We propose to initiate a process of creating a new vision for the University of Oregon riverfront property on the south bank of the Willamette River. Through advocacy, research, and visioning, we will empower students to develop a better alternative to the outdated plan for the university riverfront. We want to bring the fate of this university resource back into the hands of the students in order to benefit the broader university community and contribute to the fundamental mission of the University.
With the requested funds, we aim to initiate the process of transforming the riverfront into an unparalleled local landmark that epitomizes the values of our students and community, exemplifies the strengths and unique qualities of our university, and better serves our academic mission and stewardship responsibilities.
2. Project Outline
An inclusive riverfront redesign is a big project that requires significant community involvement, resources, time and effort. The project is composed of three inter-related parts, described below.
A. Education and Advocacy- A New Direction. We will educate and advocate that a greater vision is possible for our riverfront.
With events and presentations facilitated by experts in urban riverfront design, we will provide an opportunity for the public to learn about current design and environmental standards and the guidelines that other communities are employing for similar projects. We will raise public interest, foster excitement about the UO riverfront, and inspire student and faculty participation. This process will create educational opportunities for students in public policy-related fields (public involvement), art and design (imagery), and journalism (documenting the process).
Since construction of the proposed ORI building and parking lot would permanently foreclose on many options for the future of our riverfront, we will advocate for a change in the current trajectory before new projects are constructed on the riverfront. Through the appropriate legal review processes, we will challenge the currently-proposed riverfront ORI building. This project does not meet land-use and public participation requirements, is inconsistent with the approved 1989 Master Plan, and violates the Research Park’s Conditional Use Permit.
B. Research and Vision – The cutting edge. We will initiate and complete a community-inclusive research and visioning process for our riverfront.
Data does not currently exist regarding the state of the site, nor do we know the current best practices for stewardship of the riverfront. With the support of faculty, campus planning, and outside consultants, students in ASLA, GrEBES, and the EDC will gather the necessary data to make informed decisions regarding the use and development of this land. Data regarding the history and cultural resources, hydrology, ecology, public use patterns, and the needs of stakeholders will be collected and compiled, providing opportunities for coursework and independent research. Campus Planning or an independent consultant will collect and publish the information for use in subsequent parts of the project.
Finally, we will execute an inclusive visioning process for the riverfront that will result in a set of development guidelines and preliminary site plan that will maximize the site’s potential. A landscape architecture and planning firm with experience in waterfront design and public involvement will be hired to lend their professional expertise to the visioning process organized and executed primarily by students. Throughout the process, public engagement in the form of online polls, group and individual interviews, site tours, broad public visioning, and focused design charettes will inform the creation of a vision for the riverfront that best meets the needs of the university community.
The process will culminate in the creation of a preliminary site design and a set of guidelines that will provide a framework for future riverfront projects, and allow the creation of a detailed design that will ultimately be implemented.
C. Design, Implementation, and Celebration. We will set the stage to create and celebrate a riverfront that epitomizes who we are as a community.
Though we request funds only for parts A and B, we expect that the final vision that emerges from the community-inclusive design process will ultimately be implemented by the university. At the completion of part B, current information related to the ecology, hydrology, geology, and stakeholder needs will be available to complement the vision developed through the community-inclusive process. These guidelines will allow the university to create a riverfront that best meets the diverse needs of our students, satisfies sustainable design standards, and preserves the ecological function of the Willamette River.
The completion of this project will be marked by a celebration of our community’s shared success and our lasting contribution to the landscape, the community, and the university.
3. Background and Current Outlook
In the mid-1980s the University of Oregon developed a plan to turn public open space and recreational land next to the Willamette River into a private research complex. With a business model that uses scarce university resources to subsidize private development along the riverfront, students and faculty overwhelmingly opposed the Riverfront Research Park project. In the late 1980s, students and faculty members fought this proposal with legal challenges and a city-wide ballot measure in order to bring the proposal back to the table. This was followed, in 1989, by a UO student ballot initiative that encouraged the administration to set aside the riverfront property north of the railroad tracks as a greenway for student use.
Despite the legal challenges, the plan for the Riverfront Research Park was ultimately approved by the City in 1989 through the issuance of a 20-year Conditional Use Permit. The approved Master Plan allowed for construction of 12 private office buildings and 7 parking structures to be built in the open space between Franklin Boulevard and the Willamette River. Over the past 22 years, two buildings were built away from the river, south of the railroad tracks, before the project stalled. Students and community members rejoiced as it seemed like the controversial plan would expire before significant development occurred along the riverfront.