It was noon on July 2, and without difficulty I found street-parking at the northeast corner of Southwest Park and Clay. In fewer than 40 yards, I was strolling through The South Park Blocks. People were eating lunch, chatting, scrolling through cell phones. Not once did I dodge someone on wheels. Not once did I stumble over uneven terrain. Of the parks I frequent in Portland, none is so easy to reach its essence; in the case of The South Parks, a place to pause. I could lose myself, dawdling, daydreaming, sniffing roses and sight-seeing. It was a luxury for me, and I imagine it doubly so for those who suffer from Parkinson's, MS, injury or other infirmities.
Unfortunately, the new South Park Blocks plan would do away with parking along the western shoulder of Park Avenue. In its place would be a lane for pedestrians, as well as myriad variations of transportation on wheels. I'm a proponent of skate parks; I wouldn't want a bicyclist riding in one. I'm a proponent of bike paths; I wouldn't want a person driving on one. In that vein, The South Park Blocks should be dedicated for pedestrians to enjoy sans being preoccupied with safety or feeling like a nuisance.
That eating establishments exist on each side of The South Park Blocks is a bonus. Though taken for granted by many of us, for the infirm (I had a friend with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; he and I would walk a block, rest on a bench, walk another block ... then dine.) to experience a park, then cross the street where a wait-person says, "Anything to drink?" is a rare event.
Someone might say: "You can drive to a park and then go to a restaurant." For my COPD friend and others with infirmities, often the most difficult aspect of any excursion involves entering and exiting a car. I won't share the profanity my friend let loose when we tried to wedge his water-swollen ankles into my Subaru. Suffice to say, it gave voice to frustration and pain. The South Park Blocks offer a one-stop, multi-faceted outing, limiting the entering and exiting of a car; for the infirm, an exercise in kindness.
When opponents to the proposed South Park Blocks changes protested a loss of tranquility, Oregonian writer Shane Dixon Kavanaugh wrote: Some of those claims are exaggerated or flat-out inaccurate, however. Portions of the South Park Blocks are already lively and jam-packed rather than a tranquil sanctuary, at least some of the time....
Kavanaugh's argument, if not disingenuous, is flawed. It posits that because several times each week The South Parks Blocks are already bustling, increasing that bustle is not problematic. It's tantamount to saying: Since something (good or bad) is already happening, adding a little more is irrelevant. I can't imagine a principal saying: We're used to dropouts, so what's a few more?
Though keeping The South Park Blocks pedestrian-only suggests exclusivity, so do freeways, basketball courts, tennis courts, bike paths, skate parks, horseshoes pits, walking trails, swings ... anything that dedicates space for a specific activity. I presume that, with longevity and luck, today's bicyclist may someday, perhaps with someone's assistance, emerge from a car, navigate the short distance to The South Park Blocks, sit on a bench beneath a leafy tree and hear strangers talking and laughing ... a welcome deja vu. For a moment they are not only in the heart of their city; they feel like a part of their city — again. Later, they may cross the street where they will, to their delight, hear a waitperson ask, "And what would you like to drink?"
Bob Balmer is a resident of southeast Portland.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.