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|Thursday, March 08, 2012|
BY LINDA BAKER
In Italy, indeed, in most European countries, cafés are a ubiquitous feature in parks and plazas. In Portland, a metropolis that likes to think of itself as “the best European city in America” — a phrase coined by mayoral candidate Charlie Hales a decade ago — cafés in parks are not ubiquitous. To be precise, there are only three permanent food service operations in Portland open spaces: Starbucks in Pioneer Square, a coffee kiosk in South Waterfront Park, and Violetta in Director Park.
Correcting my initial generalization, Lindley said not every plaza in Italy has an on-site café. “Every plaza in Italy has cafes around them," he said. The plazas themselves are “generally served by cafés around the edges and you find that tables spill out from side of building into the piazza.” During the Director Park review process, commission members suggested the park imitate this model, especially since the purpose of the curbless street design, Lindley said, was to "engage with the buildings around it."
Portland has no shortage of food carts or temporary vendors. But permanent well designed buildings can be more powerful activators of the surrounding landscape — the goal of all good urban design. Locating restaurants in parks/plazas can be "a noble mission," suggests Lindley — and the practice may even work in parks outside of downtown. Asked about the suitability of locating a café in a neighborhood greenspace such as Laurelhurst Park, Lindley said: “If you put in a beautiful garden restaurant that drew neighborhood residents and became a magnet for people."
As the city searches for a new vendor for the 840-square-foot Director Park site, there are signs that Portland is trying to extend the plaza café concept, despite the challenges. Last fall, I wrote about the conversion of SW Ankeny into a patio for nearby restaurants and the mini boom in sales that followed. Under the right circumstances, it would seem, cafés and public space are the perfect match — on or off the continent.
Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.
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