Controversial South Park Blocks makeover to be considered
A controversial potential $47 million makeover of the South Park Blocks in downtown will be considered by City Council on Thursday, July 15.
The master plan project is being proposed by Portland Parks and Recreation in partnership with the Portland Bureau of Transportation. It would make significant changes to the park blocks that run from Portland State University past some of the city's most established institutions, including the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society.
Among other things, the project would replace the sidewalk on the west side of the blocks with a wider multiuse path that could be shared by pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter riders. It would also create spaces for art installations, gatherings and more.
"The South Park Blocks Master Plan provides a high-level conceptual design and recommendations to guide future decisions about the Park. Park improvement projects will be placed on PP&R's Capital Improvement Project list and go through more detailed engagement and design processes when funding becomes available and citywide priorities support moving forward," the resolution to be considered by the council reads.
The project is supported by bicycle advocates and others, in part, because the new path would be part of a six-mile Green Loop already approved by the council intended to encourage transportation alternatives to cars in the Central City. It is opposed by neighborhood associations in the surrounding area, including the Downtown Neighborhood Association, who say it would change the historic character of the blocks.
Some opponents fear the project would doom the towering elm trees that line the blocks, although the parks bureau said only ailing ones would be removed.
A number of former civic leaders have called for the council to delay action and spend more time working with the two sides.
"Much of the public outreach was done during the pandemic and most Portlanders haven't heard anything about it," former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg told the Portland Tribune.
The park blocks were first envisioned in 1852 by Daniel Lownsdale, a businessman and one of Portland's founders, as a promenade intended to stretch through the heart of the city. According to the city's website, the rows of American trees were inspired by Boston's Commonwealth Avenue Mall and Parisian boulevards.
The creation of a master plan to update and refresh the blocks began in 2019. It has involved a citizen advisory committee and public outreach program.
The result is a 132-page plan, which the parks bureau estimates could cost as much as $47 million to complete. In addition to the multiuse path, it calls for more diverse trees, new or refurbished plazas and playgrounds, and more seating areas.
More information on the project can be found here.
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