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PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — One of downtown Portland’s worst eyesores, O’Bryant Square at Southwest Park Avenue and Harvey Milk Street, is about to get a makeover.
The square has been closed and fenced since 2018, due to structural issues with the garage underneath. It’s been popular with graffiti taggers and drug dealers, and has been given nicknames such as Paranoid Park and Needle Park.
But it also was drawn up as “Park Block 1” on the city of Portland’s first map.
Portland Parks & Recreation has plans to demolish the square. And the Portland Parks Foundation wants to bring national and local experts on public spaces together with the community to reimagine a use for that square block.
The foundation will host “Back to Square One: Rethinking O’Bryant Square and How Urban Public Space Can Work” in February and early March. Also participating will be Portland State University’s Center for Public Interest Design, alumni of Harvard University’s Loeb Fellowship, and Portland Parks & Recreation.
The series runs from Monday, Feb. 6, through Wednesday, March 1, with 5:30 p.m. “happy hour” video conference calls featuring innovators from New York, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, the San Francisco area and Newark, New Jersey. They will be paired with local leaders exploring creative ways to rethink O’Bryant Square, according to Randy Gragg, foundation executive director.
“Historically we’ve always designed our urban plazas first, then programed them,” Gragg said. “This time, we have the opportunity to learn from other cities, try things out and let the successes we find determine the design.”
The process includes bringing stakeholders together, March 8 to 11, for brainstorming sessions.
Gragg said the foundation has two goals: To come up with a “simple, fast-track, first-phase design and programming to bring O’Bryant instantly to life as soon as the demolition fences come down,” and to figure out which features and activities work — and don’t work — for similar public spaces.