Portland's Proposed Green Loop Could 'Reinvent Outdoor Urban Life'

A Design Week competition will rally competing visions for a carless path through the city center.

By Caitlin Collins February 1, 2016 Published in the February 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Urban planning documents don't usually making exciting reads. But nestled in the series of proposals known as Portland's Central City 2035 Plan is an idea that would enhance the Rose City's already-lauded “bike-friendly” credentials: a six-mile carless pathway known as the Green Loop. The route would circumnavigate the city’s most densely populated area, providing safe transit to fossil-fuel-free commuters while linking the quadrants of Portland.

As is the usually the case for planners' visions, the Loop is years from realization. But this spring, the John Yeon Center for Architectural Studies, under the direction of longtime Portland Monthly contributor Randy Gragg, has organized a competition to design it. Proposals can address the physical logistics of the project, and/or specific visions for the urban art to interact with it. A $20,000 grant will be awarded to the winning proposal, which will be announced during April's Design Week Portland.

Five top design professionals from around the country have been invited to jury the competition. We spoke to each of them to get an inside look at their thought processes—and perhaps score some hints for contestants.

Michelle Delk, NYC Director of Landscape Architecture at Snøhetta, on why collaboration is key:

“We’ve learned that when we come together with others—without concern over our individual professional representation—we can explore ideas beyond simple collaboration. We believe creating together ensures that multiple voices are represented.”

Gina Ford, Landscape architect and Principal at Sasaki’s Urban Studio, on approaching urban design:

“What can this design do to provide both logistical support to the lives of the users, but also bring them into closer contact with each other? Vibrant public landscapes are often richly designed, lovingly crafted spaces, but the most successful projects do that while addressing the logistics, the urban, the natural, and the human dimension.”

Andrew Howard, Co-Founder of Better Block, on why Portland should rally to improve itself:

“Every community has all the resources and talents to make it better. They just need to be organized and given a purpose to work together.”

Mike Lydon, Principal of Street Plans Collective, on the merits of working towards a “livable” city:

“I define a livable city as one where leaders and citizens are constantly working together to make every stage of life possible, if not enjoyable to all. At its core, it’s about providing access to opportunity.”

Paula Scher, Partner at Pentagram, on the possible outcomes of the Green Loop:

“The creation of the Green Loop presents the potential to reinvent outdoor urban life for Portland’s citizens and to thereby inspire the community to continually engage in this sort of enterprise.”   

Green Loop proposals will be presented during the Main Stage event at Revolution Hall through Design Week Portland, in addition to a number of other presentations from leading design thinkers. Selected Green Loop finalists will present one last time on April 18 before a winner is selected. Tickets are available, with a special rate available to students.

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