'Portland's Dining Room' plan would remake O'Bryant Square
Litter has become a hot issue in Portland.
While the homeless problem may seem intractable, the new wave of litter on the city's sidewalks does seem to be something people can get a grip on.
SOLVE, the environmental cleanup nonprofit, has been organizing a series of volunteer trash pick-ups this year. The latest was at 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 21, at four locations downtown.
SOLVE has been holding events for years, like the Northwest District Association's Third Saturday Clean Up in northwest Portland near Burnside at 9 a.m.
Volunteers collect bags and gloves and fan out to pick up lone shoes, fast food wrappers tossed from cars at intersections, and even the endless supply of cigarette butts. If "Good Citizens are the Riches of a City," as the slogan on the Skidmore fountain goes, volunteer litter collectors are Portland's Bitcoin: anonymous, incorruptible and necessary.
As the city welcomed people back to downtown with a concert from Pink Martini at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Saturday, July 24, and the opening of the food cart plaza at Southwest Park and Burnside Street on the same day, one architecture firm has used the litter question to intervene more forcefully downtown.
The second-floor studio at Hennebery Eddy Architects overlooks O'Bryant Square. The 1973 parklet has been closed and fenced off since 2018, while the parking garage beneath it is deemed structurally unsound. The paved park at street level had for decades been a hangout for drug users and panhandlers. Charity groups such as Potluck in the Park used the underground garage as a meal distribution point for unhoused people.
Even with the fence protecting it, the empty park collected litter. Tired of the eyesore, this year, some Hennebery Eddy staff used their Juneteenth Day of Service (a day when staff volunteer but still get paid) to take on the mess. With the help of Randy Gragg of the Portland Parks Foundation and SOLVE, they picked up 800 pounds of trash.
"Our Portland team is gradually returning to working full-time in our studio, and we are committed to promoting the re-emergence of a vibrant downtown neighborhood," said Will Ives, architect and Hennebery Eddy vice president. "While the park remains closed and needs more work, we also don't want it to see it continue to collect waste," said Ives.
From 2010 on, the Alder Street food cart pod brought some daytime life to the park. Unfortunately, when the pod later closed to make way for the coming Riz-Carlton-condo-office behemoth, the area faded again.
Now that food carts are returning to activate the block, starting July 24, Hennebery Eddy sees a chance for a makeover. As a pro-bono effort in 2019, the firm proposed an interim solution to reopen the park. This includes removing a long-shuttered bus shelter at the southwest corner to improve sightlines and remove the awkward angular steps and planters.
Ives explained to the Business Tribune that the elevated nature of some features makes the park difficult to access and less practical for use. The north end is raised for cars to drive into the parking garage. Ives said that gave more assertive groups a "command" of the heights, making visitors feel unsafe.
One idea is to make O'Bryant Square Portland's Dining Room on the proposed Culinary Corridor of carts and restaurants on Southwest Park and Ninth. It would be comparable to Portland's Living Room, Pioneer Courthouse Square. More places to sit and eat would attract downtown workers and tourists.
Ives also compared O'Bryant Square to Director Park, beside the Fox Tower, which has a European feel due to the curbless design. Director Park is adaptable to different uses. Because it is more open, The metal chairs are removable, the fountain can be turned off, and the rain shelter encourages activity in all seasons. "Director Park is flexible, and that would work for O'Bryant Square too."
There is no budget at the moment for a remodel, but that didn't stop the firm from completing the pro-bono effort in collaboration with Anderson Krygier landscape architects (now KNOT), KPFF Consulting Engineers, and the construction firm Lease Crutcher Lewis.
Northwest is in too
"I'm happy that we're starting to see a return to pre-pandemic activity in Portland and an important first step is to take action and clean up the trash we've seen accumulating over the past sixteen months," said Rob Fullmer of Northwest District Association Third Saturday Cleanup. "This is the first third Saturday clean-up we've had since all this started, and our streets really need it!"
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