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Is Portland’s newest urban corridor good or bad? City is asking residents

Posted by on June 4th, 2014 at 2:35 pm

SE Division street scene - photo by Michael Andersen

There’s nothing like a walk to better understand the impact of changes to a street.
(Photo M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Portland’s planning department is trying to figure out if the rapid transformation of Southeast Division Street will become a template or a cautionary tale.

On Wednesday night, it’s invited the public to attend a “community walk” to assess the rapidly redeveloping street and “consider zoning issues through a local lens.”

The walk is 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and begins at Piccolo Park, SE 28th and Division. According to the official description, city staffers will ask:

  • What’s working well or not so well regarding new development?
  • How can zoning code regulations help support a thriving business environment?
  • What building features, scale, or site designs will enhance the character of the area?
  • What design features will create a quality environment for future residents?
  • What are appropriate ways of creating transitions in development scale and activity between mixed use development and adjacent residential areas?

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A second, similar walk is planned for Multnomah Village area on Wednesday, June 11, not far from the newly opened Stephens Creek Crossing subsidized apartment development, among other projects.

Relatively large apartment buildings like those that have transformed Division Street — and are starting to transform North Williams Avenue — have attracted critics and defenders for a wide range of reasons.

In April, when we wrote about the large amount of land in central Portland where new apartment buildings are forbidden, some of the rich discussion that followed centered around the fact that the city’s strategy has been to focus the pressure for redevelopment alongside the commercial corridors in order to avoid demolishing single-family housing.

The city’s next set of rules to regulate those commercial corridors may determine how successful that strategy will be.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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9watts
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9watts

The future of transport will be human powered. I expect greater density, fewer accommodations for horseless carriages, and mixed used jammed together to be very helpful as we move in that direction.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

with all the taller buildings on the south side of the street it’s darker and colder down there during the day…

sidewalks are too narrow for all this traffic… it was already bad a few years ago and now with this grown explosion it’s worse than walking down Hawthorne…

but so far traffic speeds have seemed lower and people are now used to seeing pedestrians… it’s a lot easier to cross the street these days…

I do miss the character of the old buildings they’re demolished in the last few years, but overall the livability of the area has increased…

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

The narrowness of this corridor in many places is a useful traffic calmer. It also makes it, maybe more than other similar streets in the city, a good candidate for the state’s 20 MPH posted limit for a “Business District”. Boosting transit service and slowing traffic speeds are two ways to make this increasingly dense environment safer and more comfortable for all users.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Agreed, the narrowness and increase in density and pedestrian activity (not to mention construction!) is helping bring speeds down, and it definitely IS easier to cross Division than it used to be.

Construction activity has itself had negative effects, including keeping customers away because of the mess, and pushing car traffic on to Clinton, so we won’t fully see the benefits until most of the construction activity ends.

Until the dust settles it’s hard for me to say what works and what doesn’t yet, because I myself have been avoiding the area to some degree. Could we fine-tune things like sidewalk widths, our parking strategy and design standards (how about mandatory setbacks above the second story, at least on the south side of a street, to let in more light?) Sure, and we must. Because the kind of higher-density transformation we’ve seen on Division is at least a pilot project for what we need to do all over the city. I’m excited for the transformation.

And by the way, I would welcome it on Milwaukie Ave here in Brooklyn. When do we get our mixed-projects already?

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

If they’re starting at 28th, somehow I doubt they’ll make it to my neighborhood near 50th. But that area above 39th is beginning to look a lot like below…

IanC
Guest
IanC

Uh, the PLANNING department is trying to figure out if it was a mistake? Isn’t that what PLANNING is about – rigorous review BEFORE implimentation?

Time will tell, but inner SE Division is an unmitigated disaster… so far. It’s dangerous for any kind of user, except for the absentee developer, counting his money in a suburb somewhere.

B.D.
Guest
B.D.

Shut it down from Clay’s to Ava Gene’s Friday and Saturday nights.

Reza
Guest
Reza

The construction site guidelines for maintaining pedestrian access is woefully inadequate in Portland. Nothing makes that realization more clear than having to cross Division multiple times in succession mid-block because of adjacent projects being built across the street from each other.

scott
Guest
scott
noah
Guest
noah

The world and national population is increasing. Increased density is the way we have to handle it. To allow the suburban trends of the 1950’s-80’s to continue would’ve been to bury our heads in the sand.

But the transition to increased density has been painful. The practical problems have been well-documented here and many other places. My own reasons are mainly sentimental — change is hard when it means the end of something you loved — but I think it’s a somewhat universal sentiment, deserving of consideration.

I also wish we still had the collective knowledge to develop new urban centers in the traditional patterns that make old Portland so attractive to newcomers. In a service economy, where geography needn’t be so tightly coupled to economy, it should be possible. Then we’d have other equally-attractive, human-scale places to live. (Imagine how the real estate landscape would be different if Portland east of 205 looked the same as it did west of 205!) But it seems we’ve lost that knowledge somehow, despite our Portland-progressive ideas about urban planning.

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

PIccolo Park is half a block South of Division on 28th Ave.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

What are the main complaints or concerns about the changes on Division St? Is it that the new buildings are poorly designed from an architectural standpoint? Or that the density of the street or area is increasing too much? Or that some people and businesses are being moved out while others are being moved in? Or something else?

Jim Labbe
Guest
Jim Labbe

I lived off Division and 40th about 20 years ago and walked the neighborhood a fair amount. I went back to walk the street recently, which I hadn’t in years, and was amazed how vibrant it is. SE Division looks to me like it definitely has some very good things going.

Christopher Sanderson
Guest

I do know that automobile traffic is terrible along this corridor. I can sit at SE 41st trying to cross Division, and it is car after car after car after car after car after car after car after car… Sometimes it seems impossible to cross.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

Interesting comments.

I’ve lived in the Richmond neighborhood for 13 years, and on balance I love the changes. A mere decade ago Division Street was dead boring, and rife with broken-down auto shops and barely-surviving businesses that sold things like second hand restaurant equipment and used baby gear. All of which was ok, but it wasn’t what most people would call a vibrant commercial strip.

And although I’m not a fan of every new apartment building (the one with the grated facade is, in my opinion, an insult…), some of them are quite nice, and I don’t feel at all nostalgic about any of the crappy buildings (painted cinder block , anyone?) that were either torn down or completely renovated. Remember the Vespa shop, the auto repair shops and the restaurant supply store? Does anyone who lives here really MISS those places?

Call me a yuppie / hipster / elitist or whatever you want, but 50 year-old married father of two is not shedding any tears for the old Division. I like having Bollywood Theater, Cibo’s happy hour, Sen Yai’s noodlefest and Roman Candle’s olive bread a 3-6 minute walk or bike ride away.

More density –> more wallets –> more restaurants, cafés, bakeries, ice cream shops, bars, salons and other services –> higher property values –> more tax revenues –> better schools and other public services.

I say bring it!

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

Oh, they’re complaining about the gentrification too. How no-one can afford to live there any more. But as Eric Cress, partner in UD+P, which is developing and/or owns 5 buildings on Division, pointed out, the new apartment buildings of today will become those older, cheaper apartments in the future…as long as they are built now. Stop building them now, and there won’t be any old buildings to rent in the future.

Some people just don’t like anything over 2 stories, and said so tonight. They complain about the “canyon” effect. I don’t see it. The street right of way is 60′ wide. The buildings, at 45′, aren’t even equal to the width. I like the sense of enclosure, and hope that some of the obvious gaps (like the two remaining ex-gas stations at 33rd Ave) are filled in with similar buildings.

Others have brought up “solar access”. They mention this in connection with existing lower houses north of Division shaded by the new buildings, and also that the buildings on the south side should be lower so as not to shade the buildings on the north side. But, really, as someone mentioned, you can only build a suburb with solar access regulations, you can’t build a city. Even an old 2.5 story Foursquare house shades it’s one-story neighbor.

Re: auto traffic. Besides the slowdown from all the construction, there’s so much more pedestrian activity on Division, that I expect all the people crossing the street are and will be slowing traffic. Perhaps some drivers will find other routes, like Powell. Or maybe they’ll be taking transit on Powell in the future (see Powell-Division High Capacity Transit project now starting up!).

TJ
Guest
TJ

Division can only continue sprawling east-west and straight-up. The single family homes and trees on to the north and south aren’t going anywhere. It’s not the Pearl.

Overall, despite fond memories of racing shopping carts down Division in ’09, business is booming and the street still oozes of (newer) Portland charm.

Still, there are places in Portland where in-fill development is better suited and potentially needed. Let’s stop pretending Division or Williams or any thru-street sandwiched by single family homes and trees can become anything but a destination for noodles and ice cream (to be fair, I’d much prefer to see hardware stores, cobblers, boutiques, mom-&-pop team sports stores, a bike shop, etc).

maccoinnich
Guest

I took a ride over there a few weeks ago. I got off my bike ride around Cesar Chavez, and walked back towards downtown. My reaction was “this is what all the fuss is over?” A bunch of medium rise buildings on a short section of a commercial corridor? Maybe it’s because I live in NW Portland, or maybe its because I grew up in the UK, with much older and denser cities, but I have hard time understanding the controversy over this small increase in density.

In particular, I had a hard time believing that the building at 37th & Division was the one all the legal battles had been fought over. Its design is pretty pedestrian, but to hear the neighbors complain, one would think they’re building Pruitt-Igoe there. There are a handful of building that I really liked, including 3360 Division by Works Partnership and 3339 Division by THA.

That said, I do believe Portland needs to make it much harder for contractors to block pedestrian access. It’s a very genuine complaint that it’s too hard to walk down Division. In many other cities, they build temporary pedestrian protection tunnels out of plywood. Being able to close the sidewalk is a convenience for the contractors, and rarely a true necessity.

I also think the Streetscape project was a wasted opportunity. Are we ever going to get bike lanes on of the inner SE/NE neighborhood main streets? Given the controversy over 28th, I get that isn’t politically easy, but the construction of the curb extensions and bioswales pretty precludes putting in any bike infrastructure for the next couple decades.

On the whole though, I think the street is much more pleasant and more interesting than it was before. I hope to see more of this kind of development in Portland.

Mel
Guest
Mel

Can we add affordable housing and removing the ban on inclusionary zoning to the list of topics discussed? These are HUGE issues that can’t be ignored.

Nicholas Skaggs
Guest
Nicholas Skaggs

B.D.
Shut it down from Clay’s to Ava Gene’s Friday and Saturday nights.
Recommended 6

“GENTRIFICATION IN PROGRESS: STREET CLOSED, SUCKAH”

kittens
Guest
kittens

As long as the economy continuous to grow disproportionally in one direction (favoring upper classes) any changes will be seen as a imposition.
Rich kids move in from who knows where and ‘hipsterfy’ their surrounds. It’s called gentrification and there is nothing the city can do, except to to lift wages on the lower end.

B.D.
Guest
B.D.

I highly suggest everybody moseys up and down Division in the area in question on Google Maps street view, set the clock back to 2007 and tell me what losses you are lamenting

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I hope the street gets resurfaced, as it has deteriorated considerably, perhaps partly did to many pavement cuts.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

B.D is right. Take a look back on Google maps. Division was a sh*tshow in 2007.

WRT to the bioswales vs. bike lanes, I ride down Division all the time, and I like the bioswales. Depending on your comfort level as a cyclist, either (a) bike on Clinton or Lincoln, both of which are very pleasant “bike boulevards,” or (b) stay on Division and TAKE THE LANE! At least when riding West / downhill, it’s pretty easy to keep up with car traffic. Yes, drivers may get frustrated, but if cyclists take the lane, they’ll set the pace, and frustrated drivers who want to go faster will shift over to Powell or Hawthorne — where they probably should be anyway.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

Actually, I don’t recall having experienced any hostility from drivers when cycling downhill on Division. But I tend to ride at the speed limit so as to not impede traffic that’s driving at approximately the speed limit.

But I’m not belligerent or stubborn, either. If someone behind me seems to be in a hurry, I generally pull over and let them pass when it’s safe to do so. But most of the time I just ride at the speed limit, in the middle of the traffic lane, and I don’t have any trouble.

I actually think that riding in the middle of the lane, with traffic, feels safer than riding in a bike lane along the shoulder. I’ve been doored a few times, even while in a bike lane, and that’s not ideal, either.

Note that I’m not advocating “taking the lane” for everyone. In fact, if I’m riding with my kids or my wife, who aren’t comfortable riding with traffic, I ride on the bike boulevards.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

We should be celebrating the transformation of that section of SE Division from a commuter route with vacant lots and dying businesses into a vital piece of the city. I’m looking forward to more housing on Interstate, Broadway, Fremont; with that comes more retail, more people, more energy and fewer vacant lots, parking lots, and less blight.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Does anyone who went on this walk have a report they would be willing to offer? I’d be interested to hear.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I can understand, if not fully agree with, the older homeowners having that view. They are the most likely to be there for the future Division and the least able to pack up and leave if the street turns out badly. To take the logic (of equating longevity to voice) to an extreme, how much “say” in future development should a hotel guest have?

But what are the homeowners upset about? I would guess the redevelopment of ratty old Division St will increase property values, not decrease them. And, being home OWNERs, they can’t be involuntarily displaced. Sure, a four story apartment going up next to your house would suck, but if my house is right on Division St, I know I’m living on a mixed commercial/residential block.

Just curious.

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

At 30th and Division, the group leader asked how folks felt about the development there. Some (not all) noted that the two story buildings on two corners seemed about the right height, and they liked the plaza on the SE corner, at the D Street Village building (old Nature’s store). This little plaza, which existed before, has tables, and cute fencing along the sidewalk. The Bollywood restaurant that fronts on it had an open wall of doors, but at 6:00 on a sunny afternoon, no-one was in the plaza, which some people took note of. Others were also concerned that this really wasn’t a “public” plaza, as it was private property where any “undesirables” could be evicted, not to mention the effect of it being fenced. A couple of other buildings, at 3339, and 3812, have smaller “notches” in the building that are open, but similarly are on private property.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

Maybe the neighborhood’s renters — perhaps led by Doug’s neighbor who has lived here for 20 years — should get organized and start making their voices heard at neighborhood association meetings. Otherwise the associations will continue to represent primarily “entitled” residents (i.e. those with a Title Deed).

Venture into a neighborhood association meeting sometime and you’ll find that many neighborhood activists are otherwise-progressive homeowners with land-use positions very similar to those of homeowners in wealthy suburbs and other exclusive communities: “we like the status quo, so stop the development!”

They would never say this overtly and they still think they’re “fighting the good fight,” but by combatting infill and density, many of the area’s homeowners have embraced land use positions that are deeply conservative — and, from an economic diversity standpoint, increasingly exclusive.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

Mamacita, you’re right. There’s nothing progressive about $2,000 a month apartments. But there’s also nothing inherently progressive about $250/month rents. Relatively low rents generally just reflect a neighborhood’s relatively low desirability.

Rents are a function of supply and demand.

The Division/Clinton corridor is a great place to live. Lots of people want to live here, so property owners (developers as well as homeowners) can charge high rents and still fill their vacancies. If we pass laws to make it more expensive to build more housing (e.g. by requiring that new apartments provide parking, or otherwise limiting density), developers’ costs will increase, fewer units of housing will be built, the local housing supply will be even more constrained, and rents will be even higher.

There are only a few effective ways to drive down rents: increase the supply of housing, do something (e.g. sell a lot of drugs or start a major crime spree) to decrease local housing demand, or require that developers build a certain percentage of “income restricted” housing. Unfortunately, Oregon currently prohibits #3.

Portland’s inner neighborhoods have seen a huge spike in desirability over the past 15-odd years, without a similar increase in housing supply. And developers (companies as well as homeowners converting garages and basements into ADUs) are responding to the market.

People who are concerned about high rents should be agitating for inclusionary zoning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclusionary_zoning) and MORE development, not less.

alex
Guest
alex

i am a se resident, studied arch/urban planning, and used to get my moped fixed at the scooter shop. i walk, i bike, i moped, i drive a car. here are my quick opinions:

se division is a e/w traffic corridor following a rhythm of major/minor streets on the east side. it should stay that way for all vehicles. its what makes it desirable to have businesses along, its also the appropriate type of street to densify. if you make it too inconvenient for auto traffic, they will filtre to the residential streets and that is dangerous/undesirable.

i do not believe that the personal transportation device (i.e. car) will disappear from american culture. i quite enjoy driving (not in the city) and like that my car is available if i want to go out of town or longer distances/cargo. its naive to building new residential buildings and not include parking, everyone loses out quality of life-wise except for the developers that saved a whole lot of money.

architecturally, while a few of the buildings are well designed, most are cheap and boring. the clinton at 26th and division is the type of design quality i would like to see (and it has parking (gasp!)).

the homogeneity is disappointing. it reminded me of a mini albina.

i need to visit the oregon theatre (in the interests of experiencing “old” portland culture) before it gets replaced by lackluster buildings..