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The City of Portland, Oregon

Planning and Sustainability

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The Waterfront’s Fine, But It Could Be Finer

Waterfront Park photo

Portland’s beautiful summers draw people outside in droves. On any given day, people can be seen biking, floating on the river, playing with children in public fountains, attending a festival or concert, or simply basking in the sunshine. Waterfront Park welcomes all who come to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, many of which are concentrated along the Willamette River. 

During a week-long charrette in June, city planners and other stakeholders worked through ideas to improve the West Quadrant of the Central City. One of the recurring themes from the exercises was reimagining the role of the Willamette River and Waterfront Park — how to improve people’s access to the river as well as their experience in and around it, all while making the river more of a focal point of the Central City. Charrette participants helped to identify the following goals for the river: 

Waterfront sketch

  • Create better physical, visual and social connections with the river
  • Generate more activity along the river and
     Naito Parkway
  • Support big changes to help achieve goals of health, activity and vibrancy
  • Update 2003 Waterfront Park Master Plan to reflect current desires and needs 
Naito Parkway drawing
Waterfront Park already connects people with the river, but improving this connection could provide a more significant experience. In the 2003 Waterfront Park Master Plan, Portlanders envisioned a new plaza in Waterfront Park that would gradually step down towards the river. Creating a more vibrant mixed-use Naito Parkway would also help to connect people to the river from downtown. 


Many other cities across the country have also realized the importance of and added benefits that come with engaging residents with their waterfronts. Louisville, Kentucky’s Waterfront Park has become nationally recognized for reconnecting residents with the river. 

Nashville Waterfront

In Nashville,Tennessee, plans for waterfront redevelopment include removing a seawall and replacing it with a sloped park that provides direct river access and more intimate interactions with nature.

Enhancing Waterfront Park is just one of big ideas that came out of the West Quadrant Charrette. Stay tuned over the next month as we feature other themes that emerged from the process. Next up: Housing and Neighborhoods!