the great lightway


An artists depiction of The Great Lightway in 1914 (city of portland)

After looking at the new Bay Lights project in San Francisco, it reminded me of the Great Lightway that used to adorn SW Third Avenue in downtown Portland. The lightbulb clad arches have been long gone, the last section was removed in 1940, and there are not many people alive today who remember them at all. I have always wanted to rebuild the lightway with modern technology, technology that would allow a less energy-intensive and easier to maintain light feature that could last far longer than the originals did. To me, the modern streetlights downtown and throughout the city lack in the imagination and wonder that such architectural feats had once produced. As replicas of old, there could be a real authenticity to them as a cultural attraction and bring more business to the city center at night.

Any new version could have color-changing and programmable LEDs that could change with the season or for special events like holidays, street fairs or night parades. A new lightway could be built down a street other than Third Avenue, such as Broadway, but Third Avenue already has quite a nightlife scene in and around Old Town with portions designated as pedestrian zones, closed to auto traffic at night. If the lightway were reintroduced, the added tourism and illumination could help prevent some of the less desirable activities that have plagued the Old Town entertainment district as of late. If done right, the archways could also create a real sense of collective and continual space for the immediate area during the daytime, not just at night (see image below).


A daytime view of the newly completed Lightway in 1914 (city of portland)


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