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Great Public Spaces: Pioneer Courthouse Square

According to the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), Portland, Oregon's Pioneer Courthouse Square is one of the Top 10 greatest public spaces in the U.S. & Canada. I couldn't agree more. Affectionately referred to as the city's "living room" the charming and versatile block was once slated to be an 11-story parking garage in the 1960s. Thankfully the residents didn't let that happen.

Recently while grabbing lunch in Portland, I wandered into the "Festival of Flowers" - a beautiful urban meadow installation that was so pleasant and comforting, I just had to shoot some video. Ethan Kent from PPS has often said to me that the key to the success of Pioneer Courthouse Square (and many public spaces) is its amazingly diverse programming. He's right, I've been to Portland a dozen times and there always seems to be something wonderful going on there.


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Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://www.gettingaroundportland.org Greg Raisman

    Actually, it was a short 2-story parking garage before becoming Pioneer Square. You can see a photo and some more background here: http://www.pdx.edu/usp/pioneer_square.html

    I remember the late Ernie Bonner sharing a photo of the parking garage before it was demolished where the entire top deck and a car were painted in a bright and elaborate design. If anyone has a link to that photo, I'd love to see it again.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/latenite Dan Block

    All the potted flowers reminds me of this another great use of urban space - temporary community gardens in grow bags. They are doing it in London, UK. Check it out:

    http://www.what-if.info/

    By growing in bags, the garden can be created cheaply, and can be moved when the site is ready for a more permanent use (i.e. dense housing). Also, you don't have to worry about contaminants in the existing soil.

  • http://www.gettingaroundportland.org Greg Raisman

    Mark Lakeman from City Repair had it. I put it on my flickr page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregraisman/2653416261/

    Mark's comments on the photo: These are from Gail Martin. Her husband, Will Martin had them taken on the day of the rooftop painting. You can see him, in his broad brim hat and his travelling studio truck, in the second picture. I miss him every day.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/trorb Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Dude. That is so 60s/70s. It looks like the Electric Company on acid. Actually that might be redundant.

  • http://www.gettingaroundportland.org Greg Raisman

    What's redundant? The Electric Company on acid? The 60s/70s on acid? Portland on acid?!

    I think it's neat that it's actually the design of Pioneer Courthouse Square painted (granted in practically garish colors) right on top of the old parking garage. It's like the public square was emerging through the parking lot or something.

    It's definitely a classic photo. The fore-runner to the community building effort that became Intersection Repair.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/trorb Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    It is a damn freaking cool photo. I wish I could walk on it. It looks like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock should have been walking on it during a humorous Trek episode. Or at least Barbarella should have showed up.

    I think the Electric Company writers were on acid while they were writing the show. That's basically what I meant. :)

  • http://www.asmithphotography.com Angela

    Pioneer Square is wonderful. Great story!