South Park Blocks makeover approved by the City Council
The controversial proposal to remake the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland was unanimously approved by the City Council on Wednesday, July 21.
Despite their support for the Master Plan developed by Portland Parks & Recreation, council members admitted the community is split over how much the park should be changed.
"There are two camps. One wants the park blocks to be activated and the other wants it to be preserved," said Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who believes both goals can be accomplished.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who is in charge of the parks bureau, said there will be more public engagement as the plan is finalized and that it will come back before the council on multiple occasions. She said there is is no schedule or funding for it at this time.
Yet to be resolved is how much the alternative transportation "Green Loop" around the central city will extrude into the park. It is intended to encourage alternatives to automobiles, but some opponents claimed it could be too busy to be safe for pedestrians in the park.
The proposal was first heard by the council on July 15. Invited witnesses testified in support of the proposal. They included representatives of Native American communities. Public testimony was overwhelmingly against it, however. Most of the opponents lived downtown and said the park was their sanctuary.
The 132-page plan describes a decades-long remodel of the multiblock park that runs north from the Portland State University campus past some of the city's biggest cultural attractions. It would add new seating, art, plants and a multiuse path to the blocks. The work is estimated at up to $47 million. The Green Loop portion is estimated to cost an additional $7.4 million.
Portland Parks & Recreation says the plan is necessary to replace aging trees and accommodate a Portland population that is both increasing and growing more diverse. It seeks to "activate" the park by creating new spaces for community activities.
"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 parks 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."
Despite that, the plan has generated a strong backlash from some Portlanders who believe it will lead to the decimation of the treasured elms that line the park and ruin one of the few greenspaces downtown. It is opposed by the neighborhood association in and around the area, Most of the dozens of people who testified against it live downtown.
"Commissioners, you have many problems to solve and things that need fixing," said LaJune Thorson, a downtown resident for a decade, said at the July 15 hearing. "This park is not one of them."
The proposed South Park Blocks Master Plan and additional information can be found here.
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