and maintain a truly free public area where people of all walks of life can mingle and interact with each other. They take pride in that work.”

Ground Score stands to dispel stigmas around houselessness. They provide a proactive solution fostering positive change in our community. PBOT Public Realm and Street Activation is proud to have them as a partner. If you’d like to learn more about The Ground Score Association, check out their website.


New Planters at Pride Plaza!

Planters filled with beautiful new plants line the crosswalk at pride plaza.
These resilient plants are sure to survive the winter months wtih the support of Portland Parks and Recreation. Come by to see them and check out the impressive street art nearby.

If you’ve found your way down to Pride Plaza at W Burnside Street and SW Harvey Milk Street, you may have noticed our new planters.  These lovely additions have replaced the old orange and white barricades that once closed off this street.  Our team took inspiration from the New York Department of Transportation plaza program, who use these same planters in their street plazas.  Not only are they beautiful, they are also HEAVY!  This ensures that these additions will stay in place to block car traffic making pride plaza safe for pedestrians and people biking.

We have already heard a lot of excitement from our partners on the street calling them a “great new addition” and “absolutely beautiful.”

However, Pride Plaza is just the beginning.  We will be dropping these new planters at other plazas including Montavilla, SE Clinton, and Main St Plazas in the coming months.  Stay tuned!

Special thanks to Portland Parks and Recreation for maintaining our planters and contributing to the vibrancy on our streets.


Do you have a great Public Street Plaza Photo?

We'd love to feature it!  Share your best PBOT Street Plaza photo with the world by tagging @PBOTinfo on InstagramFacebook, or X (formally Twitter).  You can also email your photo to our team at PortlandStreetPlazas@portlandoregon.gov


Upcoming Grant Opportunities

The Regional Travel Options Program creates safe, vibrant and livable communities by providing grants and supporting efforts that increase walking, biking, ride sharing, telecommuting and public transit use.  The next RTO General Grant cycle application opens on Jan. 3, 2024

The Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF) Community Responsive Grants (RFP 3) is now open.  The grant, open to 501(c) or 521(a) nonprofit entities, supports planning and implementation projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve climate resiliency in ways that advance economic, social, and climate justice for our under-resourced communities. The deadline to register for an account is January 25. The deadline to apply for a grant is February 1. 


Where can you find PBOT's Street Plazas?

PBOT has numerous active plazas that are ready for you, your friends, and family to enjoy! They are great places to grab a bite to eat, relax in the shade, enjoy live music, meet up with friends, and so much more. Check out our directory to find out more about plazas near you!

A map of Portland featuring the 17 street plazas across the city

What is the Portland Public Street Plaza Program?

Originally started during the Covid-19 pandemic to assist businesses and Portlanders, PBOTs Public Street Plaza program-built partnerships with community and local businesses to transform select streets into public spaces for cultural events, street fairs, pop-up markets, and more. The program uses PBOT's Livable Streets Strategy, adopted by Portland City Council in 2017 as its policy foundation to turn streets into inclusive public spaces that foster public life. In 2022 PBOT’s Planning team started work to turn the temporary, pandemic-era program into a permanent Street Plaza program. This program continues to allow PBOT to act on its values around climate action, mobility for all, and building community by creating public spaces that all Portlander should be able to use and enjoy.


Portland Public Street Plazas Funded by the American Rescue Plan

This project is funded by the American Rescue Plan, a federal economic stimulus bill designed to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession. The City of Portland is receiving $208 million of local recovery funds. Investments focus on three key priorities: houselessness response and household stabilization, business and commercial district stabilization, and community health and safety.

The City of Portland's America Rescue Plan Logo.  The subtitle reads Investing in Portland

The City of Portland ensures meaningful access to city programs, services, and activities to comply with Civil Rights Title VI and ADA Title II laws and reasonably provides: translation, interpretation, modifications, accommodations, alternative formats, auxiliary aids and services. To request these services, contact the Portland Bureau of Transportation at 311 (503-823-4000), for Relay Service & TTY: 711.