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.
The South Park Blocks Master Plan process asked four questions central to the vision:
- 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?
July 21, 2021
Mayor and City Commissioners unanimously accepted the South Park Blocks Master Plan on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.
City Council made their decision with the understanding the South Park Blocks Master Plan is a guiding document; a blueprint – an unfunded vision of how the South Park Blocks could evolve over the years to come. There is no City funding yet identified for any of the ideas in the plan, and the City is committed to transparent, robust community engagement as we discuss potential projects.
The South Park Blocks is famous for its sequence of focal points and gathering areas, hardscape plaza spaces and planting areas, and mature tree canopy. Many Portlanders frequent this place to enjoy its beauty and visit the many popular cultural establishments along SPB. But the park needs improvements to keep up with the evolving needs of growing and diversifying Portland communities.
The Master Plan recommendations reflect many ideas voiced and supported by the community to make the park a place that provides opportunities for people of all ages and abilities, with respect to historic, character-defining features. It envisions a central promenade, more accessible plaza spaces, a Green Loop shared path along the west side of the park, public art representing more diverse cultural identities and histories, benches promoting more social interaction and more. It also includes a thoughtful tree succession strategy to guide replanting as existing trees naturally reach the end of their life spans and adds additional native and adaptive plants.
Of course, all these improvements will not happen overnight – they need significant resources, and we can work on such improvements as resources become available. But it’s important that we have this plan as a guiding vision from which we can move forward.
Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) and City Council have heard repeated concerns about perceived removal of trees, the addition of hardscape, the addition of the Green Loop, and change in general. PP&R also heard from many others throughout the engagement process that want to see the improvements that are recommended in the plan.
Although the recommended design shown in the master plan is conceptual and will be subject to further refinement and change at future implementation, the following facts should be clarified:
- The conceptual design does not add 50,000 sq. ft. of hardscape. Hardscape additions recommended are less than half that number and done so to make the park more accessible to people of all abilities and better protect remaining landscaping in this already highly programmed park.
- The Tree Succession Strategy does not propose active removal of trees. Portland Parks & Recreation’s Urban Forestry Division actively provides care to help ensure the South Park Block trees live long, healthy lives; but, unfortunately, nothing can live forever. Trees have varying life spans depending on circumstances and conditions, especially in an urban environment.
- The South Park Blocks Master Plan Tree Succession Strategy provides a long-term guide for replacing trees when they naturally reach the end of their life spans. It balances goals for improving the growing conditions and resiliency of the urban forest while maintaining the historic character and form of the trees and canopy. PP&R wishes to assure the public that more detailed design and construction practices will work towards preventing unnecessary removal from park improvements and optimizing planting locations. Your Parks Bureau is aiming to be strategic by giving mature trees more time to reach the end of their life spans - and to not replant every single location over time. Per our Urban Forestry experts, this will enhance the growing conditions for surviving and new trees. The long-term vision is laid out to still promote an overlapping canopy.
July 16, 2021 Update
City Council Hearing on the Recommended Draft Plan Extended
The Portland City Council received a presentation on the Recommended Draft Plan, listened to speakers and heard public testimony on July 15, 2021. They will deliberate and take action on Wednesday, July 21, during the City Council meeting (agenda item 584) that begins at 9:30am.
Written public testimony will be accepted until July 21, at 9:30am. Learn more about the Council meeting and how to submit written testimony here.
July 2021 Update
City Council Hearing on the Recommended Draft Plan for the South Park Blocks
The community is invited to provide comments on the Recommended Draft Plan for the South Park Blocks to the Portland City Council as part of a public hearing on July 15, 2021, 2:00 pm - 3:45 pm. To learn more about how you can provide comments to City Council visit the Engage with City Council page.
May 2021 Update
A vibrant vision for the South Park Blocks is taking shape. The Recommended Draft Plan for the South Park Blocks is now available.
El Plan Maestro de Manzanas de South Park desarrolla un concepto a largo plazo para la rehabilitación física del parque, así como una estrategia de sucesión de árboles que trabaja en pos de mejorar la resiliencia y resistencia de los árboles icónicos del parque, muchos de los cuales están llegando al final de su vida útil.Resumen ejecutivo.
The Recommended Draft Plan provides a comprehensive vision to sustain and enhance the park for future generations. There has not previously been an integrated plan or design to guide the decisions about all twelve South Park Blocks. Instead the park has changed over time and has been shaped incrementally by partial renovations, changes in nearby land uses and cultural understanding.
Community input and technical feedback received throughout the planning process and most recently on the Draft Preferred Design has guided revisions. This valuable guidance has helped produce the Recommended Draft of a Master Plan for the South Park Blocks. You can learn more about what we heard from the Community Comment Report:
More information about the Recommended Draft Plan is available in the May 2021 Frequently Asked Questions document:
A National Register of Historic Places nomination was reviewed by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission at a hearing on February 8, 2021. The Historic Landmarks Commissioners and City Council sent a letter to the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office recommending against nominating the South Park Blocks until substantive revisions to the current nomination are made. A follow-up letter from the Historic Landmarks Commission outlines recommended revisions in more detail.
In the Recommended Draft Plan, PP&R has worked towards balancing requested and necessary changes with historic considerations, while honoring our equity goals and other policy priorities.
You can download a copy of the submitted National Register of Historic Places nomination for the South Park Blocks at the Oregon SHPO website at oregon.gov/oprd/OH/Pages/Commissions.aspx#SACHP.
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 at oregon.gov/oprd/OH/Pages/Commissions.aspx#SACHP.
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.
April 2019: Project kickoff and site reconnaissance
May 2019: Community Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Committee engagement, and stakeholder outreach
July 2019: Community Gathering #1 (Party in the Park)
August 2019: Existing Conditions, Issues, and Opportunities Report
Aug - Dec 2019: Concept Development
October 2019: Community Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Committee engagement, and stakeholder outreach
November 2019: Community Gathering #2 (Saturday Farmers Market)
Dec 2019 - Jan 2020: Commissioner Briefings #1
Feb - Apr 2020: Draft Preferred Design and Tree Succession Strategy (Urban Forestry, Design, and Historic Landmarks Commissions)
May 2020: Community Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Committee engagement, and stakeholder outreach
June 2020: Community Gathering #3 (Online Open House)
July 2020: Commissioner Briefings #2 (Urban Forestry, Design, and Historic Landmarks Commissions)
Aug - Dec 2020: Design and Master Plan Refinements
2021: Master Plan Completion
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.
A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) was established for the project with representation from downtown residents, workers, students, neighboring cultural institutions, and active users of the South Park Blocks, including the Portland Farmers Market. CAC’s are intended to represent a diversity of expertise, skills, backgrounds, and viewpoints.
The South Park Blocks CAC met a total of seven times (including at the Concept Development Workshop) before the Recommended Draft of the Master Plan was completed. The CAC will meet one final time to review the results of the Draft Preferred Design engagement and understand how they’ve been incorporated into the Recommended Draft before it is released to the wider public and taken to City Council.
Additionally, the project team presented to the following groups and organizations to seek their advice and input at key milestones during the planning process:
- Parks Accessibility Advisory Committee
- Native American Community Advisory Council
- Urban Forestry Commission
- Design Commission
- Historic Landmarks Commission
- Friends of the South Park Blocks
- Downtown Neighborhood Association
- Portland Business Alliance and Downtown Clean & Safe
- Oregon Historical Society
- First Congregational United Church of Christ
- Portland Farmers Market
- Portland State University
- Technical Advisory Committee
Community outreach and events were done at Visioning, Concept Review, and Draft Preferred Design Phases.
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.
Community Advisory Committee Meetings
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
Read the reports of community comments that have informed the design process so far:
How You Can Participate
Community and technical feedback for the South Park Blocks Master Plan has concluded with Portland City Council voting unanimously in favor of the plan.
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