First Advisor

Jeremy Spoon

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Anthropology and University Honors




Open spaces -- Design -- Public opinion, Open spaces -- Planning, Portland State University -- Landscape architecture -- Case studies




In downtown Portland, Oregon, Portland State University (PSU) has composed a small Oak Savanna ecosystem, no bigger than the average classroom, nuzzled into the contours of the built environment. Many different stakeholders habitually use this urban green space, some of whom may consider their interests oppositional. These groups include PSU’s Indigenous Nations Studies community and the local dog owning community, who have historically had difficulties sharing the space for different uses. Because there are so many diverse interests in the space, planners from PSU facilitated co-design meetings, or “charettes”, in which stakeholders collaboratively imagined what the space could be with the help of a contracted landscape design firm. This study used the co-creative approach to the Oak Savanna on the campus of Portland State University as a case study for evaluating the process of co-design in the urban environment, especially as it applies to ecological restoration projects. I ask whether various stakeholder’s interests are equally represented at the Oak Savanna and whether the co-design process took into account, and further, represented the ideas and needs of those who use and love the Oak Savanna. Using a mixed-methods approach with one focus group, three in-depth interviews, and participant observation as my primary methods and artistic exercises and archival research as my secondary methods, I assessed stakeholder’s interests both independently, in the context of the co-design process, and in the context of the finished, co-designed prototype. I argue that the co-design process is useful for uncovering the socio-material relationships between stakeholder groups and place, by examining the role of expertise in assigning identity through design. This study examines the role of expertise and competing epistemologies in the co-design process and its relevance to ethnographic concern, which has been largely unexplored by anthropological inquiry.


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