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Merit Award - DESIGN

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South Waterfront Park
Portland, OR

Walker Macy

Michael W. Zilis, ASLA
Partner, Walker Macy
111 SW Oak, Suite 200
Portland, OR 97204
Tel. 503-228-3122;
Fax 503-273-8878

Project Purpose

Beginning with the demolition of Harbor Drive, a six-Iane roadway that separated the river from downtown, Tom McCall Waterfront Park has been developed in multiple phases over the past 25 years. The culminating portion of this two-mile long greenway is South Waterfront Park running 1,000 feet along the bank of the Willamette River. Unique along the downtown riverfront, South Waterfront Park provides direct public access to the river throughout the year. This physical and visual relationship to the river connects users to its cycles throughout the seasons. As the terminus of Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the connection to future development to the south, South Waterfront Park serves as both a regional recreation resource and a neighborhood park. The Park's development was carefully crafted to provide continuity with the elements of Tom McCall Park, to reconstruct the bank of the Willamette in an environmentally sustainable manner, and to enable people to make direct contact with the river.

Role of the Landscape Architect

  • Led the entire project as prime consultant from initial master planning through construction administration for surface improvements including: circulation, grading, planting and site improvements.
  • Led the multidisciplinary team in the design process and integrated the various disciplines' work into a cohesive plan that was viable to build and maintain.
  • Facilitated the public process including meetings with the advisory committee comprised of neighbors, property managers, representatives of public agencies, and the public.
  • Assisted in the permitting process with the Oregon Division of State Lands, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Board, Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
  • Provided construction oversight for $4.1 million worth of improvements.

Special Factors

South Waterfront Park's unifying theme is to blend the patterns of the City with the natural forms of the river. The esplanade meanders the full length of the riverbank, mirroring the course of the river, and at the same time, the park's configuration blends the interaction of the river with its urban context. Historically the street grid of Portland extended directly to the river's edge to facilitate access and commerce. The city's block grid extends through South Waterfront Park to the water's edge via walkways leading to overlooks with views of the River, the City, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens. The flowing form of the river is carried up into the park via the flowing forms of the site grading and planting, as well as a pair of boulder-lined pathways sculpted into the riverbank leading to a natural silty beach that is exposed at the base of these pathways during periods of low water.

This urban brownfield site, which formerly housed a lumber mill and the City's steam plant, contains sub-surface contamination. The stability of the riverbank is critical to holding contaminated soils in place. The bank is graded to a 3:1 slope and stone was placed on the lower portion where the river fluctuates 20' annually. The upper portion of the bank is planted with ornamental grasses to hold the bank without the need for additional stone. Native alder trees are also planted in the bank for seasonal shading of shallow water to enhance habitat. Monitoring wells are in place to monitor subsurface contamination, and users are protected by a soil cap and plant materials which blanket the site.


Portland's 25-year dream of reclaiming its waterfront has been realized with the completion of South Waterfront Park. The City's focus since its inception, the Willamette River continues to be the community's most important resource. South Waterfront Park allows the citizens to reconnect both physically and experientially to the river as it passes through downtown.

2001 Award Winners
Press Release
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