Paul Caporaso, MUP 2019

Summer 2018

Organization: City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, Portland, OR

Sponsor: Greater Boston Area Community Service Fellowship


“I am spending my summer interning with the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, working specifically on a riverfront masterplan for the “South Reach”, the southern portion of the Willamette River as it flows through Portland. The River Plan for the South Reach is a confluence of planning issues ranging from natural resources management and recreation to housing and TOD. I have arrived in the office at the immediate start of the planning process. Our first step is community engagement with those living in the vicinity of the river and those who use the area for both passive and active recreation.

The end of my first two weeks culminated with the projects first community design charrette, inviting community members — mostly nearby residents — to contribute to the future visioning of the riverfront.

The participants named a number of concerns, many atypical of any new ecological masterplan — concerns about human development, conservation of natural resources, habitat restoration, etc. One participant’s comment resonated to a larger issue within city planning that has been shown little attention in the professional planning processes of the United States — regionalism. The comment, reflecting on the users of the river, called into question our very thin project boundary that for most sections extends only a few hundred feet from the riverbank. While I doubt the gentleman was thinking of the entire Portland region, the tone of his question had a similar sentiment behind it as the one I have been asking since I have began this internship. Who are we planning for?

The Willamette, even in solely anthropocentric terms, is a resource for the entire region. The section that runs through Portland is the Lower Willamette (as the river flows south-north) and even before European colonization, has been an important part of the lives of those inhabiting it. In the project’s context, this history reveals that its value transcends the political and technical boundaries we may assign to its embankments and uses.

As the community outreach and engagement process moves forward, those who use the river and those who live adjacent the river have the possibility of having two very conflicting visions. This tension is important and exciting but also a matter of balance, a balance that for the last several decades has shifted in favor of the hyper-local. My internship will involve me being hands-on during the ongoing design visioning and engagement process. I am hoping to learn best practices for balancing local and regional needs as well as present and future uses in the context of a city that is renowned for sustainability and progressive planning methods.”