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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Assault on the South Park Blocks

  

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 Portland City Council will be asked on July 7 to degrade the boundaries and historic landscape of the South Park Blocks, a strip of 12 narrow blocks that represent one of the city’s oldest and most beloved parks. 

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. 

 Members of the concerned citizens who oppose the plan include former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg; David Judd, a former deputy director of the Parks Bureau; Stephen Kafoury, a former state representative, state senator and Portland School Board member; William J. Hawkins III, architect and park historian; Kit Hawkins; Rahm, and Walter Weyler, Downtown Neighborhood Association president.

 Citizens who wish to save the South Park Blocks are encouraged to write to the Portland mayor and city commissioners.  Their email address and street addresses are below.  Citizens should submit their own reasons for opposing the Master Plan. 

 People writing should select their own reasons for opposing the plan.  OFFICALS UNDERSTANDABLY DISCOUNT BOILERPLATE LETTERS.  Writers could include one or more of the following reasons, or create their own:

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. 

Email addresses:

Mayorwheeler@portlandoregon.gov.

CommissionerRyanOffice@portlandoregon.gov

 Joann@portlandoregon.gov

 Mappsoffice@portlandoregon.gov

Comm.Rubio@portlandoregon.gov

"Real" letters can be addressed to  council members at 1221 SW 4th Avenue, Portland, OR  97204

---Fred Leeson

If you would like to be added to Building on History's email list, write "Add me" to fredleeson@hotmail.com

27 comments:

  1. Thank you for this clear summary of the issues involved. I have lived on the east side of the South Park blocks for a decade now, and part of the reason I moved into this apartment was the view of the park from my seventh floor windows. I grew up playing in another Olmsted park, in New York, called Central Park. That too was planned as an oasis of green in a residential part of the city.

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  2. Even talking about removing a number of these glorious trees is another example of Oregon's & Portland's disastrous, anti-people decision making.

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  4. Thank you for providing clear action steps for concerned citizens who love trees to take. We have such pressing needs in our parks in Portland. It seems that we can take the $46 million that they are talking about spending in the South Park Blocks and use it to plant a million trees (or more!) around the Portland Metro area. We need to get busy with that project, ASAP. Here's a petition one can sign to that effect.

    https://www.change.org/plant-more-trees-in-portland-parks-now

    Albert Kaufman
    We Keep Trees Standing (Facebook Group)

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  5. As a graduate of PSU, class of 1970,I protest this crazy plan to take out 86 of our beautiful trees. I for one will show up and camp one of the trees and encourage others to do the same so that they cannot be destroyed. Whoever thought of this plan should be committed to a mental institution! I'm a bicyclist but I hate this idea.

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  6. Thanks, albert, put my name on your list of people opposing the tree removal for a dumb reason.

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  8. [correcting typo...] Enough with the bikey foolishness! We have put enough bikey features in place to last us the next 40 years. Now let's bring our city back to life for the growing numbers of Portlanders who would NEVER go downtown any more, much less on a bike. Lay off half the "planners" and "transportation" bureaucrats and hire some energetic, non-racist cops.

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    1. Absolutely right, Jack, please keep me posted so I'll know when to show up in the Park Blocks to chain myself to one of the trees in order to save it from stupidity.

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    2. You'll look silly because no trees are planned on being removed.

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  9. Total fluff. As a commuter and recreational cyclist I feel Portland is overdoing it on bike friendly bells and whistles while not keeping up on basic road maintenance in many places. Sidewalks in East County anyone?!?

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  10. Thank you Fred for an excellent piece of writing on this very misguided master plan that ignores basic Biophilia Theory and ignores most of Portland’s troubled history of managing the beloved South Park Blocks. In a December 11, 1952 article in the Oregonian about the cutting of Elms in the South Park Blocks, then Parks Director James Buckley said “removal of the elms was the first step in a long-range city plan to modernize and relandscape the park blocks”. In reply, architect John Yeon wrote to the city “the reasons stated in the press for this remodeling program do not seem to justify cost, the damage, or the ultimate appearance of this project. The reasons are those which might more logically be expected from a bureau in charge of widening streets than from the bureau in custody of the city’s parks” One of the reasons as stated in the Oregonian article was that a branch fell on someone. Amazingly, that is the same argument used in a 2012 Oregonian article: Portland's South Park Blocks will be less dramatic as an urban forest grows -Updated Jan 10, 2019; Posted Jul 09, 2012:
    https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2012/07/south_park_blocks_urban_forest.html

    In this piece Portland’s Urban Forester was quoted “At some point that tree you love is going to start to decline," city forester Jenn Cairo said. "Trees are like humans. They eat. They breathe. They also die." Well, with proper care and feeding, people and trees live longer. The entire South Park Blocks Master Plan is a cover to cut maintenance costs of the tree canopy. The City began the process to eliminate the tree canopy over ten years ago with cuts to the tree maintenance budget, especially the elm trees.
    Finally, the Master Plan calls for an “activation” of this contemplative linear park and why - because of the city’s proclaimed need to bring the park into the “Next Generation” of Parks. In practice, most new parks take on this current trope but it is not a program objective for extant historic parks and Portland Parks has publicly stated that when it comes to master plans, except for Washington Park, they have little to no experience addressing historic parks. In the end, when Portland Parks states that “we support historic preservation, until it interferes with our plans” Like trees and people master plans die and so should this one.

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    1. Thanks Henry and Fred. Well put. It seems that the planning team is shifting their story and playing with semantics to hide the content of the plan's diagrams. And that is a sad state.

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  11. Where did the information about losing 86 trees come from? Can someone show a source?

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    1. The count I used came from William J. Hawkins III. If you distrust his math, look at the detailed images of the blocks in the master plan. The trees to disappear are the yellow rings.

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  12. I live downtown and I'm upset about tree clearing on Waterfront Park for the same reason: a 2-way bicycle path on Naito Pkwy. Awhile back, McCall Waterfront Park went through a (supposedly) public process redesign. One suggestion was to widen the Seawall about 5' into the lawn, and clearly mark a 2-way bike lane on that side, pedestrians on the seawall side. The lamplights would 'split' the wider bikeway lanes to accommodate quad cycles. Benches, bike racks and trash barrels would relocate a bit further into the lawn. With or without this 'sidewalk widening' bicyclists will continue to speed along the seawall. The Wheeler led City Hall does not care.

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  13. William J. Hawkins III made the number up. This entire issue is manufactured by people who don't like bicycles.

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  14. This blog post is 100% false, written by your typical old duff who values cars more than people. The claim about losing trees is patently false - no trees are being removed for this. On street car storage will be removed, not trees. The plan increases green space.

    Author of this blog is shamelessly misleading others.

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    1. Really, are you age-biased? "written by your typical old duff" So tell me are you a typical next generation me me me? Once the generalized ad homonyms kick-in the mind closes. The Logic and Rationale of the Enlightenment does not quell the visceral angsts you have. READ the Master Plan it's all in the footnotes, subtext and sub rosa for all to see. 25% fewer trees, 86 trees that interfere in the park's planned activation areas & developments so they are gone. These are the facts, not opinions.

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    2. Here's the real story on the green loop. Not the misinformation found here.

      https://bikeportland.org/2021/06/14/critics-of-south-park-blocks-plan-say-green-loop-will-lead-to-mass-tree-deaths-333735

      And yeah, we're over you boomers plundering everything your parents fought for, then leaving a mess and scraps for the future and telling us to deal with it.

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  15. https://www.facebook.com/notes/stop-demolishing-portland/south-park-block-master-plan-myths-facts/499691537909069/

    https://www.change.org/p/portland-city-council-bicyclists-for-saving-the-trees-at-south-park-blocks-portland-or

    https://buildingonhistory.blogspot.com/2021/06/rape-of-south-park-blocks.html

    3 articles - including this one, that make sense to share around. Please sign the petition. Thanks.

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  16. I just can't see where the tree removal numbers in this article are coming from. Folks need to cite their sources or retract them. Looking at the actual report and appendices, here's what I found:

    P. 47: “this master plan does not advocate removing any mature healthy trees”

    P. 109, regarding the Green Loop path: “No tree removal is proposed.”

    Appendix 1, p. 74-86 show a spreadsheet with ~29 trees recommended for removal, with several of those on adjacent streets off the park itself. I counted ~68 trees as “optional”, again with several on adjacent streets. “Optional” is defined on p. 47 as “those that could stay but are not necessarily long-term amenities.” Each recommendation is explained in the comments of the spreadsheet, e.g., "Codominant leaders, hollow with trunk decay 0.5‐6' SW face, surface roots and root damage"

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  17. You have not paid attention to the plan's tree spacing and succession charts for the Cultural District. I will show them in my next post.

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  18. Another hair brained scheme by our city council to spend taxpayer money to feather the nests of their political (read financial) supporters (Hey, SOMEONE is going to make a lot of money off this right?)... all the while covering it with a smoke screen of high-minded progressive sounding rhetoric. Anyone opposing this plan will be branded as pro-internal combustion engine, as well as anti-bicycle, and even RACIST (Are not American elms a part of our shameful colonial legacy?). I love too the way they sprinkle the words "inclusiveness" and "diversity" throughout the report, as if it were salt and pepper that would somehow disguise the flaws and errors in the proposal.

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  19. When did Portland Commissioners become so downright evil. Portland’s Parks are vanishing. While the he earth warms Portland becomes LESS GREEN! STUPID STUPID STUPID!!!!

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  20. Will Forest Park be the city's next "equitable improvement"???

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    1. That was the PPR Forest Park failed amusement park/mountain bike sport park effort that (incidentally) got the former PPR director’s required resignation.

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