Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Portland: A City of Parks and Public Spaces

Though I did a lot of reading and research about Portland prior to our trip, the vast number and variety of public parks and green spaces was not obvious to me until we started to explore the city in person. Especially downtown, it seemed as if we came across another park or public space every few blocks! In that way, Portland was very welcoming to a weary tourist – we were always within stumbling distance of a beautiful rest stop.

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Pioneer Courthouse Square is described as “Portland’s living room”. For a city of their size (metro 2.2 million), it actually was quite small, about half the size of Edmonton’s Churchill Square. But it is constructed in a similar way, amphitheatre-style stairs, a water feature, an on-site cafe, and a tourist information centre (whereas we have a ticket office/souvenir shop). We loved the story of how the Square came to be: citizens, adamant that the design of the square remain open and publically accessible, rallied and contributed to the space, one brick at a time. Ironically, we were told that the park is actually closed for ticketed functions for much of the summer months (as it was when we were visiting).

Portland September 2012

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Still, the history of the Square speaks to the progressive nature of Portland as a whole, and their appetite to preserve and protect public spaces.

The block or so around the Pioneer Courthouse itself also features decorative fountains, and several different bronze wildlife statues. Mack decided to befriend one of them.

Portland September 2012

Being one with the otter

Keller Fountain Park

Keller Fountain Park, also downtown, was not far from Portland State University (the site of their huge Saturday Farmers’ Market). Less a park than a massive water feature, it still provided a picturesque escape in the middle of the city – there’s something about the sound of flowing water that is naturally soothing.

Portland September 2012

Keller Fountain Park

I will say that parts of the fountain itself had the unfortunate odour of urine, but when we made our way to the sweet spot of the fountain where a platform enables you to stand behind the curtain of water, it was pretty magical.

Portland September 2012

Behind the falls

Jamison Square

The Pearl District may be more well known for its retail and hospitality sides, but we stumbled across two of its park gems. We learned later that all water features in Portland’s parks are chlorinated, making them built-in play features for children, seamlessly integrated into the neighbourhood landscape. Jamison Square in the Pearl was thus a family attraction, even on that particularly overcast day.

Portland September 2012

Jamison Square

Tanner Springs Park

Tanner Springs Park was even more interesting, created out of reclaimed industrial land. Designers wanted to return the area to its natural wetlands environment, but also incorporated functional seating features into the park.

Portland September 2012

Tanner Springs Park

To us, being in the park took us out of the urban landscape, as the space promoted quiet reflection and a sense of calm.

Portland September 2012

Director Park

Director Park, about a block away from Pioneer Square, reminded us of a smaller, more functional Churchill Square. In one section was an operational water feature (chlorinated, of course for spray park fun), and on the other, scattered patio sets. A glass canopy provided some sheltered seating next to a small cafe, which seemed more successful at taking advantage of its prime location than Edmonton’s Three Bananas equivalent.

Portland September 2012

Director Park

Mill Ends Park

Of course, a discussion about Portland’s parks must include Mill Ends Park, which has the distinction of being the world’s smallest park, according to the Guinness Book of Records. It is located along a median between two streets.

Portland September 2012

Mill Ends Park

The story of how the park came to be (a journalist created mythology that the weed-run hole was actually the home of a leprechaun) is actually more interesting than the park itself, though given Portland’s penchant for being “weird”, it fits right into the city.

Forest and Washington Parks

Prior to arriving in Portland, we knew about their biking opportunities, but had no idea there were extensive hiking options until we came across Forest and Washington Parks. They feature over 24 kilometres of hiking trails, and covers over 400 acres of land.

Portland September 2012

In Forest Park

After visiting Pittock Mansion, we decided to walk to the International Rose Test Garden. Google Maps indicated it was a 30 minute distance, but that would only have been possible if a direct route existed. Instead, we followed the Wildwood Trail, which took about an hour.

Portland September 2012

Wildwood Trail

It was an absolutely rejuvenating walk, and made us feel like we had travelled far from the city, while in reality, we were still in the thick of it. The trails were peaceful, and we only ran into the occasional dog walker, so it was easy to feel like we were the only ones in the park.

Portland September 2012

Surrounded by nature

The Hoyt Arboretum is one of the features of Washington Park, a living museum of trees. Every now and then we would come across a small plaque denoting the name of a tree species. It turns out schools groups use the arboretum as a teaching centre; what a natural way for children to learn more about the great outdoors.

Portland September 2012

In the Hoyt Arboretum

Portland September 2012

We made it!

International Rose Test Garden

The most visually stunning park that we visited was without a doubt the International Rose Test Garden. Over 7,000 plants representing over 500 varieties are spread out over the 4.5 acre garden. Best of all, admission is free!

Portland September 2012

International Rose Test Garden

The flowers bloom from about April to October, and though we were visiting towards the end of September, most of the vines were still bursting with blossoms. The fragrance in the air was almost overwhelming, as we made our way through thicket after thicket of roses.

Portland September 2012

Roses

There are numerous benches and water features placed around the greenery to encourage visitors to linger and contemplate.

Portland September 2012

Walking the paths

Portland September 2012

Mack loves those bronze statues

The garden is also host to numerous outdoor events, as they have an amazing amphitheatre built into the side of a grassy hill.

Portland September 2012

Gorgeous outdoor amphitheatre

If you’re ever in Portland during the rose season, this is one attraction you can’t pass up – the pictures don’t do the garden justice.

Portland September 2012

More roses

Peninsula Park Rose Garden

Portland is also known as the “City of Roses” – that nickname isn’t contained to one garden alone! One day, when exploring Portland on bikes, we cycled to a smaller garden not far from the Mississippi Avenue district, called Peninsula Rose Garden.

Portland September 2012

Peninsula Rose Garden

It did not have the awe-inducing scale of the International Rose Test Garden, but it made up for that with charm. We loved the fountain and gazebo, and of course, the walking paths between rows of well-tended flowers.

Portland September 2012

Peninsula Rose Garden

Portland September 2012

I love gazebos

I know Mack and I are very fortunate to live so close to Edmonton’s beautiful river valley, but there’s just something about the spectrum of colours in the manicured public garden that made me a bit envious of Portlanders.

Portland September 2012

Paths

Waterfront Park and Eastbank Esplanade

Mack is always quick to point out to those who say Edmonton’s river valley is our defining feature that most cities are built around rivers, so this doesn’t make us unique. I love our river valley as much as the next person, but for many, there is an attitude that we need to preserve its natural state to the point where it cannot be easily accessed and enjoyed. What’s the point of having such a great asset if it cannot be taken advantage of?

Portland September 2012

Geese love parks!

Portland’s riverfront is much different than Edmonton’s, in the sense that the gradient is far shallower. But it was, on a brilliantly clear day, amazing to see just how many people were making use of the waterside paths.

Portland September 2012

Waterfront Park

We explored both sides of the parks lining the Willamette River on numerous occasions, on foot and by bike. The Eastbank Esplanade, a pedestrian and bicycle path, even features a 1200 foot floating walkway.

Portland September 2012

The Eastbank Esplanade during the day

Portland September 2012

The Eastbank Esplanade at night

Portland September 2012

The view from the Esplanade

Sometimes, the best thing about travelling are the unintended discoveries. For me, parks and public spaces were definitely a wonderful surprise we found in Portland.

  • Neumanic

    The renovation of Churchill Square in 2004-05 was inspired by and (in part) based on Pioneer Square.

  • Fiona

    I’m originally from Portland and now live in Edmonton. While I disagree on your comment about the size the the Square I do love seeing through your eyes how much I love Portland and everything it stands for :) They don’t say “Keep Portland Weird” for nothing. I’m finally going back for a visit this summer after being away for 12 years and I’ll have to revisit some of the places you and Mack visited :)

  • http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca/ Sharon

    I didn’t know that! I will be honest – Portland wasn’t on my radar when Churchill Square was renovated. Now, it’s all everyone talks about (including me)!

  • http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca/ Sharon

    I think the size of Pioneer Square is much more manageable than Churchill, actually, in terms of animating it and making it look inviting. We attended an event in Pioneer Square (Feast, a food festival), and loved how they used all levels of the space – the terrace for a wine tasting, the amphitheatre for cooking demos, and the main square for the tasting tent.
    Portland treated us very well during our trip – we’d go back in a heartbeat!

  • Jill C.

    Sharon did you and Mack go into the Japanese Garden? That’s my favourite in Portland. I found it way more beautiful than the rose garden (although the roses were gorgeous and I took many photos”. But the Japanese garden with its hidden pagodas and rock garden was so peaceful and meditative.

  • http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca/ Sharon

    Hey Jill – this will sound totally cheap, but we disregarded the Japanese Garden in favour of the *free* rose garden, given they were located basically next to one another. Since coming back, I’ve heard so many people rave about the Japanese Garden that if we do make it back to Portland, it will be on our must visit next time!

  • Pingback: Only Here for the Food » Blog Archive » Portland: Tourist Trappings()