15 Ways Philly Out-Portlands Portland

Our tool library can beat up your tool library with one poetry box behind its back.

This week the website Houzz has a list of 15 things people can do to make their neighborhoods more communal. And wouldn’t you know it, the article focuses on Portland because Portland is always the city that gets mentioned in the context of people living happily together, wearing clogs and hugging it out, offering flowers to a stranger just to celebrate the beauty of the freckles on her nose.

We do not do such things in Philadelphia. If a stranger offered me a flower, I’d assume there was a scam involved and run away.

Still, it does rankle that lists like this one are so predictably inspired by places on the West Coast. Every neighborhood I can think of in this city has its own flavor and network of relationships that, even if fraught, fully qualifies as deeply communal. So yes, we can play Portland’s game — and rather successfully, at that.

Below is Houzz’s list, inspired by Portland, of 15 ways to make a neighborhood better and build community. And here’s how Philly stacks up:

1. “Paint your intersection.” In Portland, neighbors gather to paint extravagant pinwheels on the street, careful not to get run over by grad-student factory workers biking home after a shift. In Philly, we’ve got plenty of community street art, including painting on the street. Just take a look at this video of a Mural Arts project at 15th and Catherine:

2. “Make a poetry box.” Well, unlike Portland, Philly doesn’t have a dedicated poetry-box builder like Doug Trotter. But the city has a wickedly active and inventive poetry scene, with slams and readings and lectures and underground activities. The scene itself creates community. We don’t even have enough space to list all the things going on in Philly related to poetry. So a poetry box? Too confining.

3. “Set up a tool library.”: Nailed it! The West Philly Tool Library at 47th and Woodland loans tools to residents or helps them learn about fixing things and which equipment to use. Do house repairs, rehab your car, create Scissorhands-style topiary, all without buying a thing.

4. “Set up a book library.” Well, that’s a rather elevated term, and if Portlanders want to call their modified birdhouses stuffed with paperbacks “libraries,” we’ll leave them to it. Philadelphians can swing by the A-Space most temperate nights and join neighbors in skimming piles of books set out for free — and maybe even donate some time to Books Through Bars.

5. “Turn your front yard into your backyard.” Houzz says: “Moving your typical backyard activity to the front instantly makes you more visible and approachable.” If a typical backyard activity is tossing back some brews, we have this one covered. Only we call our front yards “stoops.”

6. “Collectively buy solar panels.” This idea started in Portland, says Houzz, but we say a solar PV system in Bucks County is the largest of its type east of the Mississippi. And the new solar panels and wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field will generate 30 percent of the power used in the stadium.

7. “Set up an emergency preparedness network.” Local civic associations regularly have community meetings to review procedures. For a list of meetings in July, go here.

8. “Set up a garden tour.” Apart from Philly’s South Philly Garden Tour, the PECO Green Roof Tour and innumerable garden contests, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Garden Tenders fosters neighborhood connections by training people in starting community gardens. Also, PHS’s latest pop-up garden across from the Kimmel Center is probably one of the best communal spaces to hit the city, and all in the hue of green.

9. “Plant a tree.” Again, no problem for Philly. Parks & Rec’s TreePhilly serves as a central resource for neighborhoods and community groups that want to add some green to their public spaces. It’s easy to do and very popular.

10. “Throw a block party.” Anyone who’s ever driven down our streets in the summertime knows Philly neighborhoods excel at block parties. In Cedar Park, there are occasional Porch Hops, when residents serve snacks and music at their porches and neighbors go from house to house to sample the food and make new connections.

11. “Tell a story.” “Storytelling nights are popular in Portland,” says Houzz. “Neighbors get together at coffee shops or the library to tell stories about things that have happened in their neighborhood.” I don’t know about the place where you live, but my neighbors are voluble enough that I can often hear them “storytell” from inside my house.

12. “Go for more walks and bike rides.” Let’s put it like this: Portland’s WalkScore: 66. Philly’s WalkScore: 74.1. As for bike riding, Portland has only a slight edge on Philly, with 70 BikeScore points to our 68. Philadelphia is a terrific city for both activities —especially if you push yourself and get out of your comfort zone.

13. “Carpool.” What? Why? One of the great pleasures of living in Philly is that most people walk, bike or take public transportation to get where they need to go. Writing about Philadelphians ditching their cars for the Inquirer in 2011, Molly Eichel noted: “[O]nly about 60 percent of city residents get to their jobs via an automobile, according to census data, a figure that is lower than for all but a few other cities. A quarter of Philadelphians commute via public transit, and nearly 9 percent walk to work — figures that are among the highest in the country.”

14. “Buy and shop locally.” Weaver’s Way. Mariposa. Wyebrook Farm. Reading Terminal. Greensgrow. Innumerable CSAs and farmers markets … between Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, this is a fertile tri-state area. Buying and shopping locally can be easily done if you live in the right neighborhood. Shame about those food deserts, though.

15. “Brand your neighborhood.” Two words: “University City.”