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The Oregonian: Portland State University students work on plan for North Lombard Street revitalization
Author: Casey Parks
Posted: March 11, 2013

Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

Neighbors say the two-mile stretch of North Lombard Street divides neighborhoods. Its sidewalks are cracked; its crossings dangerous. The storefronts -- a mixture of banks, fast food restaurants and some locally owned shops -- could use a facelift.

A group of Portland State University graduate students is working with the Kenton, Arbor Lodge and Piedmont neighborhood groups to create a plan that would fix some of those problems.

The group, part of the school's urban and regional planning program, calls itself Swift Planning. Members will look at transportation fixes, zoning changes and storefront grants that could improve Lombard between Northeast Martin Luther King, Jr. and Chautauqua boulevards. In June, Swift will create a final report that offers suggestions for revitalizing one of Portland's busiest through-streets.

"Everyone who talks to us says this has needed to happen for a long time," said Jake Warr, one of six Swift students. "It's a street that really needs a ton of work, and we felt it would have a ton of meaning to contribute to something that could really transform this corridor."

Swift launched the project in January. As part of their final graduate semester, students in the program must act as consultants for one project. Each year, local agencies and nonprofits pitch proposals. The Kenton Neighborhood Association proposed the Lombard project.

Swift visited local neighborhood groups then kicked off the project with an online survey. The questionnaire, which will be online through March, asks respondents about how they use the street. Do they feel safe walking along Lombard? Do they find its shops useful?

In Arbor Lodge, a neighborhood whose northern boundary is Lombard, neighbors are hoping the street will become more of a commercial district. Though it does have some shops and bars now, it doesn't have the identity or draw that, say, Denver Avenue has for Kenton.

At Arbor Lodge's last neighborhood meeting, chairwoman Katy Asher asked, "What's your favorite thing about Lombard?"

"Most people just laughed," she said. "They said, 'What do you mean? What's nice about it?' Most people use it to get to other places, to get to the airport, to get to Columbia Pool."

This month, Swift is holding walking tours of the street. The final tour is Saturday  at 1 p.m.

The students are also leading virtual tours through the project's Facebook page. On a recent day, they posted a picture of the empty lot at North Fenwick Avenue. "What would you like to see pop up on vacant lots like this along Lombard?" they asked.

As residents pitched ideas -- a Starbucks, a dog wash, a bagel shop -- the students also educated them about the space. Like most lots on Lombard, it's shallow, they explained. But this parcel's zoning does prevent a drive-through, a relief to those residents hoping another fast food restaurant won't pop up. 

Next, the group will hold informal chats with faith-based groups and other community organizations to discuss their visions for the street.

"This is just the first step toward meaningful change," Warr said. "We'll be done with the project in June, but our goal is it will keep going, that this project will start a conversation. We are trying to find advocates, trying to foster ownership of this corridor."