First Advisor

Ethan Seltzer

Date of Publication

Fall 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Urban Studies (M.U.S.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Urban Center Plaza (Portland, Or.), Ethnology -- Oregon -- Portland, Public spaces -- Oregon -- Portland -- Design



Physical Description

online resource (vii, 138 pages)


The Urban Center Plaza at Portland State University is a high profile place situated in downtown Portland, Oregon. In some ways it is the ideal university plaza providing space for eating, conversing, or limited recreational activity. It is a place that has been studied before, but not in a more in-depth method incorporating quantitative and qualitative analyses. It is also a place that has gone through several stages of development and is the target of many opinions based on casual observations, at times due to these changes. This thesis focuses on an ethnography of place in this particular plaza in an effort to more thoroughly analyze how people use the space and how it came together to become the plaza known by Portlanders today. This is done through the use of random video observations, direct observations, and in-depth interviews with those who were involved in the creation of the plaza. Analysis of the video recordings includes pedestrian counts, behavioral maps, and common routes taken through the plaza. Direct observations provide more insight into the day-to-day activities of the plaza and the phenomenological perspective of the design elements. Interviews allow for a more complete timeline of events in order to assess the plaza properly. By combining these methods based on other plaza-based ethnographies, it is concluded that the plaza is a well-used and successful space and even suggest possible areas of improvement. Methods are also assessed for future use on other city parks and plazas, possibly in a comparative context.


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