Long before a shopping center thrived and perished, and more recent immigrants enlivened the Gateway community; Cowlitz, Cascades, and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde have been stewards of this land. In 1954, the Gateway district became Portland’s first car-centric, suburban-style shopping center oasis – a place where people could leave the urban decay but still be within close vicinity of Portland’s city center. Promises never materialized leaving Gateway a collection of worn-down strip malls, car lots, and fast-food outlets; an area left underdeveloped, underutilized, and underserved.
Efforts to revitalize Gateway continued and in 2001 city leaders created the Gateway Urban Renewal district covering half the cost to buy the plot of land sited for the future park. This property acquisition became a priority as studies showed only 2 out of every 5 households had easy access to a City park, a stark contrast to the rest of Portland where 4 out of 5 households lived within a half-mile of a park or natural area.
More diverse than the rest of Portland and with a higher percentage of families, children, and seniors, the Gateway community has long desired a public gathering space to reinforce their identity as a family friendly, multi-generational, and multi-cultural place to live and work. To generate a positive long-term community transformation, the landscape architects, PLACE, engaged in building strong partnerships with park neighbors, local businesses, community groups, and stakeholders. Using art as a catalyst for communication, PLACE reinforced a results-oriented public engagement process including one-on-one conversations, facilitating community meetings, hands-on workshops, online forums and the creation of Friends of Gateway Park following project completion.
From a brownfield to thriving park, PLACE transformed a degraded site and restored its lost ecological integrity. As the former site of a dry-cleaning business, the park’s soil was polluted with decades of discarded chemical cleaners. The extent of the toxic soils was assessed and capped with a carefully managed design of the park’s stormwater and groundwater recharge. Stormwater is strategically directed to vegetated areas for treatment before being discharged into effectively located drywells. Additionally, the park’s native and naturalized plantings enhance the city’s pollinator pathway, reinforcing urban ecology and local EcoDistrict goals.
Adaptive to the seasons, site activities move freely among the park elements. The northern portion of the park is an urban plaza/visitor center allowing for activities along Halsey Street. The urban park transitions to flexible green space toward the southern portion of the site. Amphitheater seating for outdoor performances surround a performance space and acts as a splash pad for warm weather play. The upper tier gives way to an expansive, gently sloped lawn providing a large open space.
A pedestrian path connects park elements and accommodates the daily pattern of pedestrian flow. Pedestrians can stroll and enjoy ethnic foods from local food carts and dine beneath a colonnade of ginkgo trees. Picnic areas for larger groups are clustered at the southern edge of the park where skateboarders’ practice in an urban-streetscape style skate spot.
A key goal was to bring children into contact with nature, an opportunity lacking in the neighborhood. An expansive children’s play area encompasses the full western side of the park. Children and adults of all ages and abilities enjoy traditional play components such as swings, slides, and spinners, intermixed with custom play features including sand-water play, climbing mound and net structure, a stylized cornice and hop-stones, musical instruments, and a nature discovery area.
The Fifth Wind, an innovative piece of public art by Horatio Hun-Yan Law is located at the street entry. Five butterfly wings emerging from a chrysalis invites visitors to discover the park and symbolically reminds us of our combined immigrant journeys and histories.
Welcomed by 3,000 people on opening day, the park is curated by a full calendar of free programmed events. Meanwhile daily activities in the park include an oversized abacus, board games, ping pong tables, and a colorfully painted, upright piano.
PLACE also assisted with a new mixed-use development opened its doors on the 1-acre site directly adjacent to the park with 78 units of affordable and market rate housing. After nearly 60 years in the making, the Gateway community is enjoying a safe, culturally vibrant, family friendly and multi-generational park, walkable from their neighborhoods and expressing an identity of its own. As the living room for East Portland, Gateway Discovery Park is a beloved gem and a timely strategic neighborhood asset. Addressing the community’s immediate and lasting consequences of COVID-19 the park offers a safe haven for all.
Project location: 10520 NE Halsey St, Portland, OR 97220
Design year: 2015
Year Built: 2018