UO Landscape Architecture students closing the gap on Portland’s 40-mile Loop

When it comes to closing a gap, students at the University of Oregon may be the solution.  The “40-mile Loop,” originally proposed for Portland by John Charles Olmsted in 1903, envisioned identifying open park space and linking it to greenways and boulevards to create a publicly accessible trail.  Some parts of this trail were created in the early 1900’s, but progress was stalled during the onset of WWII and the Great Depression. 

The project resurfaced in the 1980’s as a regional effort that became a 120-mile multimodal trail, catering to runners, walkers, cyclists, and horseback riders.  Olmsted’s original vision was for the trail to follow along natural open spaces, such as rivers, levies, or abandoned railroads. However, there is a seven-mile stretch of the trail, needed to close the loop, that lies in city-spaces where there is no natural course to follow. 

 Robert Ribe, a professor in the department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Oregon, and his course, “Land Planning and Design” are attempting to propose solutions on how to close this loop.  As part of the Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP), Ribe’s class of 25 students, forming teams of four to five members, are spending the term developing possible plans for a seven-mile multimodal corridor from Sandy River to Springwater in collaboration with the city of Gresham.  A paved path is needed through Gresham, Multnomah County, and Troutdale, which are mostly suburban areas. 

“An advantage in students making proposals is that they have no political agenda; it’s hard to be creative in a controversial situation,” Ribe stated.  “We’re hoping the student work can get a conversation going on how to finally close the loop.”

While the cities and counties benefit from these new ideas, students benefit too. “As design students, this is their first introduction to a planning-scale problem,” Ribe said.  “A project like this contains social, political, and land-use complexities not usually found on a design site.  Students are learning how to provide information by which others make decisions.” 

Gifford Bautista, a Landscape Architecture bachelor student in Ribe’s course agrees:

“The design processes you learn in school are much different than the processes you use working for a client.  It’s definitely new, and exciting knowing your work can have real impacts.”

The students will present their recommendations at the end of the term to public officials in the Metro region.