Design Week Portland Recap: Potential in the Central Eastside

by Heather McGinn

Last Tuesday we hosted a panel as part of Design Week Portland, discussing the current and potential future state of the Central Eastside. With over 70 people in attendance, the event was engaging and lively. The ideas our panelists and audience members brought to the table were thoughtful and challenging, ranging from major infrastructural interventions to small changes that could happen here and now. Thru Magazine wrote a great piece covering the whole thing, which you can find here.

We asked Ethan Seltzer to moderate, given his deep knowledge of Portland history and his tendency to be a planning provocateur. Landscape Architect Carol Mayer-Reed kicked off the panel session by proposing to remove the I-5 freeway altogether from the east bank of the Willamette, reclaiming the riverfront and replacing the spaghetti-like system of ramps with an embarcadero-like system of green spaces. She also advocated for a high-line style park over the defunct Marquam Bridge.

Our own principal Michael Tingley then proceeded to present our Water Avenue Yards concept, which so many of Bora’s talented staff contributed to, and which sparked a great dialogue about what it means to value and inhabit industrial space without turning it into a sanitized consumer experience. Michael and Carol’s large-scale hypothetical scenarios were followed by Human Access Project ringleader Willie Levenson and his passionate advocacy for people to start inhabiting the river in small, immediate ways.

Throughout the conversation, Central Eastside Industrial Council President Brad Malsin contributed his near encyclopedic knowledge of local development patterns over the last 20 years, and grounded the grand aspirations of his audience and co-panelists in the overarching rational for maintaining an industrial sanctuary in the heart of Portland.

As a way of informally gauging how our audience felt about the Central Eastside in its current form, we had all our guests fill out ‘name tags’ with their thoughts on the district. At the end of the night, “potential” and “opportunity” were the words that came up the most. The biggest takeaway seemed to be that people are ready to talk about this place, and Bora is proud to be facilitating and leading that conversation, along with all those who joined our motivating panel. As Carol Mayer-Reed stated, all it takes is money and will-power. And the will certainly seems to be there.