Portland Parks and Recreation was blistered a year ago over major structures and recreational facilities contemplated for the new entry to Forest Park along U.S. 30.
The more grandiose features, such as an aerial tram, a restaurant, zip line and multistory interpretive center, were “not well received by anybody,” admitted Steve Dangermond, an architect hired by PP&R to present infrastructure possibilities and assess public reaction to them.
“It’s about the park, stupid,” was the lesson Dangermond took from the exercise.
Instead of attractions that some likened to Disneyland, most park advocates and neighbors just wanted to hike trails and experience untrammeled nature while preserving the park for future generations.
Similar objections surfaced again over a master plan to guide development of Washington Park. A high-grade booklet contains photos of an elevated walkway under the tree canopy, a glass botanical pavilion, a café and a visitor center.
“Riverview, the Forest Park Visitor Center, Washington Park—it’s all the same playbook,” said Catherine Thompson, a park preservationist. “I think the common theme is the parks department, with a built environment bias, comes up with an internal plan and then makes a big show of doing neighborhood outreach as window dressing.”
Christie Galen was the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association representative on the 15-member Champion Committee that advised PP&R on the master plan.
“The parks department had an agenda, and it was geared to their vision of development rather than a holistic view of the park,” Galen told the NW Examiner.
She also believed park maintenance, wildlife preservation and fire protection were slighted in the process. When she brought up these concerns, she said they were “quickly rejected” or she was promised they would be addressd later.
Galen said parks officials advocated for making Washington Park a “world class” attraction, though that was never her goal.
Galen said the opinion survey used to justify master plan recommendations was “very biased” and not useful.
Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association Treasurer Hilary Mackenzie sees new construction and revenue generation as the thrust of the plan, coming at the expense of the park’s nature-oriented original vision, created by the Olmsted Brothers in 1903.
“Parks never asked anyone if we wanted to monetize the park,” Mackenzie said.
Another Arlington Heights resident, Phyllis Reynolds, author of “Trees of Greater Portland,” fears the added traffic and food carts would congest her end of the neighborhood west of the Hoyt Arboretum.
“It will be like living next to Disneyland,” she said, “and it will certainly damage arboretum trees along the street.”
Gretchen Hollands of the Sylvan-Highlands Neighborhood Association also served on the Champion Committee. She said she posed the following questions but felt they were not addressed:
1. The parking garage plans do not add any additional parking spaces to the park. What justifies reshuffling the existing spaces into expensive, permanent garages when both the Explore! and parks department surveys show an increase in ride-share and transit users over the past three years?
2. The majority of respondents to the surveys self-identified as white homeowners. How does building parking garages for white, home-owning constituents mesh with the city’s goals on equity and diversity?
3. The vast majority of respondents to the 2016 parks survey were repeat trail users. What will be done to protect experiences with nature in the park?
4. In the survey, almost every question about the current park experience was answered “mostly OK” or “needs some improvement.” Respondents seemed pretty happy with the park as it is. The on-line “options” and “added features” are a sharp departure from the status quo.
Joe Angel, who lives next to the tennis courts in Washington Park, served on the Champion Committee, though not as a representative of any organization.
Unlike our other sources, he likes the draft master plan.
“They actually listened to the community,” Angel said of PP&R, and the plan is a “wonderful guide for the next 20 to 50 years.”
He considers the draft a “delicate balance” of competing uses and interests.
He considers proposed features such as a canopy walk, food carts and botanical pavilion appropriate for sections of the park and doable without compromising natural areas.
He visited a canopy walk in Australia, for instance, and found it a delightful experience for children and adults.
“When you get into the canopy of the trees, you get a perspective that’s not attainable any other way,” Angel said.
On Nov. 27, the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association sent a 1,200-word letter to the city on the Washington Park Master Plan. It recommended different approaches in four areas:
environmental protection, parking/transportation, natural character of the park,” the letter read. n