PLACE Landscape architect Mauricio Villareal stood in front of a room packed with more than 75 neighbors, pointing to slides showing two possible designs for the proposed Gateway Park and Urban Plaza.
His talk was part of the community open house Feb. 17 at Sacramento Elementary, held to receive feedback from the public about which designs they liked best and what events and activities they want in the 3.6-acre park that Portland Parks & Recreation is building on Northeast 106th Avenue and Halsey Street.
“The park wants to reflect the identity of all the different members of the community and welcome everyone, different ages, different ethnicities, different genders,” Villareal said. In addition, the park will be a catalyst for economic development to the Halsey and Gateway neighborhoods, he said.
After every few sentences of his presentation, Villareal paused as a young man translated his words into Somali for the dozens of neighbors from that ethnic community who sat interspersed throughout the crowd.
George Lozovoy, project manager for the park, told the audience that the original concept design for the park was created in 2010 during the Master Plan process.
“We had a starting point where we could then move forward once we got the budget,” Lozovoy said. “This park has got a really good budget. We’ve got $5.2 million for construction of this project.” The overall budget is $8.2 million. The Portland Development Commission, which owns one acre of the site, is chipping in $1 million of that total to build a commercial center that will hug the edge of the park. The design period began this January and ends December 2015. Construction will run from January 2016 until March 2017, followed by a dedication ceremony.
Villareal explained that the earlier Master Plan identified four key elements that are included in the current plan: a plaza, a grassy lawn area, a play area and a picnic area. The landscape designers decided to use the image of a raindrop, so typical of Portland, to create new forms and new shapes for those four sections of the park.
“So we think about that drop of rain and the ripple that it creates, similar to the drop of a person or a family coming to a new city and interacting with each other, just as the raindrops come and interact with each other,” Villareal said.
Using his raindrop image, Villareal showed a slide of Concept 1, which he described as more “circular.” The plaza area would be “for people to come and be together, and it’s a flexible space so you can be by yourself or you can be with a large group of people,” he said.
Within that plaza, food fairs could be held with booths and a spray fountain set up for children to play in. That design might include a structure with overhead lights that would give protection from rain or sun. The open plaza space would be close to the sidewalk and street. On weekdays, cars could park on the street; food carts could possibly replace the cars on weekends to bring more activity to the park.
The grassy lawn space would also be flexible, allowing for picnics, Frisbee throwing and sports, but offering the option of adding a stage for music, films or theatrical performances in the evenings.
The picnic area could be divided into different zones, with picnic tables throughout the park, so people are not forced to eat in only one corner. “Some areas are more concentrated, so perhaps you could have a big family event and the whole family could come together and use that area,” Villareal said, adding that the tables could be used for games, such as cards or backgammon.
The play area, composed of synthetic turf, would include a mixture of nature play and all-inclusive play, which includes all-accessible equipment for children with disabilities. “One can imagine many different zones, perhaps,” he said, including a slide, a merry-go-round and an area “where there are simply sticks and chips.”
He said there would also be a skateboard area, and he asked the crowd to think of ways they would like it to be designed.
When Villareal presented Concept 2, he noted that it contained the same four key sections of the park, but the design was based on the idea of DNA and cells “because we believe we’re all very similar at every level. We welcome the similarities and the differences that make us special and are what will make the park special.”
The second concept’s plaza area would be similar to the first design. He pointed to the one acre that PDC is developing as a commercial site or possibly an apartment building. He said the area might contain a café and shops with lights above them in the evening and storm water management at the edge.
Although the square footage of the lawn area would remain the same in both designs, the shape of each would differ. Concept 1 would be more circular, while Concept 2 would be “a more organic shape,” he said. “By pushing and pulling, you create different experiences around the shape.” That design was also more irregular, the way cells are.
Designers moved the grove of evergreen trees that line the street in the first concept over to the picnic table area in Concept 2, “so you have this sensation of the trees and the forest,” he said.
The play area is also different. “The architecture is a little bit more wiggly than the perfect circles from before,” he said.
Many safety features are built into the design, including no level changes of more than five feet throughout the park “so you have the sensation of being able to see around.” The play area has a safety surface of synthetic turf.
After his talk, the architect asked neighbors to visit several areas set up around the room to look at design images and write down their opinions about the park. In addition, they were asked to fill out questionnaires about what activities they would use at the park and which of the two designs they would prefer.
At one table, an artist was showing people how to fold origami paper butterflies, each printed in six different languages. He asked them to write down on a piece of paper what they would like to see in the park.
When one woman in the audience asked, through the translator, if the park would contain a volleyball or tennis court, Villareal responded that though there are no fixed sports areas, “one can imagine putting up a net and playing a casual game of volleyball.”
PP&R’s Public Involvement Coordinator Hun Taing introduced Alicia Hammock, the staff person in charge of planning public events for the plaza area of the park. “If you want to talk about what kind of programs and events you’d like to see in the plaza, if you have ideas, speak to me please,” Hammock said.
Another audience member, David Stokomer, asked, “Is there any, on either one of the plans, a plan for any kind of off-leash dog area or some kind of dedicated dog area?”
Lozovoy replied, “Dogs are welcome in the park on a leash, but there is no formal off-leash area. They went through that process during the master planning back in ‘10. We made a conscious decision not to do that.”
Stokomer pointed out that “there are a lot of dog owners. It’s good for commerce. That’s a done deal? Too late?”
“Pretty much,” Lozovoy replied.
After the meeting, Stokomer told the Memo that he, his wife, his baby and his dog had recently moved from North Portland near to Northeast 107th Avenue and Hassalo Street.
“I have a small business in North Portland that does a lot of pedestrian business, and we do a lot of business with people walking their dogs because anyone walking their dog is guaranteed to walk by your place four times a day.” Because he lives three blocks from the park, he sees “tons of dogs every day. I see dogs passing by my house every day. Portland is a big dog town. To me, an off-leash dog area is a big community builder. You have a huge amount of people that are there and also populating the park at nighttime and at all different hours, from very early in the morning to very late at night.”
He is also concerned that because east Portland has so few parks, many dog owners will unleash their pets on residential streets where children are playing or in the large lawn area of the proposed Gateway Park.
“Every person who lets their dog off-leash thinks that their dog is the best dog in the world that would never run over your kid or never run across your picnic blanket,” he said. Not having even an unleashed dog area in the park “seems to me like a missed opportunity,” he said. “I feel like even a small off-leash dog area would do a lot to serve the goals of the Gateway Master Plan.”
Bob Earnest, a member of the Park Advisory Committee, a group of volunteers who have been meeting with the architect and PP&R staff to consider the possible designs, told the Memo that he’s “hoping we can come to some sort of design where we’re incorporating both of those. Each one of them has some good elements.” Although he personally prefers Concept 2, which he said was more “free form,” like an amoeba with an uneven edge, he still liked Concept 1’s creation of a grove of evergreens along Northeast 106th Avenue. “If you had to pick one or the other, either one would be more than acceptable,” Earnest said. “But I think they could combine some pieces from each and come up with another option.”
He said he would like the park to be inviting to all cultural groups in the community, including Hispanic, Russian, Vietnamese, Somali and many other groups. “We don’t have any place like that currently,” he said. “And make it a place for people to go to and stick around for a while.”
Earnest, who was on PDC’s citizen advisory committee for the Gateway Regional Center Urban Renewal Area, said the Master Plan was part of 1994’s Opportunity Gateway plan. Part of that plan was to kickstart the area’s commercial development with one acre of commercial space fronting Halsey Street. PDC is currently researching developers for the site. Earnest suggested it would be nice if it’s a mixed-use building, with commercial spaces on the ground level and a multi-use office building and perhaps housing above. “Hopefully, we’ll get something that would generate tax dollars to be able to contribute back into the system, not a tax-exempt situation,” he said. However, decades have passed before ideas for the park were fleshed out and the property acquired.
“It’s been a long process,” Earnest said. “But we hung in there. We persevered. It’s exciting to see it’s really going to happen.” He added, “It’s going to be a real asset to our neighborhood and an asset to the community as a whole.”
For more information about Gateway Park and Urban Plaza, visit www.portlandoregon.gov/parks, then click “Projects,” then click “Gateway Park and Urban Plaza.”
Gateway Park and Urban Plaza public meetings:
PACS meeting: Review/comment on final schematic design
Tuesday, March 17, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
East Portland Community Center, 740 S.E. 106th Ave.
Community Forum: Present final schematic design to public
Tuesday, March 24, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, 10301 N.E. Glisan St.
Beech Park public meetings:
PACS meeting: Review/comment on final schematic design
Thursday, March 19, 3:30–5:30 pm
Shaver Elementary, 3701 N.E. 131st Pl.
Community Forum: Present final schematic design to the public
Tuesday, March 31, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
Shaver Elementary, 3701 N.E. 134th Pl.
PACS Meeting: Debrief
Thursday, April 9, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
Shaver Elementary, 3701 N.E. 131st Pl.