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Parks abound in Portland's newest neighborhood, the Pearl District

Vera Katz Park is the newest park in Portland's newest neighborhood, the Pearl District. The park is named for former mayor Vera Katz and is owned by the Gerding Theater/ Portland Center Stage.

Image: Vera Katz Park (Source: atul666 Flickr Photostream)

Vera Katz Park can be described as a "Sustainable Park" by Cranz and Boland's (2004) definition:
Sustainable Parks..have traits generally thought to increase the ecological performance of parks.
The park improves the ecological performance of the street; it has a bioswale and features drought-tolerant plants. The park performs as a green street, too.

Image: Tanner Springs Park
Another sustainable/ eco-park in the Pearl District is Tanner Springs Park, a public park managed by Portland Parks & Recreation. The park is named for Tanner Creek and its springs; also, the area around the park used to be Couch Lake. We learned about Tanner Springs Park from the April 2006 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (we learned about Vera Katz Park via LAM) and thought the park was an example of nature making. We have identified two forms of nature making: (1) citizen nature making (read our profiles here) and (2) ecological infrastructure. Tanner Springs Park fits into the latter category. Here's how the park works:
All rainwater that falls on the park, which encompasses 1.2 acres curb to curb, drains to a cleansing biotope and lower pond. The wetland plantings begin the process of natural cleansing. The biotope, primarily a combination of coarsely graded sand and plant media, functions like a wetland, filtering the water seeping down from the surface above and from the pond. The water flows through to an underground cistern. From there the water is pumped to a buried utility vault for ultraviolet exposure and onward to man-made springs near the top of the slope. The water then begins a downward journey via the park’s streams and helps to meet the park’s relatively minimal irrigation requirements. Rainwater will have to be occasionally topped off with city water to compensate for natural evaporation and water splash as well as Portland’s long dry summers; nevertheless, the requirement for city water will be substantially reduced. During heavy rain periods, an overflow system is tied to the city’s stormwater sewers.
Image: Tanner Springs Park

Not everyone is enamored of the park. Read Bill Thompson's critique of the park. *The previous link is broken (as of 4/1/2011) but Bill's labeling of the park as an act of "greenwash and related deceptions" can be read in Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors by J. William Thompson (Bill) and Kim Sorvig (2007).* Bill is the editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The park is also the subject of a thesis by Megan Shannon, graduate of Lewis and Clark College. Shannon, like Thompson, argues that
The water in Tanner Springs Park is not Tanner Springs. Completely separated from its original context, the park is an abstraction....The park becomes a simulation, a replica of something that is no longer real but becomes the reality of nature through its reproduction.
It is disconcerting to realize that the waterways in the park are disconnected from the creek and springs system for which the park is named. This "restoration" technique has been applied in other settings; in Temescal Creek in Oakland (we wrote about it here) and the Guadalupe River in San Jose. In both cases, there is an at-grade creek or river bed that overlies a flood control channel. In the case of Temescal Creek, the at-grade creek bed is replenished by water pumped from the flood control channel as well as by stormwater runoff.

Water plays a role in another Pearl District Park - Jamison Square. Jamison Square has a fountain and a "simulated shallow tidal pool" that is well-used by children. The park is a combination of active and passive recreation, separated by a low wall that on one side is the source of the fountain and on the other is the back of a long, sitting area. Jamison Square is also the first of four planned parks built in the Pearl District.

The North Park Blocks are also located in the Pearl District but are among Portland's original park lands. The blocks bear a connection to Tanner Creek. According to the Portland Parks & Recreation website, Tanner Creek and its poorly drained watershed hindered the original extension of the blocks to Front Street; no blocks were developed north of Glisan.

Image: The Fields (under development)

Of the four parks proposed for the Pearl District, two have been completed - Tanner Springs and Jamison Square. When we visited the neighborhood, the third park - The Fields Neighborhood Park - was still in its conceptual design phase. A check of the parks and recreation website shows that the schematic and design development phase were slated for completion in Summer 2008. The Fields is classified as a neighborhood park because of the dominance of open space in the design options. This is in contrast to the programmed design of Jamison Square and to a lesser extent, Tanner Springs.

Image: Tanner Springs Park

The fourth proposed park is the Riverfront Park; the neighborhood is bounded on its eastern edge by the Willamette River. This park is part of the larger River Plan, an update of the 1987 Willamette Gateway Plan, itself Goal 15 of Oregon's 19 Statewide Planning Goals (1973). The goal is
To protect, conserve, enhance and maintain the natural, scenic, historical, agricultural, economic and recreational qualities of lands along the Willamette River as the Willamette River Greenway.
Despite the expansive language, the spatial extent is limited to land within a quarter-mile of the river. Interestingly, in the 1920s, Clarence Perry defined the neighborhood unit of planning as an area of a quarter-mile radius with a park at the center.


natural ponds said…
Greenwash is an appropriate adjective for Tanner Springs park when one considers it's need for supplemental water during summer that is removed from important wild salmon habitat and driven by electricity that compromises the same salmon.

The irony here is this park could achieve it's stated goals without supplemental water and it's power consumption could have been "dimmed" to that of a light bulb had the project been designed by an actual Aquatic Ecologist with sufficient design experience.

Too many of these public projects focus on the hype while missing the point.
Georgia said…
natural ponds, thank you for reading from our archives and special appreciation for commenting on the essay. You seem to have particular knowledge of Tanner Springs. Would you like to contribute a post about the park?