Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jewels of Portland

At the southwest corner of downtown Portland's O'Bryant Square, there's a small building with brightly-painted mural panels on its sides. One panel says the panels are called Jewels of Portland and were created by Amy and Ilona Stoner, in cooperation with the city parks bureau. It has images of various local landmarks, and namechecks even more of them, I suppose for tourists visiting the world-famous food cart pod across the street.

This went in around 2008 when they renovated the square a bit, mostly to remove some 70s-era open-sided shelters that attracted homeless people, something that city hall finds intolerable. The brick structure the murals are on houses ventilation and electrical systems for the park's underground parking garage, and until the renovation its sides were just black louvered vents, if I recall correctly. So the mural panels seem like a decent upgrade from that, even if they are just painted sheets of plywood. I assume the garage still has adequate ventilation after boarding up these vents. Hopefully that was a design consideration. In any case, the murals feel like an inexpensive temporary patch on the place, until the city has another go at redoing the park.

The city has big but currently unfunded plans to essentially nuke and pave O'Bryant Square (or unpave, as the case may be) as part of the circa-2005 "Three Downtown Parks" plan, the other two being the all-new Director Park (the only funded one of the three), and tiny Ankeny Park, on Burnside at SW Park Avenue.

A recent Portland Tribune article wrings its hands about the unfunded rehab project, but also pushes the old "needle park" meme about the square, which is a bad rap I've never really understood. I'd agree that the current park design isn't fabulous, and I'm not necessarily opposed to remodeling. I wish they'd keep the park's Fountain for a Rose in any future design, and hopefully take some design cues from the park's current groovy 1970s look, because I'd hate to see any net loss of municipal grooviness. The current murals won't stick around though. There probably won't be a parking garage in any redesign, in which case there won't be a ventilation building, and thus no place for the plywood panels to go. Sic transit gloria mundi, or whatever.

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