BY BRIAN LIBBY
Ryan Frank reports in Friday's Oregonian on an initiative led by city council member Nick Fish to bring more public greenspace and parks to portions of the city east of Interstate 205 currently underserved. The intent is to do so by leveraging public-private partnerships like the city has done in the central urban core.
This spring, Fish will propose $1 million in seed money be provided for a campaign called E205. "Fish hopes to pair that money with donations from the wealthy West Hills crowd," Frank explains. "Parks planners are still looking at where they would target the spending. But they will most likely focus the projects on land already owned by government agencies, such as schools, or vacant parcels owned by the Bureau of Parks & Recreation. The projects are supposed to be an interim step until the Parks Bureau can get voters to approve a large bond measure, possibly as soon as 2012."
The model here is Director Park, for which two affluent Portland families — the Schnitzers and the Moyers — contributed a total of $9.1 million, which was then paired with $6.4 million in city funds to "tear up a parking lot and replace it with honey-colored granite pavers," as Frank puts it. But it's important to also remember that Director Park was also underwritten by the fact that the garage from the adjacent Moyer-developed Fox Tower could be expanded underneath it. A continuous revenue stream from parking receipts may have helped prompt that philanthropy, admirable as it is.
Even so, it's also a mistake to be cynical about such public-private partnerships. This will likely be a major theme in the upcoming Rose Quarter makeover, for example: how the city can leverage its land surrounding and including Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden with high density private development without sacrificing too much in the way of design quality, public benefits and the right cultural fit.
Parklane Park, Portland (photo by LukeRedmond1 via Flickr)
Although it may be naive to assume that individual donors will provide enough private funds, perhaps there is indeed a way to expand that to include corporate fundraising or even trading a small fraction of property for private development rights. It's not always an easy situation to handle. The phrase public-private partnership sounds so nicely cooperative and efficient, yet these endeavors must negotiate a lot of ambiguous decisions about just how to jumpstart and fund the process without something important being lost along the way.
It's all worth figuring out, of course, and doable, if for no other reason than that city dwellers should always be able to feel their feet on grass. The larger and more ultimately relevant conversation here, beyond issues of funding or property or government, is one of breaking down the barriers between urban and natural spaces. It's something architecture can help with, but retaining space and reverence for unpaved, flora and fauna-friendly landscape.