The momentum of four years of hard work from 2,000 makers, builders, architects and designers could not be slowed, even by a pandemic. In mid-July, the Port of Portland unveiled its brand-new Concourse E extension, the first of many expansion projects under the PDX Next umbrella. The 800-foot concourse extension designed by Hennebery Eddy Architects and Fentress adds several much-needed gates, local restaurants, shops, artwork and a stunning view of Mt. Hood.
Mayer/Reed has worked at PDX for 25 years and we’re proud to be part of its evolution. For the new extension our landscape architects provided site design including a multi-use path, security fencing and signature landscape along the arrival roadway. At the interior, the extension premieres a new wayfinding sign system. Mayer/Reed collaborated with PDX Sign Master Plan firm, HOK, to realize the new PDX sign standards. We look forward to its implementation throughout the entire Portland International Airport.
The power of these words only scratches the surface of the pain and disturbing injustices that Black communities have endured for centuries. We must address the many complicated and layered challenges to erode systemic racism in our society.
As designers of the built environment, we acknowledge our responsibility to serve the community through equitable and inclusive design. We must do better to ensure that Black and other marginalized people have the access and respect they deserve.
Mayer/Reed has paused our outward messaging in the month of June to make an action plan for the work we must do internally to become allies and effective agents of change. We do not have the answers; yet we are committed to an evolving process and long term effort. In a gesture of transparency, we offer an outline of the first steps we are taking:
• Establish an internal diversity, equity and inclusion advocacy committee to support learning to identify and address implicit bias and systemic racism in design and the design process. Our committee will begin by creating a multi-faceted action plan for this essential work.
• Invest in diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-oppression training for all employees and leadership.
• Examine our human resources procedures and create an action plan to increase equitable practices in our studio and opportunities for marginalized people.
• Evaluate our pro bono, sponsorship and donation commitments to better support organizations that are committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.
• Perform post-occupancy case studies of select Mayer/Reed projects to learn from the successes and inadequacies of past work and processes.
• Strengthen our internal and external commitment to educational, internship and mentor programs that strive to eliminate barriers facing people of color in their career pursuits in landscape architecture, interior design and experiential graphic design.
• As stewards of natural and urban environments, redouble our commitment to designing spaces that foster inclusion and equal access to health, safety and well-being.
On this last day of Landscape Architecture Month in the year 2020, we are continuing to respond to the challenges of extended stay at home directives. We are also trying to imagine what a return to “normalcy” will look like in our households, neighborhoods, public spaces and larger communities.
We, as landscape architects and designers, are looking beyond our own backyards to further consider how shared outdoor spaces will function. We long for our accustomed physical and social connections; yet it remains difficult to grasp the large and small steps to regain what suddenly has gone missing. Will these spaces be more profoundly valued as social sanctuaries and essential to peoples’ lives?This experience of imagining adaptations to life beyond the mandates of COVID-19 reminds me of the difficult reckoning with our shock and vulnerabilities after the 911 attacks in 2001. The threat was different, but the feeling of fear was impactful. I recall how the opening of the newly christened Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade was transformed into a sacred space for those who gathered. Rather than the planned gala celebration of the Eastbank, city staff and event sponsors came together to organize the Illuminata, a nighttime candle-light vigil. It was held in solidarity with the many people across the nation who were deeply affected by the crisis. A procession formed a continuous ribbon of humans and light along the east and west banks. The ribbon spanned across two bridges of the Willamette River. Its mirrored procession was reflected on the surface of the river. Public participation in the Illuminata was far greater than we ever expected. I still think about the impact, peace and beauty of coming together in that moment: a powerful, emotional, shared experience that was all about hope. For many of us, we were able to move forward, in part, from that point.
Now, as we stay home, our expressions of hope and solidarity are experienced very differently. We realize it’s unrealistic to think that any single point in time will acknowledge the end of a world pandemic. Unlike declaring an end to a war, there will be no exact moment that helps us attain closure. How will we gain a post-pandemic perspective, given the effects of the human tragedy and disruption that we are currently experiencing? Collectively and individually, we will all remain profoundly shaped by this experience.
Over time, we will resume family and friend gatherings, sports, festivals, farmers markets, parades and concerts, the “normal” activities in the spaces that we once took for granted. It is my hope that we reflect upon and recognize the value of our shared spaces. Will they, in an entirely new way, begin to feel sacred?