latest urban park


This park has been a long time coming. It exists in the core of downtown Portland (that white building in the background is the Fox Tower and the brick building off to the left is Nordstrom). The original plan, when the city was in the planning stages, was for a corridor of greenspace to run the full length of the city, north to south. A stretch of park blocks runs from the performing arts center several blocks through Portland State University. It is lush with trees and grass and plantings.  Interrupted by several blocks of commercial buildings, the parks pick up again and run a few blocks north. In the last few years new interest and political will emerged to try to connect the two ends.


The crane in the background is evidence that the next block will sprout a new skyscraper if and when the economy recovers. Still, we are one park closer to the continuous strip envisioned by Portland’s founding fathers.


Is there anything cuter than baby toes? The little girl on the left bared hers to splash in the fountain while her mom looks on. The benches are, to my mind, the nicest feature of the park…very sculptural.


Portlanders love their fountains. This one is a wide circle with more of that curved bench bordering the deeper end in a huge semicircle. Random jets shoot into the air around the large granite ball at stage center.


We are also enthusiastic about our food carts. This one serves up an unusual assortment of fries to go with gourmet burgers.


A soaring glass roof covers at least a quarter of the area, so we can loiter even on drizzly days.


From sidewalk to sidewalk the area is paved with whitish granite, with a few planters built in. This strikes me as a pretty lame excuse for a planting. Maybe there is a vision at work, but I just don’t see it. What do you think?


Narrow, elevated planters run along the west side of the space. Those are the backs of more benches rising above the concrete on one side. It’s early, I know, but this planting strikes me as lacking in imagination. With all the granite and the Fox tower looming overhead, my impression is of blindingly white, coldly impersonal space crying out for the softening influence of lush plantings. Architect friends disagree, and think it is just swell. I can’t wait to read your comments!

9 thoughts on “latest urban park

  1. God I need to get out more. The last time I was there it was still a hole in the ground. I have to say from the early plans I saw I expected much more “park” and green space than I see here. I need to get down there and check it out!

  2. (Half-)empty planters always make me sad. Maybe you will feel called upon to volunteer 🙂
    For a minute I thought you were meant to sit on that granite ball, as I couldn’t find a picture of your benches 🙂
    ah, they’ve come through, complete with said baby-toes.
    Your back must be stronger than mine, for a bench without a back-rest would drive me to sit elsewhere.
    Wish I could be zapped over to explore your city for an afternoon. And then zapped home again. In another millennium perhaps?

  3. I work downtown and still haven’t managed to even walk through this new park!

    I think the lame planters are meant to be drainage swales. I see grates up next to one that would allow for water drainage. If it’s like others I’ve seen, the plantings may get quite lush later on.
    I hope so. Like you, I think it’s a poor excuse for landscaping when there’s so much hardscape to be offset.

    Must go over there tomorrow at lunch to see if I’m right about the drainage swales. If I am, those dinky plants will be underwater this week!

  4. Hi Ricki~~ As I was gazing at the photos I was thinking, but where’s the “lush with trees and plantings” here? Painfully MIA. Nobody and I repeat nobody is going to want to be in this setting during the heat of summer, fountains notwithstanding.

    But then I thought, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers so I’ll keep quiet and look for something positive to write. Thank you for inviting your readers’ opinions.

    Those planters even when they’re full aren’t going to be enough to absorb the heat radiating off that cement. This seems like a tragic waste of resources and probably taxpayers’ money. Better to have planted trees, shrubs and use about half as much cement.

    Hopefully more softscape is in the plan. Okay, to be fair I scrolled back to your first photo and there are trees planted. So never mind. ;-))

  5. Loree~Please let us know what you think of it. You do the minimalist thing so much better. Of course being a plant lover helps.

    Jo~Some of the benches around the perimeter do have backs, and there are the cafe tables and chairs. I like this zapping idea. if only.

    Jane~I’ll be watching for a post by you, after you have had a chance to pop on over there to check it out. I’m in love with so many of our parks. This one was a big disappointment.

    Grace~Figured I could count on you for a good rant. It’s all among friends here, after all. Yep: HOT in summer, COLD in winter. What were they thinking?

  6. Thinking on it, I have come to realize that this is yet another linguistic cock-up.
    The word ‘park’ , or even ‘Park’, has been hijacked by commerce and bureaucracy.
    Think of Business Parks and car parks. Nothing to do any longer with trees and flowers and fresh air and recuperation of soul. No wonder I got depressed walking round there with you.

    Still, an open urban space is an open urban space. Just as well that London’s green lungs are so intricately bound by legal obligations from a few centuries ago, that they can never be built on. (never?)
    Look into the marvellous parks in NYC. They cheer me up no end. Those Victorians had guts and foresight and hopefully those parks will also remain entailed.

    A subject close to my heart. Thanks for making me think on it again. I feel a post coming on…..

  7. I worked in an office overlooking this space for years. I so wanted to see the park complete, but moved to another job about 2 years ago, and now they FINALLY finish it. I think they were plagued by lots of budget issues after they’d already started the project.
    I like more shade, I wouldn’t sit in the sun, but it would be nice to have a place to sit and eat lunch from the nearby carts, at least on mild days.
    I think Jane’s right, I think these are bioswales, maybe their purpose is functional – to filter runoff water and pollution before it enters our storm water system and rivers. It’s nice when these can both be functional and look good, but a lot of times they’re downright weedy looking. I’ve seen some mass plantings of rush downtown that I think are pretty.

  8. Jo~I was bowled over by the parks in London…so glad to hear that they are protected. Yes, yes…a post, please.

    Megan~I’m all for bioswales. Maybe these will get better with time. I agree about mass plantings of rushes.

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