Pioneer Courthouse Square

The center of the city wiith an interesting collage of locations, including distances as close as the Tri-Met Info office at the far side of the square and as far as Mutare, which I had to look up (the 4th largest city in Zimbabwe).

Pioneer Courthouse Square is the heart of downtown Portland, and known as Portland’s living room.  It is one of the places I visited in Portland back in June.

You may know that Portland is quite well regarded stateside for progressive urban planning and transportation planning, and that reputation was in large part earned in the 1970s and 1980s.  The creation of the current square, which opened in 1984, was integrated with the long-term investment in creating the Portland Transit Mall along 5th and 6th Avenues (originally a one-way pair of mostly bus-only streets which opened in 1977) and the initial construction of the MAX light rail system (the first part of which passed by here and opened in 1986).

The square provides an outdoor stage and marketplace in a bit of a protected cradle in keeping with the gentle slope of the city downward toward the Willamette River.

The Portland Farmers Market is set up in the square three days a week at lunchtime.

From Wikipedia, this shows the square looking west (and uphill), with the (21st century) Fox Tower in the background in a better view than I managed to get! Under the long steps/benches in a space formerly occupied by a branch of Portland's famously independent bookstore, Powell's, is now a local TV news studio.

Of course, part of what makes the square central in the city (and interesting to me!) is the fact that both MAX downtown light rail lines pass by.  Actually, three of the square’s four sides have trains running along them, and the location at the intersection in between the 1986 east-west MAX alignment (on Morrison and Yamhill Streets) and adjacent to the northbound transit mall (now serving buses as well as the MAX Yellow and Green lines) ensures that it is the city center’s transportation hub.

Here eastbound trains cross northbound trains, and the trains in the picture (Red Line to the Airport on the left and Yellow Line to Expo Center on the right) are stopped at the stations. Too bad the stations aren't all on the inside (allowing people to transfer without having to cross a street). After passing through different parts of downtown both of these trains will converge on the Steel Bridge and the Rose Quarter.

From the square, the Pioneer Courthouse is framed by the modern light rail train, which fills the block completely.

The Pioneer Courthouse, seen above, is one of the oldest buildings in Portland (at 1869, not too bad for the west coast!) – the Italianate building is apparently the second-oldest federal building west of the Mississippi, and has survived numerous efforts to tear it down (often, for parking) to become a National Historic Landmark.

Overall, Portland has been able to create a nice space here, maintaining a reasonable scale in keeping with the courthouse while still offering a modern setting.  Of course, in a city with lots of rain, the outdoor living room is perhaps quite often empty!


Posted on 13/08/2011, in travel, Travel to the States and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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