For the last two decades the majority of new public parks, trails, and plazas have been built in Portland’s city center, neglecting the other large swaths of the city that also needed them. This sacrifice was part of a grand effort to revitalize a major city’s downtown during a time period of substantial suburban growth. This focus saw the creation of some of Portland’s most favored plazas, Jamison Square and Director Park, and ample lengths of new waterfront pathways including the Vera Katz Eastside Esplanade, the Springwater Corridor, and the South Waterfront Greenway. Today, central Portland is renowned for its livability and accessibility, and the city leaders have taken notice of that success as they turn their heads to the outer ‘other Portland.’ In the current draft of the new Portland Comprehensive Plan, numerous park and trail projects are still being planned for the central areas, like the Green Loop (pdf) and rebuilding Waterfront Park (pdf), but the plan also calls for more immediate action in East Portland. In the next two years Portland Parks & Recreation will build three new parks in underserved Northeast neighborhoods, and start the first phase of the Gateway Green project just east of Rocky Butte.
All three neighborhood parks have been awaiting funding for decades, and now a flurry of cash is coming their way. The first new park is to located in the Cully neighborhood on the old Werbin property. The future park has been named Khunamokwst Park (Chinook for “together”), and will provide 2.4 acres of new landscaped greenery and other amenities just off NE 52nd Avenue between Alberta and Wygant. The second new park is to be located in the regionally important Gateway District, an area zoned for central city-sized development, but has had little progress in its nearly three-decade-old vision. This yet-unnamed 4.2 acre park is to consist of a hardscaped plaza fronting NE Halsey and 106th, a mixed-use development, and a central lawn surrounded by a playground, skate park, and picnic areas. The third park, currently known as Beech Park, is the largest of the three at 15.7 acres, located on urban farmland on the down slope of I-84 near NE 122nd. The hourglass site is to be developed in two phases, the northern parcel will be designed as a neighborhood park with a playground, dog park, and gathering places. The larger southern property will include sports fields, a community garden, and picnic areas. The two kitty-corner sites will be joined by the intersection of a large figure-eight pathway. Full design on all three parks will be available by next year.
All three of these parks could easily fit inside the proposed 38 acre Gateway Green park, a bicycling and runners paradise to be located on the unused land between the I-205 and I-84 freeways in NE Portland. Recently the city acquired the derelict land from the State DOT, and a masterplan has been developed through crowdfunded community working groups. Recently awarded a $1 million grant from the Metro regional government, the vision for the world-class, off-road bicycle recreation area looks to be heading toward reality. In related news, the newly released draft of the Portland Comprehensive Plan further emphasizes the importance of the proposed Sullivan’s Gulch Trail which would connect Gateway Green directly to downtown Portland. Talks have been slow with Union Pacific, the major land owner of the proposed ROW, but some progress has been made, and the city’s new designation makes trail improvements mandatory with any new redevelopment along the route.
This new flurry of parks comes at a pivotal point in Portland’s timeline, a time when massive population gains are straining the very fabric that has been 150 years in the making. Existing services are inadequate to the challenge of incorporating of the projected 400,000 households into our current urban realm. Luckily, Portland has the political support (from both sides of the aisle for different reasons) to maintain the urban growth boundary and limit sprawl. Expanding schools, parks, transportation, and utilities into the surrounding hinterlands would be far costlier, and damaging, than the infill growing pains the city is currently experiencing. There is, of course, some push back against the current trend of apartment building and single-family home demolition, but concerns like those come with any kind of change, especially changes to one’s backyard. I personally welcome the change, as I believe that the coming density is absolutely necessary for the sustained support of local restaurants, grocery stores, and other small businesses that make a great neighborhood great. Parks are also needed, and open space requires density as well, as an unused, unseen park fosters negative situations, much like Holladay Park, where the owner of the Lloyd Center Mall is spending millions to gain the benefits of ‘eyes on the street.’
Along with the new focus on East Portland, the new comprehensive plan also reiterates an even older promise for new parks in Portland, the original 1904 Olmsted Plan. That plan, during the City Beautiful age, was based on the Emerald Necklace parks Frederick Law Olmsted had previously envisioned for Boston. Many of those original parks have come to fruition, but only a few of the parkways ever got built. One of the central features of the Olmsted Plan was those connections, connected parkways that made a giant loop around the city. The 40-mile loop was founded on that premise, and the numerous disconnected segments are slowly being intertwined as funds become available (Sellwood Gap, I’m looking at you…). It is very encouraging to see the city pushing forward with those century-old ideologies today with the neighborhood greenways and trail projects like Gateway Green, Sullivan’s Gulch, the Columbia Slough, and the North Portland Greenway (pdf).