Urban Green Space: Past, Present, and Future

Turkey’s ongoing developments in Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul could not be more pertinent to my personal research, but also have important ramifications for all of us and the future of urban design. Two years after the Arab Spring events we are witnessing another similar uprising in a large urban plaza filled with protestors of varying backgrounds seeking potentially disparate outcomes but gathering in the same place nonetheless. The difference with this situation, however, is the root cause of the demonstrations: a top-down redesign of one of the most important green spaces in the city.

Continue reading Urban Green Space: Past, Present, and Future

An Occupied Anniversary: Public Space One Year Later

September 20th recently brought the first year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zucotti Park, New York City. This time last year brought the Occupy movement to Portland’s doorstep in the form of a massive march through downtown, numbering over 10,000 strong, and filling Pioneer Courthouse Square before ending at Chapman and Lownsdale Square Parks in the evening. At that point, I was beginning the first term of my second (and final) year in graduate school studying Urban Studies at Portland State University. The eager urbanist in me celebrated the use of public space in this way – the posters advertising the date, the start of the march on the waterfront, and the overflowing “living room” of Portland’s downtown. I marched, as did some of my classmates (as well as the mayor), and I readied myself for what was sure to be a wave of academic discussion on the urban implications of such a camping-protest. Unsatisfied with the level of coverage in the classroom (like the news stations), I set out to gather as much information as possible on this historic event.

Occupy Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square (photo: creative commons, Wikipedia)
Occupy Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square (photo: creative commons, Wikipedia)

Like a dream, the occupation ended nearly a month later, much longer than some other occupations across the country. After I finished conducting my research and said a bittersweet goodbye to this perfect example of our first amendment, I once again readied myself for the hopeful discussions to come regarding the use of public space for free speech in the United Space. What did the movement change regarding the public-private conundrum? In various cities across the country it seemed to be arbitrary – while others allowed for no camping whatsoever, or used violent force, Portland was relatively uneventful from an enforcement perspective. It seemed to be determined by the opinions of the Mayor involved. Mayor Adams has supported free speech as has the city in general in recent history. These specific public space in Portland in particular have seen numerous demonstrations over the years as well, dating back to the Bonus Army protests in 1932. It seems as though the spacial components may also influence the success, or at least ease, of occupying as well. New York City showed that there is a fine line between what is considered public, or semi-public, as was the case at Zucotti Park – a privately owned public space (POPS). How public is public space? While it may be public enough to pass through, you may actually need a permit to hold an assembly if there are any structures or just too many people.

Protest Sign at Occupy Portland (photo by author)

Richard Sennett, a professor at New York University and the London School of Economics, writes recently in The Nation about just such a thought process. For the potential protestor, the Occupy movement raised serious concerns about how and where one is able to assemble without much harassment (not to mention the legal technicalities regarding terms like “open flame” and “camping”). For the designer and urbanist, however, the movement could have bigger implications for how we create and use public space. Rather than planning for this activity here or that activity there, how can we create vibrant Jane Jacobs-esque places that allow for a multitude of activities including protesting? One of the biggest complaints in Portland was that occupiers were denying the public to use parks that provided space for leisurely lunch breaks. While typically these spaces may not be filled to capacity with protestors, it may still be possible to design places that are, as Sennett puts it, “equally family-friendly and protestor-friendly”.

In this city, as in many vibrant cities, the combination of Jacobs’ diversity and density can create a sense of chaos. Most city-dwellers will tell you that this sort of activity is what makes them live downtown – not only do you get parks and pigeons and cafes, but also street performers and protestors. Sennett, following Jane Jacobs, William H. Whyte, and Jan Gehl (and many others) are taking this movement to heart when discussing urban design. Rather than pushing away the skateboarder or homeless person, we should be embracing the “porosity” of public space in order to truly make cities for all people, including protestors.

GOOD Ideas for Portland: Cycling Infrastructure

[Originally written by Jason King, Allison Duncan and Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman]

THINK.urban, recently completed the presentation of our various concepts for GOOD Ideas for Cities Portland. The team was one of six, which included Wieden+Kennedy, Ziba, Sincerely Interested, OMFGco, and ADXPortland, all tackling tough ideas.  The THINK.urban concepts were developed alongside working alongside our urban leader, BikePortland.org founder Jonathan Maus, who presented the challenge:

“Now it’s time to do the big projects that present a challenge to politicians and the status quo, but that also present an exciting opportunity for the health of our city. But what we’re missing is a a truly game-changing bikeway that connects a Portland neighborhood to the city center. How might we create a major new bikeway that helps make bicycling as visible, safe, convenient, and pleasant for as many people as possible?”


Portland is a great city for cycling – and has a lot of great infrastructure and programs to support and grow ridership.


This gives us a ridership of almost 7% of commuters, which makes Portland the top large city in North America for ridership – (sorry Minneapolis)


The statistics are a bit different when compared to other cities around the globe, where Portland is way down on the list.  Using some comparative metrics, we set the bar for ‘World Class’ at 30%, meaning if Portland is to truly become a world-class bicycling city, we need to expand significantly beyond our current level.



For Portland to become ‘World Class’ we cannot keep doing the same things, but need to re-envision the infrastructure that make’s bicycle a choice that is on-par with other modes of transportation.  As seen in a much published graphic, we’ve already captured the ‘Strong and Fearless’ and have no worries about the ‘Enthused and Confident’.  What we need to target is the 60% of people who are interested in cycling, but concerned about safety, wayfinding, and other issues.


Looking at the research, we found there are three elements that are necessary to capture the 60% that are interested but concerned.  A system has to have three elements, which are:








To make a system that is Safe, Connected, and Legible – we looked at a variety of factors.  One aspect of the system design included branding and system graphics, which were envisioned as a chain which evoked the idea of links – the system became a noun and a verb – PDX LINK – seen with the ‘green’ paint inside as well, which reflected the plans for the concept to increase wayfinding of bike routes.

Another aspect was to incorporate the existing quadrant system, each acting as a link in the chain of PDX LINK. The radiating graphic below depicts the 5 quadrants, a play on geography that makes Portland a unique place to live. Each quad, including North, gets a unique color scheme, along with a simple 2 letter designation that is also incorporated into signage and other graphics.

There was a conceptual mapping component as well including our proposal for two-way cycletracks on main routes, connected by the wayfinding based on quadrants – which is seen above. Each of these ‘highways’ would be located within 1 miles of all residents and businesses, and fed by a system of local streets.

Using Portland Streets as examples, we determined a specific typology of streets in a hierarchy, starting with the highways, and including the boulevards, corridors, and greenways as a complete system.  A couple of examples of before and after sections show the change, and inclusion of a two-way, separated cycletrack that ‘Takes the Lane’ and creates a safe, connected, and legible system.



Starting with these major roadways, the further development of a hierarchy of bike routes, from major Highways and Boulevards, to less traveled Corridors and Greenways – nested inside one another for a complete system. A snapshot of a portion of downtown shows these designations.

The final piece was conceptual sketches – simple before and after graphics to showcase the new idea, on the street. We did a number of them connecting the Cully Neighborhood in Northeast Portland to the Downtown core, using no ‘back street solutions’.   The first starts on NE 57th, with a heavily vegetated buffer providing necessary separation from the traffic to ensure safety for riders.


The second is located along East Burnside – where we are recoupling the one-way to include a two way bike route connected across to downtown.


Another option is downtown, along SW Broadway, where the existing cycle-track was expanded near Portland State University. Note wayfinding and access to multiple modes of transportation throughout.


We did many more graphics, which will get shared down the line. A few more ‘after’ shots include Sandy Boulevard and the Burnside Bridge. The opportunity to make ‘cycling an everyday thing’ offers the ability to go for a ride with your favorite dog, or stop by for some roadside bike-powered gelato, and take the whole family for a ride to the Saturday Market. A safe, connected and legible system can make Portland a world-class bike city.

Hopefully these images help in that effort.

> Check out a PDF of our presentation here, and stay tuned for the video to be posted at GOOD Ideas for Cities shortly.

GOOD Ideas for Cities event a blast!

We’ve been busy at work on the submittal for the GOOD Ideas for cities proposal for bike infrastructure.

Scout Books created custom notebooks for the event
Scout Books created custom notebooks for the event

The event was a great success – and the conversation for new bike concepts in Portland and beyond, mixed with some luck and political will, has the potential to elevate the conversation and adopt some new infrastructure changes to make Portland not just a great bike city, but one that can truly hold the distinction as being ‘World Class’.  Thanks again to Jonathan Maus from Bikeportland.org – our urban leader who posed our question.   The event, which took place at ZIBA Design’s slick new office space, was sold-out and the crowd got into the proposals (including Weiden + Kennedy, Ziba, Sincerely Interested, THINK.urban, ADX, and the Official Manufacturing Company), kicked off by Alissa Walker from GOOD

The event was captured my Sarah Mirk of the Portland Mercury, who documented the proposals and snapped the following pic of our slide-show, along with a brief summary:

“CHALLENGE (from BikePortland.org editor Jonathan Maus): How can we create a major new bikeway that helps make bicycling as visible, safe, convenient, and pleasant for as many people as possible?
IDEAS (from PSU grad student nonprofit THINK.Urban):  “Take a cue from Europe and build two-way cycletracks on Portland’s biggest streets. The two-way lanes would be separated from cars on streets like Sandy, Broadway, and Hawthorne, by a grassy median. “Prioritize bikes on the same level as cars. People are tired of looking at Europe. We want to see these things here now.”


Posting has lagged a bit, but that should change now that we’re moving on to some new things.  Stay tuned as we will post some of the ideas from the proposal, along with the PDF of the presentation, during the next week or so.


Time to Think


A research based non-profit that connects academic research to urban design practice through a number of means, including expertise, scholarship, interventions, publications, and consultation with professionals.

potential activities

  • Update and re-evaluate seminal urban research (jacobs, whyte, lynch – the list is endless)
  • Keep the pulse of current research/scholarship in key areas
  • Produce publications, web/print/scholarly (mainstream to academic)
  • Events – for information dissemination, advocacy, salons/discussions
  • Conduit for specific research projects – self-directed ideas – ideas from others.
  • Consultation on local projects (expertise in key areas) – added to project teams
  • Place for student expansion of scholarship – bring students from around the globe