Portland has a rich history of visioning and planning for the future. Despite the fact that few plans have been completely implemented, previous planning projects have made way for some of the most cherished aspects of our city.

Between 1885 and 1915, Portland’s population increased by 300% and its physical boundaries grew by 154%. Partly in response to this growth and rising interest in the City Beautiful Movement, the Olmsted brothers were commissioned by the Portland Parks Board to design an open space system that would accommodate their prevailing and future open space needs (1).

The 1903 Olmsted Plan provided a vision for parks connected by parkways and boulevards. Several pieces of the vision have been implemented over time: Mount Tabor Park, Willamette Park, Terwilliger Boulevard and Leif Erikson Drive were all called for in the Olmsted Plan. Today’s “40-Mile Loop,” 160 miles of bicycle/pedestrian trails connecting many of Portland’s parks, was named after the approximately 40-mile-long system of boulevards and parkways that Olmsted proposed.

In 1932, the Portland Planning Commission brought Harlan Bartholomew to town to see if a new plan could revitalize Portland out of the Great Depression and address growing automobile use. The result, a greatly detailed study known as the Bartholomew Report, was the first plan to clearly articulate ideas for Portland’s Central City (2). A west-bank river park in downtown Portland was also envisioned in this document.

More recently, the 1972 Downtown Plan marked an important shift towards community members actively participating in planning. This plan grew out of community concerns that included disinvestment in the downtown, increasing crime and the prevailing perception of poor public decisions. The plan marked a major shift towards the quality of public spaces (3), and has helped define the downtown’s purpose and function.

Planning efforts have ranged in form and purpose, but each was driven by the sense that planning today would protect and improve the city for future generations.

The implementation of these plans, including the more recent legacy of public involvement, has made Portland the place we know today: with a strong and vibrant central city, quality neighborhoods, significant public spaces throughout the city, the extensive and popular light rail system, bicycle infrastructure and the ability to attract the young creative class.

  1. City of Portland Bureau of Planning, Central Portland Plan Urban Design Assessment.
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.




John Charles Olmsted’s plan for Portland area open spaces envisioned a cohesive network of parks and parkways, many of which exist today.

The Bartholomew Report of 1932 was the first plan to envision parks along the banks of the Willamette River. Harbor Drive was built (see below) and later removed before this vision was turned into reality.


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