Director Park

Director Park plantings, Portland

Living without a backyard means making full use of public spaces. In the last year since moving downtown to an apartment lacking even a balcony, I've spent time under a hat in the spring sun e-mailing friends on my phone or sitting listening to impromptu classical piano music in the courtyard at the Portland Art Museum; reading a book while lying on a stone bench in the raised courtyard at the Oregon History Museum, alternating between sun and shade; pausing during walks with friends to talk on wooden benches in the South Park Blocks; wandering through the paths among the tall dark trees up at Pier Park; hiking up Forest Park trails; reading on a picnic blanket in dappled shade during a friend's softball game at University Park in North Portland; attending a free Pink Martini concert down at Pioneer Courthouse Square; photographing a May Day protest in the South Park Blocks; strolling down Waterfront Park and picnicking with a friend on a wooden bench during the Rose Festival; and stopping on my way home from work to listen to a local musician or pulling out a book and reading for a stolen half hour before dinner on a bench at Director Park to the white-noise background of a gurgling fountain. There's no weeding, watering, or pruning required—just showing up. Who knows what surprises a park will hold on any given day? Clean, safe, pleasant public parks are one of a city's best, often unsung, resources.

feet up, Director Park, Portland

Director Park event sign

This summer, I've been most drawn to Director Park, two blocks east of the Central Library on Park Avenue between the old Guild Theatre and the Regal Cinemas Fox Tower 10. Its tall, wood-slatted perimeter benches offer for visitors the anonymity of being able almost to blend into the background, the foreground being all the children wading on hot days down in the Teachers Fountain on the north side, attended by their parents, and the families playing big chess up on the south side.

oversized chessboard, Director Park, Portland

old and new, Director Park, Portland

Since being watched outside is always a possibility, unless a person has a fully enclosed backyard or private patio or roof deck with no overlooking neighbors, what better way to take control of public visibility than to do some people watching in return?

two friends, Director Park, Portland

concert audience, Director Park, June 2014

strutting pigeon, Director Park

The park is tidy and sunny, tiled with herringbone granite and strewn with gray metal café chairs and tables, reminding me a little of Union Square in San Francisco and, to a lesser degree, the expansive old central squares of Europe. Some people eat and drink outside the Elephants in the Park café or else bring their own lunches or dinners during work breaks. Others come for weekend dance events or evening Soundscapes concerts, like the one local classical guitarist Jason Okamoto played on June 30th that I just happened onto, making me pause on my way through the park and instead sit quietly to listen to a lovely mix of Spanish and Brazilian acoustic jazz. Friends meet to talk and catch up. Eyes wander to follow a small dog on a leash or a wee squealing child running from a parent. Cars, bikes, the MAX train, and even the occasional Segway tour pass by. And if all this still isn't enough, the park director even offers up a bin of classic board games for borrowing.

Director Park parking entrance

bin of board games, Director Park

passing Segway tour, Director Park

Elephants in the Park café

All the Portland homeless camp elsewhere, this small park block being staffed and informally patrolled by a young crew dressed in khaki pants and bright blue shirts, although once, at night, my friend Carol and I were asked by an older man passing in a wheelchair if we needed any pot. We didn't, thanks. Director Park is relaxing enough, all on its own.

café chair with seated pigeon, Director Park

glass ceiling, Director Park, Portland

sunset shadows, Director Park, Portland

What's your favorite Portland park?

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