Friends of S. Park Blocks

Portland's First Living Room

By Julia Benford

Did you know that Portland has over 12,000 acres of parkland within its city limits? One of the best things about Portland is the way that green space is integrated with the rest of the city, making it possible to enjoy a day in the park while still having access to shops, restaurants, and cultural opportunities. South Park Blocks, located downtown, is a great place to visit if you want to experience Portland’s unique combination of parks and culture. We sat down with David Newman, founder of Friends of South Park Blocks, to find out what makes the park so special.

What role does South Park Blocks play in the surrounding community?

There are 3-4,000 people living within 2 blocks of the park. Since downtown Portland is an urban area without room for yards, South Park Blocks provides important green space for those residents. It has something for everyone-- in addition to nearby residents, you also see downtown workers taking their lunch breaks, preschool groups having recess, and visitors checking out downtown. So really it’s a space for anyone who comes to downtown Portland.

What connection does South Park Blocks have with nearby businesses?

Being downtown, South Park Blocks is located near many businesses and organizations. The Portland Art Museum, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and the Oregon Historical Society Museum are all located adjacent to the park, and there are lots of restaurants and shops nearby. Having the park nearby gives a distinctive feel to the area. It’s unique to have a park so close to these kinds of downtown visitor attractions.

Without South Park Blocks, how would the neighborhood be different?

Without the South Park Blocks, there would be no green space or gardens in the neighborhood. Having the park there makes the area more open and spacious, creating a venue for local events. As I mentioned previously, there is a nice concentration of cultural centers in the neighborhood, and the park provides a central space that ties these organizations together.

Next time you’re downtown, try spending some time exploring South Park Blocks and its neighboring attractions. There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than a relaxing stroll in the park, followed by some beautiful paintings at the Portland Art Museum and an evening performance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. If you’re looking for a quicker trip, check out the South Park Blocks Wednesday Farmer’s Market, where you can pick up some tasty pizza for lunch and fresh produce for dinner. South Park Blocks is a convenient way to enjoy both Portland’s vibrant city life and its beautiful parks.

Securing South Park Blocks' Future

Friends of South Park Blocks at Parke Diem

Friends of South Park Blocks at Parke Diem

Walking through the South Park Blocks, it is easy to see why visitors and residents alike find them alluring. The South Park Blocks combine art, architecture and beautiful gardens to engage the visitor in Portland’s history and future all in just a few steps. Cultural institutions like the Portland Art Museum, Oregon Historical Museum, Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, Portland State University, many historical churches and two farmer’s markets all call the park home.

That is why Gunnar Sacher and David Newman got together in 2011 to improve and protect this important community resource. The Portland Parks Foundation started supporting the Friends of South Park Blocks (FoSPB) in 2014 by sponsoring garden bed improvement in the Lincoln Block. Today, the Friends of South Park Blocks serve as an example of the positive difference involved citizens can make in parks, and the Foundation is proud to call them a partner.

“The South Park Blocks are not your traditional park – they are the heart of where Portland started, and today are the first cultural address for people visiting,” said Mr. Sacher. The
group works to improve the South Park Blocks’ safety, beauty and the park’s overall support in the community. The list of projects they’ve completed is long and includes: planting new garden beds, facilitating business utilization of the parks, conducting a research project to find the best turf for its high-use and shaded lawns, supporting healthy trimming of the tree canopy, improving and maintaining its rose beds, patrolling and reporting illegal activity in
the park, conducting educational park ‘safety summits’ with local officials, businesses and residents, and recruiting volunteers to give time to clean and maintain this heavily used park.

Their work on park safety was one of their first, and continues to be a priority for the group today. “To be accessible, parks need to be safe for everyone. That is why one of our first projects was to support creating the city-wide park ranger program,” said Mr. Sacher. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and re-prioritization of other parks the Friends of South Park Blocks saw a decrease in park ranger patrols in the past year. As a result, the group reinvigorated the idea of Safety Summits with local officials and residents to talk about how to decrease illegal activity in the park and increase overall safety. So far they’ve learned what regulations exist, how those rules are enforced and collected incident metrics. FoSPB will continue the summits in 2016 to come up with ideas and volunteers to maintain and encourage new positive social activity and minimize unwanted social behavior in the park.

In the coming year FoSPB hopes to recruit more of the approximately 3,000 neighborhood residents (not including nearby PSU students) to give back by supporting their campaign to install new fencing in the Lincoln Block, increasing positive activity in the park through the foot patrol or other community events, and leading new maintenance teams to beautify the park. “If you live and use services in the neighborhood, you should also give back and participate. We want to feel safe and comfortable in our neighborhood, and this is the best way to contribute and make that happen,” said Mr. Sacher.

The Portland Parks Foundation is excited to support the Friends of South Park Blocks outreach efforts this year. You can keep tabs on their work or to volunteer your time by visiting the Friends of South Blocks here.