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Portland unveils plan for city’s South Park Blocks

New art. New bike paths. More trees. More seating. Fewer cars.

These are some of the highlights of the South Park Blocks master plan, a dramatic redesign of the historical 12-block park in downtown Portland. The plan has been in the city’s pipeline since the spring of 2019 and will officially come before city council on July 7.

The 132-page plan describes a park with a healthier tree canopy, new native plants and artwork to recognize the region’s Indigenous communities, a children’s playground, a dedicated path for pedestrians and bikers, and rotating space for temporary art exhibits, among other features. The park’s statues of President Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were both toppled during protests last year.

The city says the redesign is necessary as the park has not kept up with a growing Portland. The oldest American elm trees in the area are nearing the end of their lifespan and need to be replaced. It’s become an increasingly popular spot for tourists and students. About half of the park borders Portland State University’s campus. And, on Saturdays, hundreds of Portlanders head to the Saturday farmers markets in Shemanski Park.

“As responsible stewards, we need to look ahead and equip our existing parks to serve the changing needs of a growing and changing Portland,” said Portland’s Parks and Recreation bureau director Adena Long in the plan’s introduction. “This plan will serve as a critical guide to sustain and enhance the South Park Blocks for future generations.”

It’s unclear when the plan will start becoming a reality. Currently, there is no dedicated funding for most of the redesign. The parks bureau estimates it could cost anywhere between $22.9 to $46.6 million to build.

That does not include the cost of bringing the park into the city’s plan for a “Green Loop,” which is estimated to cost another $7.4 million. The city plans to build a six-mile connected linear park through Portland’s central city area that would be accessible for joggers, walkers, and bikers, as a way to connect main shopping streets, local attractions, and cultural institutions in the core of the city.

The South Park Blocks are home to many of the city’s biggest cultural attractions. The Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society both line the park. The city says it is exploring further linking these institutions by restricting cars in the streets that connect these institutions to create a plaza.

“The Connected Cultural District envisions a traffic-free cultural campus for children, events and community activation to take place. The traffic-free zone would span from building to building, creating an expansive new experience, and opening new opportunities for community events and activities,” the plan states.

The plan will be presented to Portland city council as part of a public hearing on July 7 from 2 pm to 3:45 pm.


Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rebecca Ellis