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SoMa Parklet project gets green light

The block of Southwest 4th Avenue food carts are a staple lunch spot for many Portland State students, faculty, and staff, not to mention employees of the city of Portland and other office buildings nearby. However, for anyone who has visited these carts, you know the frustrating reality that while you can get a delicious meal from one of the 20 or so different carts, there is no place to sit to enjoy your food. That’s about to change. The SoMa (South of Market) EcoDistrict in partnership with PSU’s School of Architecture and other community partners are working to develop a parklet, a creatively designed public seating space on SW 4th in front of the food carts. 

The SoMa Parklet design was recently accepted by the cty of Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) as part of the cty’s Street Seats Program. Launched in 2012, the Street Seats Program replaces street parking with park-like seating. Eight Street Seat projects have already been built around Portland, but all of them are associated with private businesses or restaurants. The SoMa Parklet will be the first, truly public Street Seat installation in Portland, and the first street seat in the Southwest neighborhood. 

The SoMa Parklet design offers dynamic seating options, from a high-top bar with stools, to more intimate high back bench seating, to low back benches with small tables. The idea is to offer many different types of seating to accommodate those who are just waiting for their food to be ready as well as people who want to use the space for small meetings or a lunch gathering with friends. The concept of sustainability runs throughout the parklet with careful consideration given to storm water management and the use of reused, recycled, and sustainable materials. 

The entire process behind the SoMa Parklet embodies the idea of partnership and promotes PSU’s vision of promoting sustainability at the neighborhood scale. Students in a PSU School of Architecture course under the direction of Assistant Professor of Architecture B.D. Wortham-Galvin developed the preliminary parklet design. The project is currently co-managed by a recent Master of Architecture graduate, Michael Coon, and the SoMa EcoDistrict. The parklet project is all about uniting students with community partners to work on innovative solutions to community needs and promoting neighborhood sustainability. 

In addition to this partnership between PSU and SoMa, this parklet is being built as a community project. Oregon Pacific Investment & Development (OPID), the owners of the parking lot where the food carts are locate are covering the parklet under their insurance and are paying for the annual lost meter revenue required as part of the PBOT permit for construction. Other donations from PSU Finance and Administration and CH2M Hill are going toward materials costs. Lumber for the parklet will come from Sustainable Northwest Wood. Construction and design support will come from a number of architecture firms. These partnerships demonstrate the true collaborative nature of this project, and additional partnerships will be needed to bring the project to life.

Even the construction of the parklet will be a collaborative affair. Much of the construction will happen offsite by students in another PSU architecture course in September and early October. The onsite assembly and final construction is planned for mid to late October. This tiered construction schedule not only gives more students an opportunity to work on this community project, but also helps reduce construction labor costs. Design and construction firms will act as the technical experts on various aspects of the construction, giving students exposure to professionals in the field. 

The SoMa Parklet will provide more public seating adjacent to these popular food carts, helping to activate this space that was once used solely for parking. However, the project more broadly will benefit those that live, work, go to school, and visit the district. We are still in need of additional funding for materials. If you are able to contribute or want to learn more please contact Liz Hormann, SoMa project coordinator, at ehormann@pdx.edu.

Elizabeth Hormann is a Portland State Masters of Public Administration student and the project coordinator for the SoMa EcoDistrict. 

B.D. Wortham-Galvin, assistant professor in the School of Architectue, contributed to this post.