|Yellow ribbons indicate some of the trees that would be removed in the new plan. Black line on right shows location of bicycle lanes. (William J. Hawkins III photo)|
The proposal from the Portland Bureau of Parks is expected to draw substantial criticism, including from a heavyweight group of “concerned citizens” that counts among their number former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg and many others with political and reputable connections to Portland history.
A detailed study by these citizens suggest that the plan would eliminate 86 of the park’s current 325 trees, a 26 percent reduction. Many would be sacrificed to make way for the “Green Loop” two-way bicycle lanes along 10 of the 12 blocks. From its earliest planting of deciduous trees in 1877, the park has never been considered as a thoroughfare for any kind of vehicles.
The bicycle lanes would reduce the width of 10 of the 12 park blocks by about 15 feet, for a total park loss of 17,400 square feet. The plan’s map, shown below, makes it difficult to reconcile with the following statement in the plan: “While this master plan does not advocate removing any mature healthy trees, it is understood that all trees have a life span and that over time existing trees will need to be replaced when they become hazardous or simply reach the end of their lives…”
|Green Loop shown in Master Plan|
Ironically, the Parks Bureau contends that the bike lanes fall within the right-of-way of S.W Park Avenue West, and thus do not impinge on the park’s dimensions. However, the current blocks measure 124 feet wide; if the Parks Bureau is correct about the right-of-way, then big trees and grass have lived there for many, many decades.
“There is a striking difference between what the Master Plan says narratively and what it entails,” according to the citizen’s report. “The plan works to convince the reader that trees will not be removed but in fact the plan will hasten their demise in multiple ways.” The plan's long-range vision would remove most of the central aisle of trees on several blocks.
|Drawing by William J. Hawkins III shows bike lanes in red; blue dotted line is how the Parks Bureau interprets the park's boundaries. Black line shows current boundaries.|
The Master Plan does not specify a new planting plan, but urges the addition of at least some conifers that would infringe on winter-time sunlight in the park.
The blocks were planted in 1877 with five axial rows of deciduous trees, mostly elms. The plantings created a “cathedral” of trees over grass and pathways for pedestrians. The plan created view corridors between the rows; offered a canopy of shade in the summer and more daylight during winter. The simplicity of its design and the flexibility of activities the design allows have been long-cherished.
Another sticking point is a proposal to add an architectural canopy over a block that sits within the Portland State University campus. The canopy would require removal of many trees. PSU originally welcomed the Park Blocks as welcome green space for its dense urban campus, but now the university seems intent on using the blocks for its own purposes.
“Whose park is it?” asks Wendy Rahm, land-use chair for the Downtown Neighborhood Association. “Is it the peoples’ park or is it PSU’s?” She said one good improvement in the Master Plan is a triangular part of one block near the Native American Student & Community Center that would be planted with native plants selected by indigenous people.
1) The park should retain its historic block widths of 124 feet and the deciduous tree scheme for the environmental and social benefits the park has represented for many decades.
2) It ain't broke, so don't try to fix it. There is no need to spend $20 million or $40 million to ruin a park that is beloved as it is.
3) The park was never intended to be a thoroughfare for vehicles of any kind.
4) Larger and noisier active uses are antithetical to the residential neighborhood that the city has encouraged along the park for at least 70 years.
5) Portland State University must restate its willingness to maintain the six blocks adjacent to its campus as green space intended for the use of all citizens, rather than being dominated by the university.
6) No “plan” for the park is acceptable without a detailed description and locations of new or additional trees to be planted.
7) Planting conifers would add unnecessary shade in the winter and interfere with the historic north-south view corridors.
8) The plan should be suspended until a result is determined from a pending application to the National Register of Historic Places.
"Real" letters can be addressed to council members at 1221 SW 4th Avenue, Portland, OR 97204
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