By Daniel Perez-Crouse
Anyone who’s driven by or walked around Laurelhurst Park during the last couple of years has probably noticed the off-and-on encampments lining it nearby, especially on SE Oak St. However, that area is now under construction for an expansion of the park, including pickleball courts, a skate ramp, a bicycle activity area, new benches, racks and more.
The street in question is owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). A Memorandum of Understanding (a type of agreement between two or more parties that indicates an intended common line of action) between Portland Parks & Recreation and PBOT helped make this project possible. City of Portland’s Public Environment Manager Officer, Christine Leon, provided some additional details (with consultation from members of Parks & Recreation) on the new park additions.
Leon said the space is unique with low vehicular traffic, a sidewalk on one side and the street essentially acting to bisect the park. “We wanted to work with this unique layout to improve the overall quality of the park.”
As for logistical challenges around improving the space, Leon said variables such as stormwater, pavement, landscaping, lighting, utilities underground, underlying ownership, trees and other assets were all considered. “Bike and skate feature selection was influenced by the supply and demand issues facing the world right now,” she said. Specifically for the pickleball courts, Leon said the pavement needed to be smoothed from tree root damage and other potholes.
When it came to deciding what additions would ultimately be made, Leon said that, “We took input from residents in the neighborhood who regularly use the park and who have advocated for park improvements.” Leon said they also relied on park experts to advise what would best fit and function within the space. “Recreation trends and gaps in the system were also considerations. Something that was a fairly straightforward setup and low barrier was desired.”
It’s easy to see how pickleball would be in that conversation as it has massively grown in popularity, especially within the Portland metropolitan area. Players galvanized at Sellwood park last year in an attempt to repurpose and repair old tennis courts into pickleball courts. And many have flocked to the newer, indoor facility in Clackamas that opened in the spring. There are not many dedicated spaces for those who want to play, but from early sketches of the planned Laurelhurst revisions, it appears that they’ll be four more courts for pickle ballers to gather around.
Also, one of the most discussed aspects of this project is the “displacement” of people camping in that area. There have been sweeps of that area in the past, but they’ve re-populated over time (as is a common cycle throughout the city). However, this will now make it a more permanent situation with ongoing construction and entirely new spaces that will likely be used consistently. And despite citizens in that area asking the city to clear them in the past, many outlets have reported locals and activist groups have concerns over people who were moved.
In response to this dialogue, Leon said, “We have outstanding partnerships with city bureaus supporting our work to create quality public spaces. Personally, I do hope that the people living outside in the elements in unsafe and unsanitary conditions will ultimately utilize a sanctioned campsite or shelter space to reside in as they wait for permanent housing.”
Leon said that work will continue through the early winter and that many of the construction projects are dependent on weather and supply-chain availabilities, making it difficult to nail down a specific timeline or expected completion date. Currently, there are no plans for other parks to get similar treatment.