An Urban Oasis – in Portland’s Pearl District

What a delight was in store for us when finding Tanner Springs Park in downtown Portland’s Pearl District several weeks ago!

This 1-acre urban park, occupying a city block, was created back in 2010 by a team of landscape architects led by internationally-acclaimed Atelier Dreiseitl, of Ueberlingen, Germany, and GreenWorks PC, Portland. It was a brownfield site previously.

Tanner Springs has just about everything one could want in a park: a active spring, wetlands, public art (in this case, an artwall), benches, a meadow, water features, boardwalks, cobblestone paths, native shrubs and trees–even block-long stairs, inset with green grass, down into the park for sitting or laying on when the sun’s bright and temperature warm.

And, people–young, old and between.

This park is a marvelous demonstration of local ecology, stormwater management, other measures of sustainability and public input.

Interpretative signage reveals that the .45 sq. mi. Pearl District was once in its entirety a wetlands, a lake and wildlife habitat adjacent to the western edge of the Willamette River. The park sets about 20 ft. above the original lake.

The varying lengths of railroad tracks used in the wave-like artwall along NW 10th Ave. are recycled from long-gone city rail yards. A local glass company furnished panels of recycled, fused glass which were hand painted by Herbert Dreiseitl with indigenous animal and insect imagery and interspersed with the rusted steel railroad tracks.

The programming of the park provides for a mix of active and passive spaces layered on top of the functional rainwater infiltration and detention wetlands. A portion of the park’s pathways are raised boardwalks jutting through a pond featuring water lilies, then leading to narrow, meandering cobble walks among planted wetland grasses and lawn space for gathering and limited activities.

The park slopes downward over 6 ft. from street level along NW 11th Ave. on the west side eastward to NW 10th.

A signature stormwater feature is the glass rain pavilion pictured in closeup here. It’s a doff to Portland’s weather, but captures rainwater and directs it into the park. From the leaf-shaped glass roof the water is channeled into various runnels and spouts, including the one seen in pix of the stairway. Water from the sidewalk pavement simply runs off onto grassy steps and further down into the park for filtration.

Notable is the fact that the design team reached out to the Pearl District stakeholders–apartment dwellers, condo owners, businesses–for input on design features, including public workshops. What residents wanted, and got, is a place that feels natural, quiet, and restorative.

Works that way for tourists too.

© Dreiseitl

Tanner Springs Park’s restorative effect contrasts with Jamison Square, linked by boardwalk along NW 10th Ave. 2 blocks away, where a large-scale water feature invites children, their parents and others to get their feet wet and frolic. In several words: far more active, and even a bit noisy in a fun way.

Note: all photos in this blog post © Richard G. Williams unless otherwise noted.

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