Whats needed now is better access
It has been more than 25 years since Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park recaptured the riverfront as a public open space. The current master planning effort must respond to the way in which our city has grown and changed while considering opportunities for the future.
Today, with increasing population and denser neighborhoods in the central city, there is a stronger need for improved access to Waterfront Park. In addition, the new Eastbank Esplanade changes the whole dynamic and the public use of our waterfront. The Eastbank trail creates a focus on the river itself by providing the connecting link on the east side to Waterfront Park, using the Steel and Hawthorne bridges.
However, bicycle and pedestrian connections from Waterfront Park to the Burnside and Morrison bridges deserve serious consideration for improvement. Ideally, an artfully designed bridge Ñ just south of the Morrison Bridge Ñ dedicated to pedestrians and bicycles would truly connect the east and west sides in this City of Bridges.
Naito Parkway has great potential to be a better companion to Waterfront Park from both aesthetic and functional standpoints. As a part of the Waterfront Park planning process, the parkway should be examined. Through an integrated, interagency effort involving Portland Parks & Recreation and the Office of Transportation, the parkway should be viewed as a multipurpose facility, carrying commuter traffic (including bikes) as well as better accommodating weekend events such as runs, marathons and The Bridge Pedal.
Intersections of Naito Parkway should give priority to pedestrians, including two crosswalks at each street instead of one. The design of intersections should reflect the character and materials used in the park, thereby welcoming park users and reducing the real and perceived barriers of the street.
The streetscape would have greater pedestrian emphasis if a continuous walkway were constructed along the length of the western edge of Waterfront Park. With improvement of the parkway's pedestrian environment, restaurants, retail, office and even housing development would be more likely to fill empty parcels that currently weaken the urban fabric facing the park.
Waterfront Park should have better pedestrian circulation within the park as well. Paved connections directly to the riverfront from each pedestrian intersection at Naito Parkway could extend the sense of the city's grid into the park, creating stronger urban form and geometry.
I have listened to a debate about removing the sea wall and replacing it with more native riparian vegetation. The sea wall represents one of the largest infrastructure projects undertaken in the city. In fact, the space for Waterfront Park exists by virtue of the sea wall's construction. It provides the conditions necessary for moorage of large naval and cruise ships that help activate the downtown waterfront.
The sea wall is a much more massive structure than most people realize, given that approximately half of it is constructed on heavy timber gabions beneath the lowest observable water line. At this magnitude, the structure could not be demolished and removed without causing great harm to water quality and fisheries.
I agree with Mike Houck, the urban naturalist, that there are many other priorities for bank recovery in the city, such as the North Macadam District, Ross Island and more of the Eastbank Esplanade site. After the floods of 1996, we better understand and appreciate the hydraulic forces of the river; the risk of losing valuable real estate in Waterfront Park for bioengineering or a bank recovery project is not worth the benefit. However, it may be possible to remove small portions of the sea wall for improved connections to the river.
Carol Mayer-Reed, a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, is a landscape architect and partner in the firm of Mayer/Reed, the firm responsible for the design of the Eastbank Esplanade. She lives in Northeast Portland.