Portland Parks & Recreation has begun to shape the future of the South Park Blocks; one of Portland’s oldest and most popular parks. Rows of tall trees, native plantings, and colorful roses will remain key features, while we consider updates to make the blocks more welcoming and accessible for all.
The Future of South Park Blocks
This 12-block greenspace stretches north from the campus of Portland State University, serving as a front yard for residents and businesses of the Cultural District. The park hosts vibrant community events and programs for Portlanders and regional visitors throughout the year.
A vision is needed to address challenges and changes in the park:
How can we best protect and enhance the tree canopy?
What improvements will make the blocks more welcoming and accessible for all visitors?
How can we retain the character of this greenspace while enhancing connections for walkers, cyclists and transit riders?
What changes will support vibrant community events like the Portland Farmers Market throughout the year?
We are reaching out with news related to the South Park Blocks.
The National Register of Historic Places nomination for the park initiated by the Downtown Neighborhood Association is moving forward for review at the local and state levels in February. The park master plan and nomination processes are separate but can coexist. Please refer to the provided FAQ for answers to questions you may have on what a National Register of Historic Places nomination is and the relationship between a historic nomination and a plan to guide future decisions about the park.
National Register of Historic Places nominations often represent one significant story from history, excluding stories that are not perceived to be aligned with the area, time period, or features of significance described in the nomination. The significant relationships to historically marginalized or underrepresented communities are often overlooked. The narrative of the current nomination should be improved to be more inclusive of Black, Indigenous, and other underrepresented stories connected to the South Park Blocks.
Portland Parks & Recreation supports historic designations of our properties that are consistent with plans for those properties, and that do not unduly prohibit the City from meeting other important parks and recreation goals in the design and renovation of parks. Related documentation should be complete, accurate, and inclusive. Parks and Recreation will submit letters to the Historic Landmarks Commission and State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation outlining opportunities for improvement of the current nomination.
You can download a copy of the submitted National Register of Historic Places nomination for the South Park Blocks at the Oregon SHPO website: https://www.oregon.gov/oprd/OH/Pages/Commissions.aspx#SACHP
The public is welcome to submit comments on the nomination. Portland Historic Landmarks Commission will review and discuss the nomination at their February 8, 2021 Zoom meeting. The State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation will review and discuss the nomination at their February 19, 2021 Zoom meeting. The last question of the South Park Blocks Master Plan FAQ - January 2021 document provides information on how you may provide comments.
The South Park Blocks Master Plan project team has been busy finalizing revisions to the Recommended Draft of the South Park Blocks Master Plan. We will be in touch in the new year with:
- A date for our final, celebratory Community Advisory Committee meeting
- A link to review the Recommended Draft
- A date for City Council review, likely in early spring 2021.
Thank you for your patience and have a safe and healthy winter holiday season.
The Online Open House for the South Park Blocks Draft Preferred Design was viewed 1,050 times and received 220 responses. The project team has been working to carefully analyze and summarize feedback to guide revisions to the Draft Preferred Design to produce a Recommended Draft of the plan. It has taken more time than originally anticipated to thoughtfully consider, balance, and integrate feedback.
We are in the process of developing the Recommended Draft of the plan and look forward to sharing it with you later this year before presenting it to the City Council for review.
In the meantime, we would like to provide some information to clarify potential misunderstandings about trees in the South Park Blocks:
- There is a moratorium on pruning Elm trees between April and October to reduce the spread of Dutch Elm Disease.
- The overcrowding of these aging, large trees, and constraints to pruning results in a greater frequency of limb drops in the park, which continues to be a major reason why a Tree Succession Strategy as part of a Park Master Plan is needed
- While the proposed South Park Blocks Master Plan will not advocate for removing any mature healthy trees, it must provide a plan for replacing existing trees when they become hazardous, are impacted by construction, or reach the end of their life.
- The Tree Succession Strategy will balance goals for improving the growing conditions and resiliency of the urban forest while maintaining historic character.
Community Engagement is shaping future park design.
Community stakeholders and the general public commented on three draft design options for the South Park Blocks Master Plan. Read the February 2020 Community Engagement Summary to learn about outreach activities, meetings, and events.
Comments from the community will help the design team understand the strongest elements of the draft concepts to use in creating a preferred design for the South Park Blocks. The draft preferred design will be shared with the community later in the spring for review and comment.
This second stage of engagement included two meetings of the Community Advisory Committee, stakeholder discussions, focus groups with Portland State University and St. Mary's Academy students, consultations with the Parks Accessibility Advisory Committee, and the Native American Community Advisory Council. Portland Parks & Recreation partnered with the PSU Farmers Market to host a Community Gathering and Market Booth in November, followed by a month-long comment period.
Earlier community engagement focused on visioning to understand existing conditions, how visitors currently use the park and identify park assets, issues, and opportunities. The draft design concepts were drawn from this first stage of engagement and reflect community priorities, needs, and ideas. Learn more about what we heard from the community during the South Park Blocks Master Plan visioning survey results.
- Develop a community-supported park design;
- Expand opportunities for a variety of uses and activities for people of all ages and abilities;
- Understand, respect and reflect the complexities of the park blocks' history;
- Provide strategic guidance for the management of the character-defining trees on-site, including a succession planting scheme;
- Establish recommendations for future alignment of the Green Loop* that balances the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians, promotes safety for all transportation modes, and benefits park users;
- Account for adjacent uses and development trends along with the park blocks, including the University and Cultural Districts and increasing residential densities; and
- Reflect the capacities, resources, and strengths of the many stewards of the South Park Blocks.
*The Green Loop is a linear park that connects people to places within and beyond Portland's downtown neighborhoods and the Willamette River. Learn more.
Click here to read the background report Existing Conditions, Issues and Opportunities.
Through the summer of 2020, we will be collecting ideas, reviewing options, and performing technical investigations of the park. The three phases of the master planning process are shown below.
Master Plan Process Timeline
April 16, 2019: Community Advisory Committee Meeting 1
June 20, 2019: CAC Meeting 2
August 6, 2019: Concept Development Workshop Materials
September 26, 2019: CAC Meeting 3
October 29, 2019: CAC Meeting 4
March 11, 2020: CAC Meeting 5
June 2, 2020: CAC Meeting 6
Community Engagement Summary
The community engagement approach for this stage of the project was designed to:
- Enlist community participation in the design review process with a special focus on students, PSU communities of color, the Native American Community Advisory Council and Parks Accessibility Advisory Committee;
- Explain how community feedback and ideas during the visioning phase influenced the development of draft concepts;
- Gather and understand community feedback on the draft design concepts to develop a preferred park design; and
- Build community relationships and support for the South Park Blocks and PP&R.
Community stakeholders and the general public were invited to review and comment on three design concepts for the South Park Blocks Master Plan. This second stage of engagement included two meetings of the Community Advisory Committee, stakeholder discussions, focus groups with students at PSU and St Mary’s Academy, consultations with the Parks Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Native American Community Advisory Council. PP&R partnered with the PSU Farmers Market to hold a Community Gathering and Market Booth followed by a month-long comment period. A full list of meetings and events is on page 3.
Community Engagement Overview
The following meetings, outreach, and events were designed to engage stakeholders and the broader community in the review of design concepts. Public feedback was gathered on the design features and park improvements to guide the Community Advisory Committee and project team as they refine the concepts into a preferred park design. A total of twenty meetings including a Community Gathering event were held between September 2019 and February 2020. A complete list appears on page 3. The opportunity to review and comment on design concepts was promoted through community outreach to stakeholders and at all meetings, events, and activities during this stage of the project. A written survey was distributed in paper copies, online at the PP&R website, and through social media during the month-long comment period.
- PP&R partnered with the Portland Famers Market to promote the project and comment opportunity. The Farmer’s Market provided a Community Booth at the 11/23 PSU Market and shared announcements through their vendor networks and social media posts.
- Two meetings of the Community Advisory Committee were held in September and October. The September agenda included a presentation by Ed Washington of Portland State University who discussed the history of Vanport, issues of race and racism in Portland, and connections between Vanport and Portland State University. In October, the CAC previewed the draft design concepts and discussed key design elements, proposed park features, and fall community engagement plans.
- More than 250 people were contacted at a PSU Farmers Market Community Booth and a Community Gathering held inside Smith Memorial Student Center on 11/23/2019. A Spanish interpreter provided language assistance to participants and market vendors.
- 139 people submitted written and online surveys with detailed comments on the three design concepts between November 23 and December 30, 2019.
- Two focus groups were held with students at St Mary’s Academy and Portland State University in February.
- Multiple email notifications were sent to promote the design concepts, community gathering event, and survey to neighbors, stakeholders, project advisors, PSU staff, PSU student groups, and community organizations.
- Social media posts encouraged the review of design concepts, attendance at the Community Gathering in November and comments on the design concepts using a written survey.
- A total of 500 flyers in Spanish and English were distributed to residents, businesses, organizations, park visitors, PSU students and staff, and Portland Farmers Market visitors to promote the Community Gathering and invite comments on the design concepts.
- An announcement about the Community Gathering and comment survey was posted on the PP&R main web page, the project web page, and featured in the City of Portland online citywide events calendar.
- 35 lawn signs in Spanish and English promoting the project and Community Gathering were posted in the 12-block park for ten days prior and one week after the event.
- A comprehensive report on community comments was prepared to document public feedback and inform the design process.
How You Can Participate
Do you have ideas to improve the South Park Blocks? We want to hear from you! Your thoughts and suggestions are an important part of the process.
Read the reports of community comments that have informed the design process so far:
- Visioning Survey Results September 2019 (pdf)
- Draft Design Concepts Community Comment Report February 2020
Click here to receive email updates and learn about future opportunities to participate.