Ross Island group propels planning for urban oasis
Friends of Ross Island hope to use a “straw proposal”
Daily Journal of Commerce
POSTED: 06:00 AM PST Tuesday, January 15, 2008
BY ALISON RYAN
Half of the buildings in the city of Portland were built using sand and gravel pulled from Ross Island. Now it’s the city’s turn to give back, says a group working to plan the future of the island.
“The island gave to the city, now it’s time for the city to rebuild the island,” said Mike Houck, the executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute and a member of Friends of Ross Island, an ad-hoc group that’s producing ideas for the future of the Willamette River island.
Among the edgy comfort and modern-architecture-in-miniature of the South Waterfront Discovery Center last week, Houck, Audubon Society of Portland’s Bob Sallinger and Willamette Riverkeeper Travis Williams laid out the past, and potential future, of Ross Island.
The crowd – three-quarters of which, by a show of hands, were South Waterfront residents – was hooked. As Houck flipped through Rorschach-like black outlines of how the island’s form has changed in the 80 years since active mining began, the room began to buzz.
“They’ve whittled down Ross Island, as you saw, dramatically,” he said.
The bottom line for the group, according to Houck, is restoring four islands in the river, including Ross Island, to ensure their long-term ecological function. Everything else that’s part of the effort – from creating beneficial relationships between people and the island to preserving and interpreting the islands’ natural and cultural histories – flows from the restoration and management effort.
Ross Island, which Robert Pamplin Jr. in September donated to the city of Portland, is the most important ecologically, said Audubon conservation director Sallinger.
“It’s also the piece the city could accept without strings attached,” he added.
Ross Island as a public space was first floated by John Charles Olmsted, who in 1903 proposed a park in the middle of the Willamette.
“This is an idea that’s been in place for a long time,” Sallinger said.
And it’s an idea that Friends of Ross Island wants to see move forward. The group – driven by the efforts of people like Houck; Sallinger; Williams; landscape designers Christina Frank, Melissa Medeiros, Mike Faha and Mike Abbate – is planning a series of meetings with community and neighborhood groups. Ultimately, Houck said, the group will come out with a “straw proposal,” a vision for the island that’s hoped to contribute to – and speed up – the public process.
“Can you imagine a more incredible site in the heart of the city?” Houck said.