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
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
- City of
Portland Bureau of Planning, Central Portland
Plan Urban Design Assessment.
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.