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Joni Renee Whitworth Still Sees the Potential of Turning Portland Streets Into Dining Plazas

The pressures that generated the idea have only increased.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Three weeks ago, the idea of turning Portland streets into dining plazas seemed a little radical. By now, it nearly sounds quaint.

With an uprising against police violence marching nightly, civic discussion of blocking off streets for socializing and drinking has grown muted. (Seriously: In mid-May, this was a hot topic!)

But the pressures that generated the idea have only increased: On Monday, Pok Pok owner Andy Ricker cited the rules limiting seating in dining rooms as a reason he's permanently closing most of his restaurants. If and when Multnomah County reopens, your favorite restaurant needs more space to seat people—and fast.

Joni Renee Whitworth still sees the potential. Whitworth is communications director for Portland Promenades, a campaign backed by local bars, restaurants and shops to close off segments of streets as business and social plazas.

Prior to joining the Portland Promenades effort, Whitworth founded Future Prairie, a queer creative studio and arts nonprofit.

Since WW interviewed Whitworth on May 29, they've added two new streets to the original segments on Southeast Belmont Street and Northeast 28th Avenue. Now Southeast Clinton Street and Northwest 23rd Avenue are on board.

WW spoke to them about how the campaign began, and what the streets could look like.