Developing riverfront for Central City Plan

By Don MacGillivray


The Planning of the Willamette River is a continuing process for the City of Portland that expects to be included in the Central City Plan.

In 2000, the City worked with the public to develop a vision and strategy for the Willamette River though an initiative called River Renaissance. This effort laid the groundwork for the City’s update to the Willamette Greenway Plan.

Through previous outreach and planning, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability established that the Willamette’s Central Reach (section) has untapped potential for more activities, uses and habitat restoration, both on land and in water. The Central Reach Plan includes the area from the Fremont Bridge to the Ross Island Bridge.

The Central Reach is highly urban in nature, with the waterfront serving as the major civic space of the city.

The health of the Willamette River has improved over the past fifty years and people can now swim and fish in the Central City, but there is still much work to do.

In December about 70 people attended a two day workshop to review and brainstorm how to improve this area. All the participants brought unique insights and ideas to upgrade this area for businesses, the people, the flora and the fauna.

The workshop included the importance of economic, historic, cultural, natural, and physical attributes of the Willamette River’s Central Reach. The need to improve human access to the riverfront was emphasized. With more people using the riverfront area, there will be more interesting activities resulting in a greater role for the river in the life of Portland.

Portland needs to promote the river’s identity as the Central City’s major gathering place. Many people know very little about the river and its opportunities. People need to be welcomed to the river and given a variety of experiences such as more public places for swimming, boating and fishing.

The river’s sense of place will be improved by revealing the rich history from wildlife and the first Native Americans who used the river for their livelihood to the European settlements and its use for transportation. This history, culture, art and ecology of the river must be part of the education of all citizens.

We need to preserve and promote the river’s commercial and recreational uses by developing new activities and uses in areas compatible with business, recreation and transportation within and near Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Commercial boating along the Willamette river would allow the public greater access. This might include river transit, local excursion boats, water taxis and cruiseships. These uses need infrastructure and various services for commercial boat patrons.

Maintaining shallow water habitat is very important for juvenile fish as they migrate out to the Columbia River. The design of all developments and planned uses must be supportive of shallow water habitat by not dredging and not creating new light obstructing over-water structures.

Removing old rip-rap and rocks and allowing sand and silt to accumulate can improve both fish habitat and swimming.

Give the Willamette River an attractive, recognizable identity especially between the Steel and Hawthorne Bridges.

The Eastbank Freeway and the westbank seawall are seen as “eyesores” as viewed from downtown and potential solutions include cutting into the seawall with steps down to the river or landscaping to screen either the seawall or the Eastbank Freeway.

It was not long ago efforts were made to remove this freeway that blocks access and views to the river and downtown.

Location specific suggestions:

The west end of the Morrison Bridge will be the future location of a public market similar to the Pike Place Market in Seattle. This presents opportunities for additional uses and activities near this location.

At the Hawthorne Bowl (just south of the Hawthorne Bridge on the east side), include better access to the river and the clustering of mixed uses.

Restore, maintain, and improve the shallow water habitat with sand and gravel fill for fish and swimming. Add permanent mooring structures and a narrow floating dock, for swimming and boating.

The area around Oregon Museum of Science and Industry would benefit from more commercial uses close to the river including improved access to the river. Add pedestrian and bicycle access to the light rail bridge from the greenway trail. Provide for light watercraft uses, more boat access, and mooring opportunities. Take advantage of views downstream to Ross Island.

The River Plan will be completed in three phases with each phase focusing on a different reach of the Willamette River.

Stakeholder engagement and partnerships will be needed to successfully implement the plan. This will include property owners, developers, business people, residents, recreation enthusiasts, Native Americans, visitors, and government participants. This will greatly add to the livability of central Portland.

Developing riverfront for Central City Plan

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