Street Plazas and their effects on Local Businesses and Sociability

Street plaza patrons congregate

A Thesis Presented to the Division of History and Social Sciences Reed College.


With my thesis project I wanted to examine to what extent street plazas are beneficial to both business owners, the larger community and how to successfully activate these spaces. Street plazas are great places for the formation of long-lasting social ties, as well as a place to meet like-minded people.

The street plaza program born during the Covid-era gained traction in 2022, initially stemming from Portland’s Livable Street strategy. This strategy encourages Portlanders to reclaim streets into public space and promotes placemaking activities. This topic is relevant to sociologists as it may shine light on the importance of high-quality public spaces as there are numerous benefits that come from having places to gather, areas to wind down, chat with strangers, etc.

Past research has looked extensively at the tangible benefits of converting street space back into pedestrian friendly zones, but not so much how to effectively activate these spaces. Many of my findings pertain to ways of activating the space, as in, how to bring people back reliably and consistently. My goal was to uncover how these spaces are being activated, if they are, and why some plazas are doing better than others, focusing on Portland’s street plazas specifically. To uncover this, I set out on a mission of conducting interviews with business owners, patrons, advocates, city council candidates and PBOT officials to get a clearer picture of how people are thinking about and utilizing these new public spaces.

In a time of rising concern over crime that arose during and after the Covid pandemic, now more than ever it is important to be an advocate for places of healing and connection. It is up to sociologists to showcase the utility of public space, and there’s no better place to start than with our streets, if we are to transform Portland into a vibrant city.