ASLA Oregon LANDbytes APRIL 2012 Feature:
South Downtown - Portland
By Rebecca Wahlstrom
Over the past year I’ve become a danger when driving over Portland’s Marquam bridge; not because I’m texting or juggling fast food, but it’s because I’m trying to see how the construction is going along the waterfront, south of downtown. There is a lot to see. TriMet, OHSU, and Zidell are all busy making the south side of Portland into a bustling part of the city. For years, plans for that area have only existed within master plans or in the heads of designers; now it is finally becoming reality.
TriMet is building Portland’s first bridge in 35 years to span the Willamette, carrying pedestrians, bikers, buses, and the MAX. While current construction looks like it is choking the river into a narrow gap, the final design shows the new cable-stayed bridge soaring lightly across the river. http://trimet.org/pm/construction/bridge.htm
When you do stroll, bike, or ride across this bridge, look down at the shoreline. Instead of the Himalayan blackberries and concrete rubble that used to grace our waterfront, you’ll see more than half a mile of native plants, all planted on a slope that gently bends to the water, losing its old aggressive angle. Joyce Jackson, landscape architect at Maul Foster & Alongi, wrote of this project in August 2011, http://www.aslaoregon.org/updates/articles/the-landscape-architect%27s-role-in-the-zidell-waterfront-cleanup; she provided this update. “We completed the final bank planting in February and we now begin our battle with the geese. They are VERY fond of the newly germinating grasses that we are trying to establish. It is quite a dilemma, combating the wildlife to establish habitat for the wildlife “. Plants are establishing well, though, and the bank restoration has held up in the recent high waters. Through diligence and a little cooperation from the natural world, in a couple years the shoreline will hopefully look as if it has never served as an industrial/shipbuilding area.
OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University) is building the Schnitzer Campus & OHSU commons, phase one of the 26-acre campus. http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/about/services/cpdre/planning/schnitzer-campus.cfm The campus will nestle between south side of the Marquam bridge and the new TriMet bridge, and serve as a much needed area of expansion for the university. Multiple modes of transportation will serve this part of the campus; MAX, trolley, bike trails, the new TriMet bridge, and the tram all converge to make this part of downtown accessible and well-connected.
All these projects are generating a lot of looking and a lot of excitement about the future of the south waterfront area. The potential of more people moving through and inhabiting this previously ignored part of town is huge. Big changes are afoot; make sure you, as landscape architects, are in touch with how Portland is growing. Next time I drive within sight of the construction area, I promise to keep my eyes on the road…mostly. Seeing this part of Portland’s history is just too exciting to miss.