1 Jamison Square walk

Why City Planners Love Portland

Portland, Oregon is a poster child for urban geeks everywhere–and for good reason. It’s an urban design success story. (There aren’t a whole lot of American examples of that.) Dennis Pieprz, a design principal at Sasaki Associates, recently began work on a project there, and visited after a twenty year absence. “Portland has always been ahead of the country,” he says. “Think of the urban growth boundary, recycling programs, bike paths, investments in transit, the fine grained urban blocks.” Here he takes a close look at Portland’s Pearl District, a relatively new area rapidly transforming into a great urban neighborhood. –Martin C. Pedersen


2 Jamison Transt


“This is near Jamison Square, a remarkable public space (designed by Peter Walker Associates) in the Pearl District,” Pieprz says. “It’s tough to imagine a more beautiful and humane sidewalk than this one. The dappled light and shade of the trees, the wooden boardwalk (that connects five city blocks), the compacted gravel (like you see in Paris), places to sit. All of this encourages people to linger, to be drawn into the square and spend time there.”


5 Jamison Suare fountain


“Jamison Square does a brilliant job of drawing pedestrians into its setting,” he says. “At the center, a series of large stone blocks integrate a fountain and provides an edge to a multi-purpose event space. There are a multitude of places to sit, play and engage. Humane and powerful design.”


8 SE Division Street 2


“In Portland, like many great cities, the primary component of the public realm is the street,” he says. “Today there’s a movement focussing on ‘complete streets,’ with an emphasis on pedestrian life, cycling lanes, storm water management, planting, lighting, parking, and calmed traffic. Little is said about buildings and how they shape the street experience. Portland has some wonderful examples that show a contemporary way forward.”


15 Urban Food


“Food trucks and stalls are all over the city. In the downtown, I noticed a very smart idea: food trucks and stalls are positioned to screen the edges of parking lots. So, what would ordinarily be dead space, is now a lively place with a diverse array of food offerings.“


Tanner Springs Park 2 (1)



“Two blocks from Jamison Square, and connected by the urban boardwalk, is Tanner Springs Park (designed by Ramboli Studio Driseitl and GreenWorksPC). Referencing a buried stream, the park is a lesson in water management and ecology. Old railroad tracks are used to create a twisting screen wall. At the Western edge is a more traditional lawn with benches and tree. While the public realm here is inventive, the surrounding buildings are not. But they’re not harmful either. The richness of the public realm easily overrides the less interesting architecture.”


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