For the past five years, chain-link fencing has sealed off O’Bryant Square, a small downtown block that used urban renewal money in 1973 to develop a park atop an underground parking garage.
In a small way, it was the kind of project that gave urban renewal a bad name. The public restrooms attracted graffiti, drug use and sexual activity. The big decorative water fountain seeped water into the parking garage. It acquired nicknames of Needle Park and Paranoia Park.
Oddly, its best use occurred earlier this decade when it provided imnpromptu seating for food carts located on a nearby vacant block. The square provided the sort of pleasant activity that urban renewal planners never considered, since food carts didn't exist in their day. But now the food carts are gone and that block is sprouting a luxury tower. Given all the park's problems, the city simply fenced it off. in 2018.
Now the chain-link fencing is scheduled to come down so the small block can be completely levelled. The non-profit Portland Parks Foundation has announced plans for a public “visioning” process to determine how the park should be redeveloped.
What the park will look like, what it will be used for, when it will be rebuilt and for how it will cost are questions that have no answers as yet.
The planning will begin with some bottom-up thinking, rather than from the top down. Randy Gragg, the park foundations executive director, said the goal is “to bring national and local thinkers together with the community to re-envision the park’s future.”
After meetings in February and March, the foundation hopes to envision a first-phase design and to “learn what activities work, and don’t, to shape the future permanent design” when funding becomes available.
The planning process is similar to one used by the Parks Bureau in the early 2000s when it devised plans for Director Park. Though the park’s activity has been stymied by the pandemic in recent years, its fundamental design was a success.