Hidden In Plain Sight | Gateway Green Wayfinding

There’s an area in East Portland known as Gateway. About 5 miles outside of downtown, this regional center is a big transit hub, shopping destination, and is rich with ethnic communities that make it one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Oregon. It is a vibrant district that has tremendous assets and opportunity for growth that is starting to take shape.

Gateway is exactly that; a gateway. It’s at the confluence of many of Portland’s major transportation corridors. It is connected to Portland and the surrounding region through 3 max lines, multiple bus routes, I-84 and I-205 highways, arterial roads, bike paths, and is networked with the world through its proximity to Portland International Airport. For some families, it’s also a gateway to a new life in a new country. Being one of the more affordable areas to live, many young families are flocking to this part of Portland to take advantage of the quality of life, diversity, and easy access to the city.

Now, a new urban oasis has grown out of the tangle of freeways, multi-use paths and light rail lines. It’s a park fittingly dubbed: Gateway Green. This is big news for an area that’s historically been underserved in terms of amenities; especially parks.

If you’re familiar with the area, you may wonder how you overlooked 25 acres of unused space. That’s because it is a sliver of land nestled between the freeways, north of the transit center along hte multi-use path. If you’ve passed through the district recently, you may have noticed construction on a piece of land that you can see, but can’t seem to get to. The problem is, even if you live in the Gateway area, you may not know how to access the fun and natural beauty the park promises.

In a way, Gateway Green is hidden in plain site.

Even though it’s a short, 5 minute walk from the Gateway Transit Center, the park is only accessible by walking or bike riding along the I-205 multi-use path. Currently there is no road access to the park and that’s where our challenge begins.

Over the course of a decade, the City of Portland, State of Oregon, Friends of Gateway Green, Portland Parks & Recreation, Prosper Portland and many other partners have worked hard to create this unique amenity. How do we let neighbors know the hard work has paid off? Maybe you’ve heard about the park or maybe you’ve seen it from the train or the freeway, and wondered how you get there.

Our friends at Prosper Portland asked us to consider these challenges and create a system to guide neighbors and visitors alike to the park. Over the next few months, we’ll create a series of designs for elements that will become part of a wayfinding system in the area. If you’re not familiar with the term “wayfinding,” it’s refers to all of the ways that we orient ourselves and navigate (or find our way) from place to place.

These tools will include installations, kiosks, signs, and other smaller interventions that will work together to help people learn about and find the park. These will extend out to the neighborhoods in all directions, attracting new users to the park to experience the bike trails and other recreational amenities as they get improved over the next few years.

After working over the summer and into the fall, studying the area, hearing from neighbors, conducting surveys, and gathering feedback from stakeholders, we are starting to develop some of the designs.

On a small scale, you will start to see some signs go up around the transit center that helps direct people and bikers towards the park. Some will be attached to fences and other elements in the built environment, while others may be painted directly on the streets. On a larger scale, we hope to create kiosks and public art that become directional signs with maps. On an even larger scale, we’re shooting for a shelter that becomes a drop off and meeting point for the park.

As the design of these object are underway, there may even be fun, creative opportunities to use street painting, sidewalk chalk or drawing on bike paths to create temporary, ‘gorilla style’ wayfinding. These tactical urbanism strategies can help engage people while testing out possible strategies to attract attention for the park. We are currently working on some grant applications that could fund some temporary events and interventions.

The City of Portland and especially the communities around Gateway have waited a long time for this unique park in this part of town. We think it’s only right to work with as many stakeholders and collaborate with as many groups to make as big an impact as possible.

In the end, we believe we can do more than guide neighbors to Gateway Green, a gem that’s hidden in plain site. We believe we can help them embrace it as their own.