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Takin' it to the streets

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Hundreds of families turned out to see all that downtown Medford streets could offer at the city’s first Open Streets event Saturday.

Featuring a wide range of civic, culinary and cultural exhibitions and vendors, the nearly half-mile-long gathering gave visitors the opportunity to pick up a new kind of street smart — learning about their neighbors and their city in the comfort of mild fall weather.

“I think it was great,” said Edem Gomez, a manager for the Rogue Valley Transit District and one of the main organizers. “I wanted to see kids on bikes taking up the streets and I saw that.”

Gomez, along with Carla Paladino and Kyle Kearns, both with the City of Medford, spun the multi-block celebration off of last year’s Parking Day, which also shut down vehicle traffic on a stretch of road in downtown Medford. In both events, opening up the streets to pedestrians and bicyclists aimed to remind residents of life and movement beyond the drivers seat.

“Getting out of your car, getting that perspective helps you see things from a different light,” Kearns said.

All down the pavement of North Bartlett Street between Pear Blossom Park and Liberty Park, families wandered by vendors and booths ranging from the Medford Police Department and the Medford Arts Commission to Siskiyou Velo and Red Poppy Boutique.

The bass beat from Inspire Studio’s Zumba demonstration on the stage at Pear Blossom Park radiated out across Fourth Street, where vest-clad volunteers directed traffic. Beanbags flew as people played cornhole. Outside of Pretty in Paint, children bustled around hay bales covered with pumpkins, spilling onto the blacktop like a cornucopia display.

Not everyone was a fan of the social interactions involved with strolling side-by-side with strangers. Jack Versteeg, playing badminton in the middle of Bartlett Street with his father Jimmy a couple of blocks away, said talking to all these new people was “boring.”

What would he rather do instead?

“Do this,” he said, whacking the birdie to his dad’s side of the net.

Socializing wasn’t only relegated to conversation, however; near Living Waters Church, Kamalatta Jones and her beginning Bollywood dance class, which she leads at the Santo Community Center 10 a.m. each Tuesday, taught a group of spectators a dance routine to the song “Sweetie Tera Drama.”

The stretch of the event north of Jackson Street was decidedly quieter; fewer businesses and more residential lots lined the road and booths had more space between them.

At Liberty Park, three women with Jackson County Library Services encouraged those who lingered by their booth to sign up for a library card, or to take a stroll through the interactive story walk assembled along a path around the pocket-sized park.

“It’s just encouraging reading in a different way,” said Brystan Strong, youth services coordinator for the JCLS. “Our story today has you do different activities with your body, so it’s also encouraging movement and activity aside from just reading.”

Strong and Marne Kapule, Central Point branch manager, both said that Saturday was the day they learned of Liberty Park’s existence. They weren’t the only ones.

Getting people into the Liberty Park neighborhood, which the city has eyed for targeted improvements and increased development, was another effect of the event.

Medford’s Urban Renewal Agency board, made up of city councilors, has discussed multi-million-dollar investment into cleaning up and improving access to the neighborhood for about 30 years. The city built the 0.12-acre park at the corner of Bartlett Street and Maple Street in 2014.

To keep momentum for development in that area going, the city is in the process of buying three lots nearby, off Central Avenue, just north of the Les Schwab Tire Center. Alex Poythress, city councilor, said the city could use the land to attract developers and businesses that would cater more to the neighborhood residents.

If RVTD and Medford bring the event back around next year, Gomez said, it will be hard to decide on another part of Medford to hold it in. Traditionally, Open Streets festivals move around between each year.

As soon as the next few weeks, he said, he’ll send out surveys to vendors and collect feedback to plan for next year. He didn’t have exact attendance count, Gomez said, but nearly all of the 750 event “passports,” which were distributed one per family, were gone by the end.

“It’s going to get bigger and bigger,” Gomez said. “Building the brand of the event I think is what we need to do.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Families paint pumpkins during Medford’s Open Streets Saturday in downtown.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Jimmy Versteeg and his 8-year-old son Jack play Jenga with Karisa Waldron of Good Life in the middle of North Bartlett St during Medford’s Open Streets Saturday.