As we enter the rainy season, hundreds of homeless Portlanders seek shelter in tents, cars, public warming shelters, a friend's couch, or under building overhangs. Many also bundle up beneath bridges and overpasses to escape dreary downpours. That is, unless that space is already occupied by unused chunks of concrete.
If you happen to follow the MAX rails underneath the ramps that connect the Morrison Bridge to downtown Portland, you'll find two neat rows of empty concrete planters. They don't block the sidewalk, but line the side closest to the MAX rails. It's a secluded, remarkably quiet spot for a sidewalk in the middle of downtown, and attracts little foot traffic. It's no surprise that in the past, homeless Portlanders would lay out their sleeping bags under the overpass for a dry, unbothered night's sleep. This winter, however, the concrete planters fill that space.
You might recognize these planters from earlier this year, when we reported similar-looking objects crowding the sidewalk a block east, along Naito Parkway. The city had no idea who put them there, and the adjacent business (City Center Parking) did not return our calls.
It's likely these planters were installed by the same people, since they are the exact same design and are adjacent to the same parking lot. They also seem to serve the exact same purpose: To keep people from sitting or sleeping outside, in a spot protected from the elements.
We were instantly suspicious about the Naito planters because they had been placed directly underneath an overpass, condemning the feeble shrubs planted in them to a life without sunlight. It insulted the intelligence of anyone who passed by them and considered, even just for a moment, if they were genuinely created to beautify the underside of a bridge ramp.
This newly-discovered set of concrete planters along the MAX rails, however, are somehow more insulting to humanity because they sit empty. Whoever installed them didn't even attempt to pretend they serve a purpose other than to block people from shelter.
It's still unclear if these planters were placed by nearby City Center Parking or the property owner, MMDC, a commercial real estate company. MMDC has been trying to get developers interested in the property—dubbed Morrison Bridgehead—since a long-simmering plan to turn the area into an indoor marketplace fell through in 2016. (MMDC has yet to respond to the Mercury's request for comment).