Congress Square in the heart of downtown Portland has experienced a renaissance in recent years. With high-quality free public programming, public arts exhibits, dancing, s’mores nights, movie nights, markets and more, Congress Square has become an inclusive, vibrant community gathering place. Our organizations, Portland Downtown and Friends of Congress Square Park, are proud that Portland residents and visitors alike know they are welcomed in this cozy corner of the city.

A rendering of the redesign of Portland’s Congress Square. The city is being asked to include in its capital improvement budget the funds needed for Phase B of the project: redesigning the Portland Museum of Art plaza, the H.H. Hay Building plaza and Congress Square Park. Rendering courtesy of WRT Planning + Design

However, the square is not nearly accessible enough. It is challenging and dangerous for those with mobility issues, and there are walled-off sections blocking important viewpoints and creating unnecessary barriers. Colorful amenities can do a lot, but not everything.

The quality of public space matters. This is especially true in Congress Square, which sits in Portland’s most densely populated and diverse neighborhood. The last few years have reinforced the importance of high-quality public space, especially for families without access to backyards or cars to escape the confines of the city.

Fortunately, the Congress Square redesign is well on its way to completion, transforming this car-dominated and dilapidated area into a world-class urban green space.

The redesign is over a decade in the making, and hundreds of people participated in the process bringing us to this critical point. Beginning with a city-sponsored public visioning exercise – in which over 650 residents participated – followed by a series of public forums held during decision points in the design process, the city of Portland, Friends of Congress Square Park and the Portland Public Art Committee convened residents, neighborhood associations, nonprofits and businesses to help develop a vision for Congress Square and to develop designs that successfully fulfill the community’s needs and aspirations for the square.

The redesign has three components. Phase A, the redesign of the intersection of Congress, High and Free streets; Phase B, the redesign of the public space including the Portland Museum of Art plaza, the H.H. Hay Building plaza and Congress Square Park itself; and Phase C, the installation of a custom public art sculpture by renowned artist Sarah Sze.

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With the redesign, inviting pathways, seat walls and benches, shade trees, dense plantings, lighting, a natural play scape and a splash pad will provide a welcome year-round urban respite for local residents and visitors alike. The updated traffic flow and crosswalk width and placement will ease congestion and significantly improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. The improved performance area will facilitate educational, cultural and community programming and, along with the Sze installation, establish the square’s unique identity as a place where access to art is celebrated.

The improvements will enhance opportunities for social connection and foster a sense of neighborhood pride and belonging. The end result will be a community gathering place that is welcoming and inspiring for generations to come.

But first, the city must allocate the remaining funding needed in order for Phase B construction to proceed. After the challenges of the initial phase, it’s all the more critical that the remaining phases stay on track and move forward expeditiously.

Given this, we respectfully ask that the city include the remaining $1.4 million for the Phase B construction in the city manager’s capital improvement plan budget, as requested by the city’s Planning and Urban Development Department. Equally important, we ask you, the concerned citizens of Portland, to respectfully voice your support for this critical project to be included in the capital improvement plan. You can do so by sending an email to: [email protected]

This is the final funding needed from the city to complete the project; additional public and private funds have already been committed. Local residents, businesses and foundations are raising $2 million for the redesign, $900,000 of which is allocated for Phase B construction.

We are grateful for the city’s commitment to the project thus far. The Congress Square redesign has been a true public-private partnership and we are inspired by the generous community-wide support in Portland. It’s time to get the funding over the finish line so the project can proceed as planned.


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