When I wrote last week about Randy Gragg’s interview with Brad Cloepfil, the one issue that seemed controversial, or that readers really seemed to disagree with Brad on, was his position on Jamison Square Park in the Pearl District. “It’s a theme park,” Brad said of Jamison “It’s an urban artifice. You could have done something so much more elegant.” He told Randy that the Peter Walker design tried too hard to program a particular type of setting: one of children, families and dogs frolicking near the fountain. Cloepfil lives in the Pearl District near Jamison, but he said he completely avoids the park.
However, an overwhelming majority of people whom I’ve talked to and commented here seem to like this Peter Walker-designed landscape a lot. “I like Cloepfil but he is wide off the mark on Jamison Square,” one commenter said. “Jamison Square is an extremely succesful urban space. In my mind it is incredible how well it functions.”
Although the central attraction is a wide swath of stone blocks from which water flows before gathering in a small pool below and then draining, Jamison also has the ambiance of outdoor diners from Fenouil restaurant overlooking the park. There are also the wonderful Kenny Scharff “Tiki totems” on the west side of the block, and a boardwalk on the east side. The boardwalk also continues north toward and through Tanner Springs Park. It’s a multifaceted experience.
At times in the past I, like Brad, have avoided spending much time there because it’s a little louder environment than I prefer. I like parks with lots of places to sit contemplatively under a canopy of trees. Even so, it may be short-changing Jamison to say that can’t happen here. The trees have started to fill in and grow up on the park, and although it’s a slow process of course, I was really struck visiting Jamison last night at how there really is a marked transformation happening in this respect. Trees really make all the difference in any park.
What’s more, I think Jamison Square has to be considered as a companion to Tanner Springs. The latter is a much quieter space, and thus the two parks seem to work well together. If one heads to Jamison on a sunny afternoon and it’s resembling Romper Room with lots of water-born kid fun, one can go to Tanner and read that dog-eared copy of Proust or meditate over the finer points of, say, Mounds versus Almond Joy or Amanda Fritz against Jim Middaugh.
One thing that City of Portland chief urban design strategist Arun Jain (my guest at tonight's "Designs on Portland" discussion series) told me lately seems relevant to a Jamison debate as well: there's a big difference between people's feelings and emotions about design versus empirical evidence and fact. I think in the past I've been guilty of dismissing Jamison because it's not necessarily the kind of place I would ordinarily spend a lot of time. But I'm hugely sun-phobic (my Nordic skin burns in mere moments) and don't hang out in direct-light open spaces that much anyway, which makes my own ability to evaluate the design objectively somewhat skewed.
As we’ll soon reach the ten-year anniversary of Jamison following its 2000 opening, how do the rest of you use and/or evaluate the square? What do you like and dislike about it? And is one of the other commenters to my Cloepfil post that started this discussion right in saying that Jamison is not only successful, but overtaking Pioneer Courthouse Square as Portland’s living room? In the latter case, I’d say not. But Jamison may indeed be the city’s family room. Although if that's the case, I don't know what that makes Waterfront Park: the city's great room? Its den? Its front lawn?