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Comment of the Week: A pro-bike case for the Portland that was

Posted by on March 20th, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Sprockettes at 2008 Tour de Fat-40.jpg

The Sprockettes perform at the 2008 Tour de Fat.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Total comments this week: 883

We can see change happening. We can accept that change has to happen. We can even appreciate parts of it.

But that doesn’t always make change feel good, and it doesn’t mean that change is good.

Responding to other readers’ pro-housing-supply comments beneath Tuesday’s post about low-impact infill projects, BikePortland reader rachel b (who is, according to other posts, a Portlander since childhood) shared a take on the city’s development that was deeply personal, charmingly self-deprecating and a little bit heartbreaking, too.

Here’s Rachel’s first comment, a reply to another reader who had been dismissive of people who object to housing infill.

“Cranky, ill-informed older residents?” How very black and white of you! This irritable dimwit just happens to be with you on making people pay for parking—as much as possible. I’m also completely behind the ideas discussed in this article. I can feel that way and also tell you that it’s the opposite of irrational to be attached to your home/community. It’s human. It’s even cat, fern and slug. We like home. Maybe you’re a nomad and you don’t, though you seem to be very much behind making Portland a home in a way that satisfies you. I can understand that, though I don’t agree with your vision of Portland-home. Can you imagine anyone ever wanted to move here before you, to our dumpy bungalow wasteland? Try. I can appreciate your seeing A New Portland as a great thing—I can put myself in your shoes. But I don’t feel the same way about all the change, at this point. 2008 was the tipping point for me. I was your model citizen Welcome Wagon up to then. From where I sit, locals have been pretty decent overall about all the change happening—it’s been happening for a long time now, at an ever-accelerating pace. We’re a pretty welcoming bunch, overall. Feeling the strain and saying something about it should be something anyone here feels free to express without threat of insults or condescension. It’s part of the picture, part of the story of what’s happening in Portland. We probably agree on a number of things but it’s no fun to talk to someone seemingly intent on making you into a cartoon.

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After replies from three other readers, rachel b shared some more perspective:

“I’ve watched and mostly cheered the enlivening of old neighborhoods, while at the same time feeling increasingly ill-at-ease on my native ground as newcomers with an unfamiliar and sometimes alienating concept of Portland pour in.”

Thanks for your post, Anne—much appreciated, and very well said. I get a lot out of your posts generally. I miss the old unhip Portland more than you, perhaps, but then I am an enemy of hipness.

“That’s what I don’t completely get. Many people who proclaim to love the city and that they moved here for what it is/was want to change it, which would likely diminish (at least at some level) a lot of the things they liked about it. I’m not against change, but I find this stance a little strange. And the shock and anger some of them seem to express that others who live here wouldn’t agree with them is just odd.”

That really says it, davemess. I find the anger at anyone who’s not elated over the constant rapid-fire change oppressive and perplexing. I’ve noticed it even in the tone of WW these days—never in a million years would I have foreseen them publishing “Here’s What Makes Portland the Bestest EVER!” kind of articles, and so many of them. And if a commenter dares dissent (and snark used to be the WW commenters’ stock in trade) a dozen peppy “Yay, Portland!” newbies will clobber them to death. It is a huge sea change in the people, and I think that answers your question. I think the attractors have changed here, and hence those attracted. To me, it feels like Portland was an introvert and now it’s adamantly an extrovert.

And maccoinnich–Yes—we—most of the locals here on this site, I suspect, supported this UGB you speak of. We were integral to making this the place you wanted to be, where seemingly everyone and their dog now want to be. I, along with so many Portlanders going way back, am as green as they come. You’re inheriting what people who lived here before you made. You’re reaping the benefits of the work of the people you and several others here excoriate. This place became the place everyone wants to be because people who’ve been here a long while valued quality of life issues and voted our priorities and did the work. What’s the problem? Why’s it so reprehensible that we’re reacting naturally to external stressors–in ways that scientists, sociologists, anthropologists have all noted and that we witness in species other than ours when abrupt habitat change occurs? Why is it wrong to express it? We’ve been making and making and making room. Can’t we say “ow” at some point when it hurts? It doesn’t make us not tough enough or generous enough or pragmatic enough. I will arm wrestle you any day. 😉

I don’t expect you or anyone else to agree with me but quality of life is worsening here, in my view. If I could move from Portland right now, I would. And I never thought I’d say that. There is such a thing as too many, too much, too crowded, too polluted, and a tipping point. I happen to think we passed it in 2008. I know more people are coming (and I think prognosticators are seriously underestimating how hard we’re going to be hit by climate refugees. The only thing that’ll stem that tide is our own drought). We are going to struggle to accommodate them. I agree more housing is necessary. I am not an enemy of all change. I’m just saying what it’s felt like, what it feels like. That’s all.

As someone who happened to fall for Portland in 2007, it always makes me sad when I hear someone else express sorrow about changes since, because I mostly believe them. I know that I’m part of those changes, and I know the Portland I decided to call home was built on the work and choices of generations of Portlanders before us, native and non. The only thing I know how to do is keep doing my best to make things good for the Portlanders who’ll be here next.

Rachel makes a powerful point. We can throw our backs into shaping the future, but it’ll always be the present that we feel in our bones.

Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be mailing a $5 bill to rachel in thanks for this great one. Watch your email!

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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9watts
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9watts

I have deeply appreciated rachel b’s recent spate of posts. Thank you for highlighting them here.

9watts
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9watts

And for those who don’t manage to read every comment, some of hers from a few weeks ago (on roughly the same topic) were in my opinion at least as good:
http://bikeportland.org/2015/03/04/guest-post-progressive-portland-developers-policy-plan-affordable-infill-135242#comment-6236392

rachel b
I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea that you’d move somewhere and then declare the history and architecture and sense of place in that place is valueless, ‘let’s raze it to the ground’. ??? It’s this viewpoint, which I see fairly well represented in bikeportland.org comments, that prompts me to comment at all–just to counter it. I keep reading about the selfishness of Portland bungalow owners, but is it any less selfish to move somewhere and demand the place terraform itself to suit your interests and the interests of like-minded maybe future immigrants? I’ve lived other places and I can’t imagine thinking that way–it’s like being The Guest From Hell, the honey badger of new residents. Is it impossible to understand just why this idea of cheerfully reducing our apparently worthless (architecturally, historically) city to a vacant lot to be built upon might upset and anger people already living here, and why they might not think that idea’s the best one? Or to fathom how bizarre it is to see someone move in and confidently, neatly sum up the place you’ve lived all your life, calling you and your thoughts about it ‘wrong’ in the process? Is it weird or selfish that we like our neighborhoods and homes? I like very much the ideas mentioned in this story and am for working with what we’ve got, retaining Portland’s character and easing the way for homeowners to create ADUs and to convert houses to duplexes and triplexes. You’ve got to honor what’s existing, and the people here before you. That’s not to say all the housing stock etc. is fab–but a lot of it is, and gives Portland it’s coveted character, and it holds great value for many of us. I’ve got a lot of friends who moved here in the ’90s and a little after. Not one of them took this weird, bossy tone, re: Portland. I really am trying to understand the “I’m here. Accommodate me!” pushy perspective. It’s not only boorish, I think it’s counterproductive to your aims.
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Craig Harlow
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Craig Harlow

+1 for CIVILITY.

Spiffy
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Spiffy

Many people who proclaim to love the city and that they moved here for what it is/was want to change it, which would likely diminish (at least at some level) a lot of the things they liked about it.

I moved to this city for what it is… I’m staying for what it will become…

yes, I liked it when I got here a dozen years ago, and it’s not perfect, thus I want to change it…

I didn’t know I wanted to change it when I got here… actually, I didn’t want to change it, it was great…

but then the city changed me… and now I can see the city begging me for change…

~n
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~n

On the other hand, perhaps this periodic abrupt change by enterprising newcomers is as Portland as it gets. After all, outsiders have been moving in since Captain William Clark & party came through circa 1806. In 1840, John H. Couch said, “To this point I can bring any ship that can get into the mouth of the Great Columbia River.” And William Johnson, in 1842, first claimed land in South Portland and build the first building there, a log cabin. Etc., and on from there. I doubt they asked what the previous longtime residents thought of their new plans for the city. Maybe they couldn’t ask–many (more than half) of the people who’d already been living there were killed by the viruses brought in by the pioneering. That’s Portland history.

Adam H.
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Adam H.

The Portland area is at the end of the Oregon Trail. People have been moving here since the feds were giving away free land to covered wagon-going pioneers.

9watts
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9watts

…land they/we took from those who were already here. Hm.

Dick Pilz
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Dick Pilz

We wiped out 90% first with our epidemics. Many of the early settlers in the valley felt it was vacant property.

9watts
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9watts

“Many of the early settlers in the valley felt it was vacant property.”

I know. My ancestors were among them. Very convenient for them.

9watts
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9watts

I think your last three sentences answer your (implicit) questions in the first four sentences. The time to speak up about what you find wrong is always now.

Chris I
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Chris I

As a native Portlander, I can’t quite understand how she can profess a love (and even seem to somehow take partial credit) for the UGB and at the same time reject infill development. Without the UGB, Portland would see the massive sprawl that has occurred in nearly every other American City. This additional housing stock puts downward pressure on infill development demands, as the wealth moves outward, and the close-in neighborhoods rot. I don’t want to live in a city that has no pressure for infill development, and the city should not adopt policies that oppressively restrict it. There is definitely a careful balance. I could care less about “neighborhood character”, but I do care about the safety of neighbors during demolition and construction. Many of these older houses contain lead, asbestos, and other hazards.

Jeg
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Jeg

Several points to add more weight to your argument for infill.

Accessory dwelling units can be reoccupied if the property is sold to a buyer that wants an outside studio. There goes the additional density.

Dividing a big bungalow up does not mean it will not be reoccupied and turned back into a big house again.

The point is, I get it. Single family homes are sacred. That’s why we must allow anyone who wants to stay, to stay. Anyone who wants to let their property be upzoned, turned mudrise multifamily, should be allowed to. Anyone that wants to demolish a home for a single mcmansion should be heavily penalized/taxed. I don’t think it should prohibit the building/demolition- we just need them to pay the ecological cost.

We live in a boundary that is self-imposed. I moved here because of the forward and deferential thinking about the environment this city has. I reject sprawl. I reject abject control over property. But since we have protections for our biggest resource, our ecology, we need to allow infill. Anyone that owns and wants to stay should be allowed to.

However, the nay voices should not prohibit the yes voices. Especially, when you hear absurdity from the Laurelhurst NA about preventing density and imposing parking on Sandy so they can keep something they don’t even own in the first place. A yes to development should outweigh nos if it means housing. Then our funding for infrastructure should be to transit to fund the density.

I get it. *your* bungalow is sacred. But the four neighboring ones bought up, consolidated, and slated to be multifamily midrise? You dont have property rights over that “history.” We need the housing.

9watts
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9watts

“Anyone that wants to demolish a home for a single mcmansion should be heavily penalized/taxed.”

“I reject abject control over property.”

noah
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noah

Does she say she is “against infill”? No. She is quite explicit that she is simply expressing how the rapid pace of change makes her feel. It makes her feel bad. That’s a natural feeling for any person (or intelligent animal, she says).

So it’s a bad outcome of the way Portland is changing: It makes people understandably unhappy. It’s an outcome that should be thoughtfully considered when one forms one’s opinion on infill policy, just as the good outcomes of increased supply and land preservation should also be considered.

Jeg
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Jeg

Then the argument she’s making is sgainst rapid economic growth that attracts people that requires the infill. As I am not wont to slow down our economy to ease someone’s anxiety, I think the pressure of required housing is far greater. Not to mention inflill is far more environmentally friendly and efficient in energy use.

noah
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noah

I don’t see where she is making that argument. She is quite explicit that she is not making any argument at all. And I don’t think she is — other than that she should be listened to considerately, and not treated dismissively.

Jeg
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Jeg

I empathize with her individually, but her pain is not to be wrought on the vibrancy of our city, in my humble opinion.

Barb & Max
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Barb & Max

We do have an escape valve on the pressure of the UGB, its called Clark County. Just don’t move there and then complain about your shitty commute. And don’t ask your Portland friends to drive over to your place for dinner….we can’t get there after 2 pm on a weekday.

Jeg
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Jeg

Or expand our highways to accomodate you. This is why Sandy needs a road diet and MAX needs to go across the river while only earthquake reinforcing the current bridges.

Jim Labbe
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Jim Labbe

A number of the comments above assert or imply the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) causes urban density by constraining the land supply. This is a myth. State law requires that local governments and Metro to maintain a 20-year supply of residential and industrial land. So the UGB does actually constrain the land supply. To date, it has determined where we grow on the edge not if we grow on the edge.

In fact, partly because of state law, the Metro Council has expanded the UGB by over 22,000 acres the last 20+ years. But the vast majority of this land has not been developed partly because of cut backs in federal infrastructure funding and the fact that we Oregonians (for better or worse) are too cheap to tax ourselves to pay for infrastructure needed to service growth on the edge.

The forces increasing density in Portland’s neighborhoods have much more to do with smart local zoning decisions and transportation investments coupled with changing lifestyles and an aging population that has done a relatively good job of giving us a more compact urban form and more walkable neighborhoods (although it helped that Portland’s founders bequeathed us small city blocks).

IMO, where we are clearly failing is in quality, human-scale design, adequate and accessible parks, affordable housing, appropriate historical preservation, and maintaining good frequent transit service.

But it is myth that the UGB causes density by constraining the land supply because it has never done that in a real way and it was never designed to.

Jim L.

Jim Labbe
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Jim Labbe

So the UGB does NOT actually constrain the land supply.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Living in East Portland (east of 205), and having got my MURP at PSU ten years ago, I find this discussion about infill and the UGB rather amusing.
A UGB (Urban Growth Boundary) only works if a planning jurisdiction has nearly 100% control over land use controls for an urban area, such as in various cities in Canada. Portland metro has 75% control. The other 25% is Clark County, Washington, which has seen disproportionate and explosive growth in both population and sprawl. Its easy to forget about Clark County being part of the Portland area, but there it is. Its a bit like a doughnut that someone has stepped on a corner of.
Similarly, infill housing tends to be disproportionately in areas with a plentiful supply of cheap land, poor people, and poor transit & transportation infrastructure, such as in Cully, East Portland, and Brentwood-Darlington, all of which saw a doubling of population between 1990 and 2010, and are now the poorest sections of the City of Portland. The areas that have gotten the most vertical rises have not actually seen much real population growth, just more (smaller) households, as in the Pearl.
The Pearl is an interesting case. Rachel seems to be wearing blinders when she talks nostalgically about the “gritty 80s”. The area now called the Pearl was a crime-ridden industrial wasteland, a railroad yard, an actual toxic superfund site, until its development in the late 1990s to present. Its sudden growth from nothing to 10,000 folks is interesting, until you discover that the “uptown” area along NW 23rd used to have three times as many people in the 1970s as it does today. People today simply want more elbow space, and are apparently willing to pay for it, even above 30% of their income. There have been similar drops in population in the Lloyd, Elliot, Boise, Kerns, and many other inner Portland neighborhoods since 1970, as well as the usual involuntary displacement of poor people, blacks, Hispanics, elderly – anyone who isn’t white, hip, and wealthy.

Jim Labbe
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Jim Labbe

About 20 years ago, the now deceased, American writer and Oregon Historian Terence O’Donnell wrote a wonderful little essay in Oregon Humanities journal entitled “A sense of place.” It eloquently described the ambivalence Oregonians feel toward change and specifically the toll rapid change takes on the “time and permanence” necessary to cultivate a sense of place and a culture of stewardship. He reflected on the real sense of loss Oregonians feel as their communities change.

But the upshot of the essay was not to retreat into nostalgia and resist change- a reaction that has and unfortunately still does lead Oregonians down some very dark and exclusive paths. Instead the lesson is to embrace change and shape change in a positive way.

I grew up in Portland too and sometimes feel the same ambivalence about changes I have witnessed. Sometimes I miss the old, gritty Portland of the 1980s. But in the end of the day, I believe the changes- on the whole- are positive. It is an exciting time as ever to live in Oregon and be an Oregonian. I have come to really appreciate the new diverse, people who are moving here and helping (sometimes more than some of the more entitled old curmudgeons) to make the very best of change.

The best of what it means to be an Oregonian is rather ironically encapsulated in a quote from former Governor Tom McCall in an interview with Studs Terkel. He said: “Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better. ”

An Oregon worth living in, in the future, will have to be as inclusive as it is livable. I think that is when Oregon will become a truly great place.

Jim L.

Kyle
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Kyle

In my opinion an even bigger issue in Portland people-wise is the reason that people are flocking here in large numbers. It seems to me that at least a large percentage of newcomers here are “escaping” the Midwest and East Coast cities where they grew up, thinking that moving to hip Portland will solve all their life’s problems. Instead, they end up binge drinking, flocking to distractions, and moaning loudly about manufactured social issues. These aren’t the type of people I grew up with around here. At the same time the influx of people is allowing Portland to support more local businesses and services, which is something that I’ve enjoyed seeing in the past few years. It’ll be interesting to see what the next 5-10 years bring – will these “refugee” newcomers leave in droves for the next hip city?

Jeg
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Jeg

What i reject from newcomers is this idea that Portland is the antithesis of density that they found in LA, or SF, or Chicago, or NYC. Ironically, the urban refugees put a wrench in the careful planning of our region. They want the city the remain in amber while they flock here in droves.

We need infill. We need inclusionary zoning (sliding scale, inflation adjustable rent control for low to middle income).

davemess
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davemess

So you’re arguing that it is the “newcomers” who are holding density back, and the “old timers” who are the ones behind it?

Jeg
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Jeg

It can be both groups and not be contradictory. There are ideological differences among groups.

Barb & Max
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Barb & Max

true so many newcomers are VERY young, they are still mobile, they may leave again for a better job, the next hot thing (Go Boise!!), a more diverse city or an affordable mortgage. However I also see retirees moving here to be near the last batch of 20 somethings who DID settle, and have kids. The ripple effect of family members following the initial explorers extends and lengthens growth from any wave of incoming newbies. The only thing that slowed down our growth was a severe economic recession a few years back. When it lessened the dam broke and they came by the thousands. The last 2-3 years have been breath taking in the number of new folks. Is there anyone left in Idaho and Utah??

soren
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soren

“Many people who proclaim to love the city and that they moved here for what it is/was want to change it, which would likely diminish (at least at some level) a lot of the things they liked about it”

That’s a strawman. I love portland’s interesting and vibrant commercial districts and have always disliked it’s “bungalow wasteland”. I even prefer olive, beige, and brown 60s era apartment buildings to over-priced and over-decorated single-family residences.

davemess
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davemess

I would actually counter (since it’s my quote your addressing), that without those “bungalow wastelands” (with their yards for dogs, plots of gardening, driveways for basketball hoops, and yards for playing ball or soccer) enticing families and couples (and their dollars) to stay in the city you wouldn’t have nearly as many of the vibrant business districts you love.

Portland is quite unique in that it hasn’t sprawled nearly as much as most other major US cities. But much of that can be attributed to the fact that much of the area right near the core was already kind of the suburbs to begin with. The idea that you can own a detached house on 5000 ft^2 and still be close enough to walk less than a mile to downtown is not that common in the US.

maccoinnich
Guest

A detached house on a 5000 ft^2 lot close enough to walk less than a mile to downtown is not that common in Portland either, at least at a price affordable to the average resident of Portland.

davemess
Guest
davemess

But it was affordable in the 90s. Which is what drove a lot of the “old timers” here (or kept them here).

maccoinnich
Guest

Whether you meant it or not, that comment comes across in a very “I’ve got mine, screw everyone else” way. When people on bikeportland or elsewhere advocate for infill development, it’s usually because they’re worried about spiraling prices if we don’t develop. Even if nobody ever moved to Portland from out of state, there would still be a growing demand to live in close-in Portland, and there is a finite number of existing single family houses to meet that demand.

davemess
Guest
davemess

I”m arguing that if we rapidly increase infill (and I mean rapidly) like some on here are arguing for, it’s entirely possible that many of the things that drew people to Portland will have a harder time existing.
If Portland is drastically different in 10 years and parts of it look like a different city, I’m not so sure that it will be still be the draw it is today.

Jeg
Guest
Jeg

Much of what makes it a place is already dying due to exorbitant rents.

davemess
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davemess

So it should basically just take care of its self then, and people will stop wanting to move here, right?

Mike
Guest
Mike

Alot of people’s wealth comes from the value of their home. Once you start messing with that it becomes an issue. If my neighbor turned his home into a multi family house what would that do to my property value. You just can’t deny how important that is for people.

maccoinnich
Guest

Has the boom in apartment buildings in Portland correlated with a decline in home values?

davemess
Guest
davemess

Has it correlated with a decrease in rents?

Here we sit arguing about this and really it’s just the developers (many of which don’t even live here) laughing all the way to the bank.

maccoinnich
Guest

It has correlated with a slower increase in rents at existing buildings than would have occurred otherwise. From the Oregonian, late last year — “existing apartments saw slower rent growth as landlords faced growing competition from those newly constructed units.” (http://bit.ly/1FOMDb2) The amount of construction required to induce falling rents would be huge.

It’s totally irrelevant whether developers are from out of state or not. (Although I can tell you that the majority of development in Portland is done by local developers. Most of the rest is done by Seattle developers. Property, by its very nature, tends to be a local industry.)

9watts
Guest
9watts

“If my neighbor turned his home into a multi family house what would that do to my property value. You just can’t deny how important that is for people.”

See this is 2/3 of the problem right there. Some of us don’t think of our block, our neighborhood, our house as a money-making scheme, a casino, but rather as where we live, where we plan to spend the rest of our lives, thank you very much. The tyranny of ‘my property value’ has become an ever present club with which to beat anyone who would do something you next door that don’t like. This is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand crow about livability, community, etc.; on the other, bring out the property value threat which implies that you too might move if the price were right.

If I had one wish it would be for us to banish that phrase from our discourse. Or better yet tax property transactions so heavily that people just stayed put.

MIke
Guest
MIke

Sometimes you outgrow the space you are in and it is nice when it comes to sell you don’t loose money. But I guess you are against that?

9watts
Guest
9watts

Why should someone in that circumstance expect/deserve to make a profit?
Do we think about any other property that way? A car, a bicycle, a wheelbarrow, a rain coat?

soren
Guest
soren

So why are you so afraid of a few more apartment buildings loanowner?

davemess
Guest
davemess

I”m not. I just think they should be mainly in specific areas (with the services, infrastructure, and desire to support them), and we don’t have to bulldoze the whole city and anyone who lives in a single family house is greedy and evil.

davemess
Guest
davemess

* ” isn’t greedy and evil”

Brendan
Guest
Brendan

I really love reading the deep thoughts like Rachel’s and even the ones from exactly the opposite side. Very good critical thinking and expression of your beliefs and feelings. I think this kind of discourse and intelligence is exactly what makes Portland great. Thanks for continuing to share.

davemess
Guest
davemess

“make things good for the Portlanders who’ll be here next.”

What about the Portlanders who are here now?

Andyc of Linnton
Guest
Andyc of Linnton

This is why I like the comment of the week column. I missed rachel b’s comments on the articles themselves, and am happy I can visit them on the front page. And thank you, Rachel.

Joe
Guest
Joe

I <3 Portland even if drivers try and run me off the road downtown :/

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

“Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Just look at the wasteland of Rustbelt (Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati) cities that kept things the same over the years, by adding new housing to new suburbs. IF it wasn’t for the UGB and Portland reinventing itself for the last 40 years, it’d be just like the rest of those (most American) cities, perhaps worse considering the poor economic situation this town was in during the 80’s and early 90’s. Remember we not pumping our gas started as a stop gap for the mass unemployment and lack of job opportunities as the timber industry started floating belly up.

All the central neighborhoods 20 years ago were deteriorating quickly back then. I remember well Sellwood, NW, Pearl (when it was just NW), Alberta, Mississippi all being “the hood”. I remember OMSI moving to the riverfront, and how much controversy that was because the industrial east side was “scary” and “who’s going to risk going there”.

If not for reinvestment and development in these neighborhoods over the years, this town would be totally different, and not it a good way. It’d be your typical rotted out city core, surrounded by the burbs from Salem to Longview. And once that path of development has started, it’s impossible to stop, the decay just spreads out and the burbs just leap frog out.

It’s ability to change is what has kept this town quite literally alive. Being ahead of the curve is what has driven businesses and people here. We made a city to be proud of and it shows. But there is little to now room for NIMBYism as we continue to develop and bring in new people.

What’s the option? People are coming regardless. You only have two options get on board or move out of the way.

Now I’m going to go do some reading on the South Tabor Neighborhood Association minutes about what is going on with the old Banner Furniture building on 82 and Division. Seems fitting.

Jeg
Guest
Jeg

Something to consider is that Portland is already a city hemmed in by suburbs abd geography on all sides. Either we allow infill and caputure that tax base, or we’re offsetting pressure to develop onto our suburbs. This is another reason infill in Portland is important; it keeps our inner city vibrant AND funded. It may not sound important to someone who is hypotetically anti tax/government, but i think maintaining our core as a place where more people want to live is very important.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

I agree completely, however Portland is very Burb “lite” compared to most metropolitan areas in North America -nearly non existent compared to most. Most the Burbs here, were distinctive towns at one time (Gresham, Hillsboro, Beaverton all have distinctive “downtown” blocks).

Look at cities across the US and you’ve got burbs which were designed to be little more than housing with a little retail on the main arterials. The Portland burbs are different. Think more like Detroit (where I grew up) and the western burgs and southern burbs as well. There are few that were “town” swallowed by a metro area. Much of it due to the explosive growth of the auto industry after WWI, then again after WWII. I’m sure anyone in Detroit in the time period from 1924 to 1970 would have shaken their head in disbelief if you told them what it is now.

And that’s my point, this kind of NIMBY attitude does nothing but perpetuate urban decay. And frankly, I gotta ask where was the all this concern when all the other neighborhoods in town were being rebuilt and gentrified. I’m not going to presume to know her, but I suspect like most people they were fine with these events happening elsewhere, and only became concerned when it landed on their front porch.

Jeg
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Jeg

Which is actually awesome. A multinodal urban area, with multiple dense highrise downtowns, is a desirablw dense outcome. It can preserve the UGB. However, Portland is the “primate” city of metro, we must absorb the most infill, density, and pressure to expand transit over auto infranstructure.

jeff
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jeff

I personally love seeing my neighborhood gentrified slowly. It has needed it badly for 20+ years. The new energy, young families, and improved properties are a very welcome site. Less cyclone fencing, fewer bars on windows. Sure homes are being flipped. homes that were run down, rotting, and acting as nothing but a trash covered eye sore. Portland has needed some new energy for more than 30 years. I’m glad its finally arriving.

John
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John

Change is inevitable. With a million additional incoming residents to this area over the next few decades, the question is: would we like these additional people to live (and vote) in Portland – or should we direct them out to Hillsboro, Tigard and Clackamas County. Personally, I would much prefer to see that growth happen in the central city neighborhoods, and thus grow the demand for infrastructure that benefits those residents (as opposed to a greater demand for adding additional automobile lanes to freeways and so-called arterials).

Full disclosure: I moved to Oregon in 2001, to Portland in 2008, live in a bungalow near Sandy Blvd. and would LOVE to see a SE Division or N Williams style and intensity of development happen in my neighborhood. YIMBY!

Paul G.
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Paul G.

Can we please get our data correct?

The *six county area* is projected to grow by *725,000* in the next 30 years, not a milion
http://www.oregonlive.com/washingtoncounty/index.ssf/2014/06/portland-area_population_could.html

Around 40% of that is expected to be in Portland. The city proper is expected to add 280,000 and 132,000 households. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/449300

The data may have changed since 2008, but from 2000-2008, over half of Multnomah County’s growth was “natural” (childbirth), not in-migration. http://mkn.research.pdx.edu/2010/05/population-dynamics/

Paul G.
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Paul G.

Rachel

I appreciate your comments here; I’ve tried to chime in as well. I am generally a supporter of the UGB and increased density, but not just the rapidity but unpredictability of recent changes have left me worried and a bit bewildered.

I’m glad many young, creative people are moving to this city, but I worry, as you do, that they won’t establish long term roots in the community, that we will radically transform the way we do things as we chase the next hot economic trend (remember the Silicon Forest? Remember biotech? Now it’s athletic apparel and the young creative class) and the long termers will be left to pick up the pieces.

I always feel like I have to trot out my urbanist credentials in these discussions, so here they are: I have raised four children in a 1300 sq ft bungalow, on most days walk or bike to work, and pay over $5000 a year in property taxes.

But there is no way we can go car free. For many years, happily not now, we absolutely had to head out to 82nd to shop at, yes, the dreaded WalMart or Target. We were feeding six mouths on a single (upper middle class) salary. Portland Public Schools doesn’t provide transportation to high schools or magnet middle schools (as anyone knows who rides or drives around the city from 7:45-8:15 or 2:45-3:15 when schools are opening/closing)(we car pool).

My own personal hobby horse is what appears to be the incoherent patterns of infill, condos and apartments appearing in place that don’t have great transit, and other infill popping into the middle of a street otherwise filled with single family homes.

I’m sure I’m missing something but let’s take a block right near where I live–the SW corner of 39th and Woodstock. A developer bought the block, and happily, after discussions with the neighborhood, saved two wonderful old houses. But on the rest of the block, he put up a set of nearly identical, $500,000-$800,000 houses.

Now that’s that the market wants, so we are told. But isn’t this corner, served by two bus lines (75 and 19), within walking distance of retail and on two bike corridors,exactly where a no-parking medium size apartment block should be built? (As a bonus, there parking is legal along 39th so there would be less friction with the neighborhood)?

Division popped–and hopefully it will be great. But Clinton has gotten swamped. I won’t even ride my bike on the road anymore–I feel safer on Division! Did we know this would happen? Can we plan for these things?

This is my boring middle class lifestyle, and it’s been a foundation of Portland for a half century or longer. I wish it wasn’t so often demonized on this site because in so many other ways, I should have shared interests with BP.

Things are changing fast, and we’re trying to adapt, but can you forgive us a bit of concern?

9watts
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9watts

Great post, Paul G. But this part caught me up short:
“But there is no way we can go car free.”

I understand that you chose not to give up your car (or cars), but let’s be careful how quickly we turn this into a decision rule, a self-evident truism. I have never found the retort to Emily Finch—that she could only afford to be carfree because her husband was a doctor—particularly persuasive, though it is probably a predictable strategy for letting the rest of us, who are not married to doctors, off the hook.

There are certainly tradeoffs in terms of time and money, but from where I sit there is no obvious a priori reason why jettisoning the car isn’t or couldn’t be possible for someone in a similar situation. The money saved by not owning and maintaining a car could I think be leveraged into very realistic non-car-reliant solutions to the logistical challenges of school and shopping.* Googlemaps reveals that the Walmart on 82nd is a mere 3 miles from 39th & Woodstock. And six-person households (I grew up in one too) now represent a mere 2.4% of the US population.

* I am well aware that these alternatives are less obvious than hopping in the car, take effort and determination to figure out and make work reliably, but this is exactly the kind of effort we should no longer be afraid of. The more who try (and report their strategies in places like bikeportland) the easier for the next person.

paul g.
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paul g.

9Watts, thanks for the reply. I have thought about this. We could go down to one car, but car-less, no.

Problem 1: The schools. They do not provide transportation to high schools or to magnet middle schools. I could require my children to ride bicycles in all weather (let’s be honest, very few cyclists are willing to commute 12 months a year and it’s asking an awful lot for a 12 and a 14 year old to do so). The bus to my daughter’s school takes over an hour.

So you are right, I am making a choice not to have my children spend 2 hours a day on a bus to get to school when i can drive them there in 15 minutes. Not much of a choice.

Problem 2: Retail. Until recently, the only close by retail in my neighborhood was the Safeway. Happily, our income has improved enough that we no longer have to stretch our dollars out at WalMart and Target. But for many years, that was a necessity. Could we shop for a family of 6 using a bicycle or public transportation. Yes. It would be a hell of a lot easier if the evil Walmart in Sellwood had been put in place, but of course we know what came of that. An empty lot still sits there.

Problem 3: Athletics. yes, NOW we have the “great fields project” (which I helped raise money for) but for the first decade we lived here, there were no decent athletic fields in the city.

So yes, I made a choice to have my children participate in competitive athletics and that required that I drive them to Lake Oswego or Gresham or etc.

These are the choices that I have made. I think I walk and ride my bike more than most in my situation. Some folks here know who I am, and I’m no anti-bike person, quite the opposite.

But let me just close with this: it’s getting really tough to raise a family in this city. I don’t advise my new colleagues with children to locate in the city. And for each family that locates out of the city, there are more cars on the road and something that made this city great is being lost, and we’re turning into Brooklyn West.

This has been a great thread, one of the first where I’ve not just lurked like I usually do, because like Rachel, I see the general tone on BP, not all the times, but sometimes comes out, that folks like me (a 15 year resident whose family moved to Portland 37 years ago) are not welcome. Even though we in some ways, as Rachel noted, choices that we made decades ago are what really made Portland what it is today.

Psyfalcon
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Psyfalcon

Be careful with the Finch example. I believe her husband has a car, so by most definitions she is not car free. One is available at certain times and for certain tasks.

180mm_dan
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180mm_dan

Thanks for the repost collection. rachel b is driving nails in a single hammer swing. I conquered, I mean moved to Portland in 1992 and lived close in N Portland most of that time, so I appreciate her perspective…

HJ
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HJ

As someone who was born and raised in Portland I probably have a little different perspective on things than most in the city. I grew up watching the forested hillside we used to take family hikes through getting paved over so they could build the mcmansions of Forest Heights. I remember riding my bike down Cornell alone when I was 13 to go catch a movie, something I’d never let a kid that age do now as the road has become too dangerous.
Yes, infill has its uses and can even be necessary since the whole world seems to have decided they just have to live here but there are problems that brings with it.
One of my big gripes is that they keep infilling with no rational thought to how all those people are going to get around. The developers all use the “It’s only 5 homes” excuse and as a result are not required to build new roads to handle the traffic. While I’ll grant you 5 homes aren’t going to do much, once you get 10 or 50 of those “only 5 homes” it suddenly becomes a big problem.
Here on the westside we have a very limited number of main roads. We don’t have the alternates a block or two over like you do in other parts of town. As a result all of the new traffic from developments like Forest Heights and Timberland all pour out onto just a few roads that are 1 lane each way. At the same time roads like Cornell are not being improved.
Despite all the new construction and traffic there is still not a bike lane on Cornell. In fact when they repaved it in 2010 the traffic engineers made the horrible decision to make the shoulder on the uphill side drastically narrower in areas which has led to the ride up the hill becoming markedly more unpleasant/unsafe, especially when combined with the increased traffic flow.
I love Portland, it’s been my home and been the place I compare every other place against. For most of my life nowhere else was able to come close. Sadly I can no longer say that. With the way we’re starting to burst at the seams with massive floods of people coming here, many of whom don’t even come close to matching the culture, the city is becoming increasingly hostile. Traffic has devolved in such a horrible way that even people who have only lived here 3 yrs are commenting on it.
I say if people want to build infill, fine. Go for it. But they need to crack down and start being a lot more stringent about the requirements for accommodating the traffic those extra people generate. I’d cheer if they went to the extreme measure of banning new development in some of the areas around here until some major road improvements are made. A great place to start would be that godawful intersection where people exit US26 eastbound at Cedar Hills Blvd.

Jeg
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Jeg

You go off the rails when you focus on roads. We need more transit infrastructure. The SW corridor needs to be MAX. It baffles me that people don’t understand the concept of induced demand. The only thing that will accomodate it is better transit, bike, abd ped infrastructure. Dense infill is also needed, desperately, unless you want suburban sprawl. Then, guess what? Youll have drive through traffic and mcmansions encroaching on forest and farm. I prefer infil, midrise/dense, and beef up transit to accomodate.

Jeg
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Jeg

Not to memtion far-flung exurbs often demand freeway widening in inner cities to acommodate their gkut of auto traffic. Our neighborhoods get razed as a result. It’s a race to the bottom.

Chris I
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Chris I

Bingo. HWY 26 near downtown is heavily congested basically all day now. People need to realize that road building is not the solution. They have expanded 26 several times during my life here, and it hasn’t solved the problem. People need to just accept that vehicle traffic is part of city life. The key to livability is having alternatives. Safe bike routes, and frequent, fast transit.

~n
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~n
Jeg
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Jeg

Pamplin media is a right wing funded local media group. They represent a loud minority who are harshly anti-environmentalist and pro-suburban sprawl. At all costs. Anti lightrail is a minority sentiment. Promoted by shrill, well funded right wing media. The majority of people understand transit is necessary.

Oregon Mamacita
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Oregon Mamacita

It amazes me when you think that the city so can so easily manipulate the working class into giving up the cars and trucks they need to get to work given the fact that transit use is flat, bike commuting is flat and East Portland is constantly being mooned by downtown and getting ready to de-annex.

Anne Hawley
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Anne Hawley

You know how, when the City wanted to change the design of N Williams and the project famously crashed and burned in its first iteration because its proponents failed to listen to feedback from the people already living there?

Well, I don’t want to put words into Rachel B’s mouth, but the way I read her comments, and my own feeling as a result of them, is as a plea for exactly the kind of being listened to, being heard, being respected, that the N Williams area neighbors demanded.

So many of the replies to this COTW post repeat the arguments about infill, density, the UGB, the inevitability of growth. I imagine that similar arguments on a smaller scale were made in support of N Williams–new! growth! jobs! bikes! None of it is untrue, and some of it isn’t even arguable, really. Most of it is probably for the greater good of the greater population. It’s certainly all very exciting and cool and urbanist.

But feelings. Sense of place. Grief and loss. Just listen for a few minutes. Try to sympathize. Let the awareness seep in that some of the people this new wave of change is “bothering” are actually hurt by it–emotionally if not financially. Rachel doesn’t seem to be saying stop everything, freeze it in amber. I know I’m not saying that. But gimme a little time, some moments of adjustment, maybe some options (like those Eli Spevak was proposing in the original post) that at least nod to my version of Portland–my reality.

Jeg
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Jeg

If you dont build, more people get displaced! Your argument is contradictory. If we listen to the nay sayers, rents will spiral and more will be displaced!

Might i remind you, it’s not like this is eminent donain seizing property. People want to sell and build dense infill. Let them, or people *will* be priced out much faster. We need a discussion about affordable housing surrounding inclusionary zoning and providing housing for low and middle income people.

What will not solve problems with displacement is nay saying and obstructionism. Adapt to more density if you want a single family home close in. Dont prevent housing stock to EVERYONE’s detriment.

Anne Hawley
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Anne Hawley

No, I understand all that. I’m not saying or implying that I’m against those things absolutely. Your response, however, just underlines my point (and, I believe, Rachel’s): you’re basically saying “You’re wrong, you’re arguing with me and you’re wrong, and if your argument ‘wins’ my ideas lose, and you’re wrong anyway so la la la I can’t hear you.”

Surely you can see the similarity between what I’m trying to say and what poorer long-term Portlanders feel about gentrification. There are problems associated with it, and saying, well get over it, get used to it, this is how it’s gonna be, is no kind of way forward. I’m largely over it and I am used to it. I even embrace a lot of it. Please stop shooting me down with socioeconomic and urbanist logic. Jesus, I feel like I’m being mansplained.

Jeg
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Jeg

Mansplained? Sexist much?

Anyway, the truth is we are in a housing emergency. Cries to ambiance are disgusting me when poor are being forced out due to shortage. Then you get gentrification used in a badtardized way to get even more shortage. It’s backhanded and making the problem worse.

Consider yourself mansplained.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

I live six miles out from downtown and have no direct bus line downtown, even though I live on a far more major street than 15th. I bike that six miles daily. I pay less for my mortgage than most do for rent because I was willing to live farther out in and invest in a single family home. I am by no means rich. I don’t break 40k a year. Its not an all or nothing argument. Its a sliding scale.

Jeg
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Jeg

Certainly, but you must realuze you bought low and now your house is probably already out of your reach. It’s like this for maby if we don’t build to accomodate more. The less we build, the less supply there is, the more rent and land values spiral.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

I bought 6 months ago.

Jeg
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Jeg

I suspect your house is already more valuable and only becoming moreso. Preventing infill will speed this process of filtering out due to income.

davemess
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davemess

No it won’t. It will only make the available single family houses go up in value more. There is always going to be a demand for single family houses in America whether you like it or not. And we still live in a capitalist society and more desirable locations will be more expensive.

Sigma
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Sigma

Mansplained? Sexist much?

You have an aggressive and dismissive tone that is typical of an angry white man. I’m glad someone finally called you on it. Thanks, Anne.

Based on the level of sophistication in your argument, I’m going to guess junior year community development major? First year grad student, maybe.

The world is not nearly as black and white as you seem to think.

jeg
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jeg

Angry white man? Racism too?

Sigma
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Sigma

No, I’m a white man so I’m allowed to say that. If you’re not familiar with the concept of mansplaining, just go back and read pretty much every comment you’ve made here since you appeared a few weeks ago.

jeg
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jeg

You can be a white male and still be espousing racist/sexist views. I am not you.

joeb
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joeb

Anne, your argument is agreeable. Change is sad and exciting

Jeg, your comments are very thoughtful and thought provoking.

And most of all, Rachel’s is a great comment for the week.

I also want to say… this is some good dialog.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

My parents moved my family to the Grant neighborhood from Virginia in 96 when I was 6 and my sister was one. They picked Portland for the schools and to be closer to my grandparents who live near Albany. Growing my, my parents renovated our 1,500 sq ft bungalow three times into a 3,000 sq ft family home while keeping the feel and architecture of the neighborhood. Living in inner NE, I grew up with true block parties, rotating hosts for neighborhood holiday parties. I knew my neighbors and they knew us. It was a true community. With the people who moved into the homes built as infill, there was no interest in getting involved. They liked their 5k sq ft home without a yard and didn’t care about our concerns that their third floor could see into our back yard. They were the disinterested outsiders.

Where I am technically not native, there is no other place I want to call home. Portland is changing, in some ways for the better and in some ways not. But in this place I want to continue to call home, I don’t want to be stuck listening to my neighbors through a wall or having a three story house looking into my back yard. With two dogs, I needed and purchased a house with a yard. Cully wasn’t the neighborhood I was hoping to buy in. Its no where near the neighborhood I grew up in and the connectedness between neighbors isn’t here, but I can see it coming. People are looking to connect again. (At least some are).

Infill when done responsibly is good and needed, but there is a value to neighborhoods and preserving them. In the 6 months my commute has taken me along N Williams to Going, I have seen massive change and the beginning of even more. Where it is needed, it is still overwhelming to have so many projects happening at once. I think Rachel b is completely founded in wanting time to adjust. I think people are right that infill is necessary, however I disagree to the extent of compromise we should make to accommodate it. I think yards are important for children to have, as well as parks. I think there is a way to balance the needs of fitting people in with the desires of those already here. Interstate, 42nd, Sandy, and Lloyd are all good places for some higher density, but only some. If we put a little in a lot of places, we can make room.

My family has a saying, “there is always room, but no guarantee of comfort.” Which works great for weddings, reunions and funerals, is not what I want to see this city embody.

I was devastated four years ago when my parents moved to NW 23 and sold my childhood home. I wanted that house for my own. But now, I ride by every once in a while and see a different set of siblings enjoying the yard and playing in the street and understand the value of right sizing.

Jeg
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Jeg

This attitude, unforyunateky, is what has made SF ubaffordable. We are less dense than SF even with the UGB. We need all the infill we can get or you are calling for a rich playground that the original residents can’t afford to live in.

HJ
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HJ

I disagree. Wanton infill is not the answer. What we need is RESPONSIBLE infill. Much of the infill that is occurring right now is being done by opportunistic developers who only care about making a buck. They build with no regard for the existing community or the impact on the city. They don’t voluntarily provide transportation alternatives to driving a car. All they do is build mass quantities of housing.
My parents bought our home back around 1980. 6 months after they bought it the bus line that went up Cornell Rd was canceled. When Forest Heights was built we were hopeful that it would be restarted. Instead the developers intentionally built roads that would not work for Trimet buses. To deal with requirements that were placed for building so many homes they put in a private van service to the Sunset transit center that ONLY residents of Forest Heights may use. Not something that provides any benefit to the existing community especially considering that most of the folks that live in Forest Heights are addicted to their cars.

Jeg
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Jeg

Much of the infill ocurring is great– midrise with retail on the ground. This is Portland planning working right. You are characterizing it as all bad. In fact, most of it is good. I think the only restriction should be on heavily tacing knocking down a bungalow to build a larger mcmansion. But you are against the latter, and you want to slow down mid rise development.

All of this is happening at once. If we overthink and slow down infill, we end up with suburbs and worse traffic headaches. We need density and transit to be occuring concurrently. Slowing down development to think about transit is completely backwards– density begets better transit. Any slow down on infill will spiral rents due to crazy demand and low vacancy. We cannot remain such a sparse urban area. We need to densify to solve myriad problems.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

Portland is not SF or New York or Chicago. What works for other places will not necessarily be the best fit for here. We need to find the right solutions not apply those that didn’t work elsewhere. It feels like you are missing many of the concerns others have, dismissing them focusing only on rents and what happened in SF. So I say again, this is not SF. This is PDX and we do things differently. We need to manage this differently as well.

Many of us are not saying “no infill” but rTher, “appropriate infill” and we request that our thoughts and concerns be listened to rather than trampled on and trumpeted over. We do have a rent affordability problem. We do have a vacancy rate problem. But rushing the solution could irreparably damage the city we care so dearly about.

Jeg
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Jeg

No. Your argument is backhanded obstructionism. SF is a case study for what will happen here if we don’t build. Thoughful infill is anything that will add housing stock and density in the UGB. Claiming otherwise is similar to denying climate change; density is a needed reality. Slowing down will only drive up property values and rents, displacing the poor. It’s a real worl reality you are trying to muddle.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

I am not attempting to muddle anything, simply to take time to assess the impact of actions taken. There are right places and wrong places for mid rise infill. There are right places and wrong places for high rise infill. There are right places and wrong places for ADU, and single family homes and splitting lots and all of the other options. I am simply asking that we take a moment to ensure we are choosing right places for each option.

I am not saying don’t build. I am saying build thoughtfully.
I am not saying don’t allow sales for infill, I am saying do so thoughtfully and with respect to your neighbors.
I am not saying, I have mine, sucks for you, I am saying, let’s find a way to get everyone into the housing type they find ideal.

I am asking that we do this the right way the first time, because there are few second tries in life.

Jeg
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Jeg

The true trgaedy will be to induce sprawl by slowing down infill due to an outcry for aesthetics. We need housing stock more than we need to obstruct and cause sprawl on our urban periphery.

Doug Klotz
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Doug Klotz

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the market forces at work in Portland are much the same as in other cities. Portland may have more similarity to San Francisco (and Seattle) than other cities because we have the UGB, SF is surrounded by water. Yes, we did choose to put the UGB in place, rather than inherit it.

I would be interested in your thoughts on what are the best places for infill are. The current zoning and Comp Plan thoughts would place it near good transit service, good bike and pedestrian accessibility, and near jobs. It is aimed at areas with a usable street grid, so many can walk or bike, not only to transit, or to work, but also for other everyday tasks.

It makes sense from these standpoints to locate as many residents as close to these resources as possible. But we are starting with most of the inner city zoned for single-family residences, with in most cases, even multifamily prohibited, except right on the major transit corridors, which is also the only place commercial is allowed. Given these built-in constraints, the demand for housing drives the market to build housing wherever it can, in places that have these desirable attributes. So that’s 4 stories on the transit street, and 3 stories of single-family throughout the rest of the neighborhood (displacing the existing one- and two-story single-family)

What if there was a trade-off made: Lower buildings (say 3 story) on the transit arterials, in trade for allowing apartment buildings (also 3 story), for 1.5 to 2 blocks behind the arterials? Many cities are developed like this. Would this be “responsible infill”? It would unfortunately happen with people in single-family homes selling their houses, and the houses being replaced with apartment buildings.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

I think your proposal is reasonable and appropriate, allowing for us to maintain neighborhood character without overly restricting density. I think the additional options posed in the articles recently about sub dividing homes, adding ADUs and other more unique options should also be included. Though not as permanent or reliable as multifamily housing, it provides density beyond the block and a half or two behind major arterials.

We could also further develop areas already generally populated with high density housing. Adding or renovating older properties to house more people. This would maintain the neighborhood while adding housing and increasing safety in the event of a major earthquake.

Doug Klotz
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Doug Klotz

Yes, I agree that the step beyond those apartments should be the added ADUs, house-splitting, etc.

Chris I
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Chris I

As someone who just completed an earthquake retrofit and remodel of a 1922 home in NE Portland, I think you are overstating the benefits of “remodels”. The city does not require earthquake retrofits during remodels, and very few people go through the extra cost and effort to do so. People all over the city are finishing basements to add space, closing up access to their foundations forever. And these houses are now death traps for anyone occupying a basement bedroom.

The City needs to mandate earthquake retrofits before granting permits to finish basements. Without this policy, tear-down/rebuilds are going to be much safer for the city population than remodels.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

The earthquake retrofit comment was for the renovation of multifamily properties in areas such as inner NW and SW areas as well as Lloyd. Single family homes are a serious issue for earthquake safety.

davemess
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davemess

Jeg, you have an underlying assumption that most people WANT to move into dense apartments.
Recent surveys (even in Portland) have shown that not to be true.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/millennials-prefer-single-family-homes-in-the-suburbs-1421896797

Doug Klotz
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Doug Klotz

I would agree that Forest Heights is not responsible infill.

maccoinnich
Guest

Interestingly, Forest Heights was Homer Williams’ first large project. I think his work in the Pearl and South Waterfront is much more successful / responsible.

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

I have only lived in Portland for 27 years, so that may not give me the right to welcome change, but I moved here and saw all the potential in this city. I saw the long stretches of transit-served arterials with empty or marginally used lots and deteriorating buildings. I saw the way Portland was planning for the future; planning for growth, with an emphasis on modes of travel other than the automobile. I saw the newly built Max line, the amazing bus service in a lot of areas of the city. I cofounded a pedestrian advocacy group. I joined my neighborhood association.

I was somewhat disappointed with the slow pace at which development happened for two decades, development which could replace the underutilized or empty lots with residents and business which could take advantage of the transit system.

And now that the development is finally happening, I welcome it. It makes me feel good about the city, and the plans it has made. I was one of those many folks on Neighborhood Associations and in other organizations that voted for and pushed for zoning that would allow this development. So, I, at least, am not unhappy with the way the city has changed and is changing. But I will admit I’m not a native Portlander.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

Do we need infill to the level that we destroy livability and degrade the quality of life? There has to be a balance, in all things a balance. There is a value to single family housing when there is a community amongst neighbors. It teaches you to care about your fellow human, v.s. living in a space that feels like a motel or hotel. With a feeling of being temporary and being anonymous to your neighbors.

Jeg
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Jeg

You are repeating the old trope that density degrades community. I argue that density with ground floor retail enlivens a community. This is the kind of development going on and that needs to continue at a greater pace to keep Portland affordable. Less housing stock devolves us into SF crazy rent, and we’re nowhere as dense yet.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

From my experience, these are two different types of community. I walk Alberta all the time and a bunch of the shops know me. But they won’t keep an eye on my kids at the last minute if I need to run out for something. I love supporting local businesses but they won’t host the Halloween party when I hosted 4th of July.

Jeg
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Jeg

I find your characterization of urbanites as bad at community to be uncalled for and echoed propaganda.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

I am simply sharing my experiences growing up here and my observations of how friends who live in apartments interact with their neighbors. There is no propaganda, only what I experience and witness.

Jeg
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Jeg

Ive had really xenophobic experiences in single family neighborhoods, being ostracized, while i was accepted in dense neighborhoods. See how anecdote works?

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

I’m sorry you have had negative experiences in single family neighborhoods, however, that does not make them all bad or something without value. It is far easier for me to love my neighbors if I cannot hear their every move through the floor, ceiling and walls.

Jeg
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Jeg

Keep your single family home. If someone wants to sell and build a midrise next to you, let them. Both communities win and adapt. You keep your lawn. No one is displaced.

Doug Klotz
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Doug Klotz

I recall Jane Jacobs describing the community she found in Greenwich Village, with the shopkeeper receiving packages for you, neighbors watching your kids, etc. This was not a neighborhood of single family homes, but of 3 and 4 story buildings, both apartments and single-family townhouses.

Is the difference you describe attributable to whether you live in a multi-unit building vs. a single-family house?

9watts
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9watts

Yes, Jane Jacobs!

I’m glad you mentioned her, Doug. Perhaps she can set us straight.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but my recollection from reading her was that she was focused on the benefits of stability, of community-as-built-over-time, of knowing your neighbors over generations. I don’t think I’d ever object to settlement patterns that yielded this, at any density. Density in my view isn’t the problem; it is the disruptive pace, the money-grubbing, the displacement, and the gentrification we’re observing in some places. To the extent that these accompany our current efforts to achieve density we would do well to acknowledge this and put our heads together to see if it can’t be minimized or avoided. Jeg’s you’re-either-with-me-or-you’re-against-common-sense rhetoric isn’t helping us have that conversation.

Jeg
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Jeg

The money grubbers are the land owners sitting on their sporaling land values while preventing density and forcing out others by an induced shortage of apartments– our rents are already spiraling. This is an emergency. Obstructing density makes it worse.

HJ
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HJ

Please explain to me how it is money grubbing for someone to want to stay in a home they like and have owned for decades? It’s not the homeowners’ faults that everyone out of state has suddenly decided this is the next hip place to live. Wishing to preserve some semblance of the neighborhood they’ve lived in for many years is very reasonable.
If someone came and tried to build apartments in my neighborhood I’d fight like hell, it’s not the place for it. On the flip side many of the lots in my neighborhood have been getting subdivided and infilled with multiple single family homes over the last few years and I’m ok with that.
It’s a matter of appropriate infill for the existing neighborhood.

maccoinnich
Guest

In ‘The Death and Life of American Cities’ Jane Jacobs argued that densities of anything lower than 100 dwelling per acre was too low for a large city. There is no neighborhood in Portland that achieves that overall density, though the developed parts of the Pearl probably do average out to that. I have a hard time believing that she would be against mid rise buildings on commercial corridors.

9watts
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9watts

“You are repeating the old trope that density degrades community. I argue that density with ground floor retail enlivens a community.”

You used the word community twice. Did you pause to notice that the people who make up those two ‘communities’ are not the same people? That’s the disruptive part some folks are objecting to. Community is not just a bunch of people; it is the relations between them, and this is not something that happens automatically or overnight. It is hard to have or sustain a community when everyone is either moving in or getting booted out.

Jeg
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Jeg

Do you realize that not assimilating change displaces more people? Both communities can coexist, but not if we slow down infill at all when it is mid rise. We have a shortage if housing that will only get worse and push more people out if we dont conyinue to add density. Im all for stopping mcmansions, but not multifamily infill. You are muddling the reality that trying to preserve a city will displace more.

If someone wants to sell for midrise replacing their home, let them! That’s not displacement– that’s willing. If a community can’t survive next to a midrise multifamily building, it was a mighty weak community. And we need to discuss inclusionary zoning as a means to keep all our new developments income inclusive.

9watts
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9watts

“If a community can’t survive next to a midrise multifamily building, it was a mighty weak community.”

A social Darwinist! Just what we need.
Are you listening to anyone here with whom you disagree, Jeg?

“Do you realize that not assimilating change displaces more people?”

You need to relax this zero-sum filter you apply to this whole topic. Why are there only losers in your analysis?

Jeg
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Jeg

Global warming is real and sprawl is our death knell. Density is what will save us; i hope you realize this soon. Especially since this place is crazy desirable.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

Global warming is real, but consumption and population are what is going to get us, not sprawl. It doesn’t matter if you live in a tiny apartment if you buy disposable products and replace your phone every six months. If the argument is preservation of our one and only planet, there are far better things to be preaching than infill.

We need to talk about conservation of materials, water, energy and resources. We need to talk about limiting population size. We need to talk about so many other things that will have a far larger impact than infill vs sprawl.

Jeg
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Jeg

Are you suggesting we cull the population? People are moving here. We need density, not sprawl to be ecologically friendly.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

I am not suggesting we actively cull the population. But I do suggest reproducing at a rate that does not meet replacement levels. Climate change requires action at all levels, local, national, and international. People moving here cannot be completely offset by actions of those already here. I work in energy efficiency. I know the need for demand side management and it far exceeds any other action that can be taken to counter act climate change.

And my yard is full of only things either myself, my dogs or my rabbits can eat. I don’t water grass.

Jeg
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Jeg

We live in a desirable place. We cannot expect to live in lawn-rich suburbia as a means to be environmentally friendly. Preserving parks is good, but preventing density to preserve car-cebtric development ambiance is absurd.

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

No one is suggesting that we continue to support car centric construction. You can live in a semi dense single family neighborhood and be car free or car light. There are ways to compromise between infill and giving people there own space. Some people can manage hearing their neighbors all day every day. Some cannot, and that’s acceptable. If I had to listen to a child cry often, I would go insane and my quality of life would be negatively impacted. Some people like that ambiance, or at least don’t mind it.

Jeg
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Jeg

Our bungalow neighborhoods are the least dense a city could be. Single family homes are not anything other than suburvan sprawl. They can remain, but must not be a means to stop density that is needed to prevent more displacement.

Doug Klotz
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Doug Klotz

I don’t have the latest Portland figures at hand, but a national average shows Transportation, at 28%, is the second-largest Greenhouse Gas emitter, behind Electricity production, at 32%. (I don’t know which category recharging your Prius falls in).

So, to the extent that living in a neighborhood where you can accomplish most of your trips by walking or biking (most efficient), or transit, would seem a pretty important factor in combating climate change. Maybe a difficult one to address, but worth trying.

Chris I
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Chris I

French citizens produce less than half the CO2 per capita when compared with US citizens. Take a look at how they build their cities.

This is what we should be striving for. Portland should be a model for a responsible future. We can’t preserve the neighborhoods that were build in the 1920s forever, because they aren’t the model for a low-carbon future.

As you add density, it becomes easier to increase transit service, because you have more potential riders in a given area. The most productive Trimet lines run down dense corridors, the least productive lines run loops out in the suburbs.

And the same goes for cycling. In neighborhoods where street spots are basically 100% full, any infill development without off-street parking can only add transit riders or cyclists. Areas like NW Portland and Hawthorne are now at peak-car. New residents will most likely bike or ride transit to work. If they do choose to fight for a parking spot every night, that will just push someone else towards transit or cycling.

davemess
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davemess

Having spent a fair bit of time in Wyoming, the idea of “sprawl” getting us does seem a bit odd.

Doug Klotz
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Doug Klotz

I think Jeg could have stated it more clearly if he (or she) had said “trope that density degrades the sense of community”, and “density with ground floor retail brings more of a sense of community”. But that may not be exactly what (s)he meant.

“Community” feelings develop most easily among people with a lot in common. If you all have lawns to mow and kids to raise, it’s easy to gravitate to like folks. If you are young and live in an apartment building, you have more affinity for those similar to you (or your community is on your smart phone, to quote a stereotype). Can there be community between apartment renters and house renters? And house owners? Among rich and poor? Is this something only Portland (of all American cities) could pull off?

9watts
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9watts

Yes – a balance.
It really is interesting to me how polarizing this debate is, how quickly it devolves into acrimony. I’m constantly in the middle. I think what has happened on Division in the last few years has promise, is even exciting. It seems like a fairly decent effort from the perspective of someone who likes the idea of density, likes what cities can offer. But gentrification is part of this equation, and I’m not a big fan: rich people displacing people who were often not so rich. If it were up to me I’d very much prefer to live among either (a) a mixture, or (b) the not rich.

Then we get to the dynamic aspect: planning, zoning, infrastructural choke points, incentivizing those who are not yet here to come and buy a house or pay exorbitant rents. Many of the comments in this thread skip—or seem to skip—over the nuances, the costs, the losers. Rapid change like this is disruptive; I don’t think there is really any argument about that. But defenders of density tend to treat this simply as the price of achieving the necessary or desirable outcome. Perhaps they are not paying those costs, are not left holding the bag, are not priced out.

Going about this change in a way that seeks to invite the losers to participate in the conversation, perhaps even avoid losing seems a goal worth considering. My plea would be for less shouting and more listening. Anne Hawley also made this point very well upthread.

maccoinnich
Guest

Please tell me more about how I don’t care about my fellow humans because I live in an apartment building.

Chris I
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Chris I

The most anti-social lifestyle someone can live is a house on a big piece of property and a SOV commute to work every day. It’s amazing that Americans have associated this lifestyle with a sense of “community” when the reality in the rest of the world is the exact opposite.

gutterbunnybikes
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gutterbunnybikes

I think my biggest problem with this whole issue on both sides are that there are too many terms being thrown around which at face value seem to have a clear definition, but in really almost have no definition.

Liveability is one such word. What’s liveable to you? I lived in a van for about a year and half, but some say that isn’t livable (other than some hassles with the cops I found it pretty enjoyable most the time). NYC livable? Or is livable merely a term of aesthetics?

A large reason these debates go on and on is that you multiple parties all different person definitions for the same term. In many ways as I read these posts I’m reminded of the Bob Dylan lyric “we always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view”.

Beth
Guest

I moved to Portland (Gresham, more precisely) with my family in 1975, when I was 12. And, yes, Portland has grown and changed and attracted lots of newcomers since at time, especially in the last ten years and especially those in the 25- to 40-y/o set. Every city in this country has growing pains of one sort or another, especially those cities with a more liberal bent. When I was a teen, we took our driving tests in Sandy rather than Gesham because there were fewer one-way streets — or streets of any kind, really — to trip you up. Today Sandy has a major highway running through it and traffic is dense enough that there’s a rush hour now.

Lest you think this is exclusively a coastal thing, keep your eyes on places like Detroit — where some enterprising west coasters are already migrating in order to make a fresh, entrepeneurial start — or Kansas City, which is seeing the same kind of “New Urbanist” development that Portland saw twenty years ago; West Bottoms used to be a railyard and some crumbling warehouses, and now there are artists’ lofts and condos going in (a la the Pearl).

This stuff happens everywhere as more people leave the places that have become too “crowded” or too expensive and search for cities that aren’t as far along in their development trajectory. And so the cycle continues.

That said, I have grown weary of the hipster fashion, emphasis on youth culture and the studied irony that seem to be hallmarks of life in Portland. If circumstances permitted it, I would seriously consider leaving for a better job in a town that hasn’t yet been overrun by the New Urbanism responsible for so much of the gentrification we’ve seen here. (Time — or lack of it, really — is on my side; I’m in my fifties and childless and so I haven’t got the same worries and burdens that a Millennial has to carry. It would be interesting to conduct a survey and see how much the info clusters stack up by generation.)

I suspect that these things run in cycles. All anyone really has to do, if they want to invest that kind of effort, is to find cities where it’s possible to stay ahead of the curve and keep moving when things get too intense and/or expensive. But then you’d really be a nomad, wouldn’t you?

greg byshenk
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greg byshenk

GirlOnTwoWheels
No one is suggesting that we continue to support car centric construction. You can live in a semi dense single family neighborhood and be car free or car light. […]

While the statement itself is true, I think that it is misleading.

That is, yes, one can live ‘car light’ or even ‘car free’ in a “single family neighborhood”, that isn’t saying anything significant. One can live ‘car free’ in almost any sort of urbanized area; it just depends on how much one is willing to put up with in order to so.

The problem is that, if one is considering whether a neighborhood can be ‘car free’ (or even ‘car light’) for any significant part of the population, then a ‘single family’ (probably meaning also “detached single family”, given the context) neighborhood is almost certainly not a realistic option — even if it is “a semi dense” one. This because there won’t be a sufficient population density to have daily needs (shopping, entertainment, schools, transit, etc.) within a walking/biking distance that is convenient for any significant part of the population. Which in turn means that “car free or car light” will remain very much a minority position, and the neighborhood will remain (largely, if not solely) “car centric”.

9watts
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9watts

“… if one is considering whether a neighborhood can be ‘car free’ (or even ‘car light’) for any significant part of the population, then a ‘single family’ (probably meaning also “detached single family”, given the context) neighborhood is almost certainly not a realistic option — even if it is “a semi dense” one. This because there won’t be a sufficient population density to have daily needs (shopping, entertainment, schools, transit, etc.) within a walking/biking distance that is convenient for any significant part of the population.”

I will heartily disagree. All the people I know who are carfree (mostly homeowners but also renters) live in just the circumstances you describe: SF detached. The mystery to me is why more people with the kind of proximity to stores, transit, bike infrastructure, downtown, etc. we enjoy haven’t jettisoned their cars yet. Inner SE (even without the density that might well marginally improve the parameters you list) is already super well equipped to enable carfree living.

Psyfalcon
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Psyfalcon

Well…

Why have a yard? Dogs and garden. Why have a car? Hauling dogs around.

Maybe I’ll get a sidecar motorcycle. That should count as half a car.

Brad
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Brad

Dogs in sidecars wearing goggles are awesome!

ted
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ted

Detached single family residences are not dense enough on their own to allow a substantial share of the population to walk or bike to most destinations, and they are not dense enough to support frequent transit service. Some are willing to sacrifice their mobility and are able to get by without a car, but many are not and so drive frequently. This further suppresses demand for transit service, reducing the quality of service that can be provided. If single family homes are built next to a denser area, then that denser development can make it feasible for many people to be car free/car light while living in single family homes.

In a small town or city if you have some downtown/main street where jobs and retail are concentrated, then you can build single family homes outside that dense core, and people can still live close enough to where they want to travel to live without a car. But that doesn’t scale. And many will still drive if parking is plentiful downtown.

The question then, is it in the public interest to reserve land close in for people who want to live in a detached single family home in a neighborhood of detached single family homes and easily live car free/car light, knowing full well that this option will not be available to all?

It drastically limits the land in areas where travel distances are short enough to increase the feasibility of walking and biking available to denser development. And unless you are building highrises at transit nodes you won’t have the density to support frequent transit all day long.

ted
Guest
ted

to continue…

If you stick to low/mid rise development where density is permitted, this restriction on development means prices will be significantly elevated relative to what they’d be under a more laissez-faire system. And the degradation in transit service that goes along with lower density means that a higher share of the population will choose to drive.

Davemess linked to this article

http://www.wsj.com/articles/millennials-prefer-single-family-homes-in-the-suburbs-1421896797

To show support for living in single family homes. It features a young couple that paid $375k for their house in Portland.

> “That was most important to us, to be able to walk to things from our house and to bike to work,” she said.

If you make less than $80k a year is that house affordable? Probably not. So that house is affordable for 20-30% of metro area households. How much close in land is reserved for this upper income group? Looking around quite a lot of it. It’s shielded from competition from those who makes less. Is that fair, or in any sense in the public interest? That the average income earner isn’t allowed to pool earning with a few other people to big against an upper income earner for land? Sharing a single unit, or subdividing a single unit is a poor way to accommodate those of lesser means.

Zoning close in land for single family residences only is an affordable housing program for the rich.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“Detached single family residences are not dense enough on their own to allow a substantial share of the population to walk or bike to most destinations, and they are not dense enough to support frequent transit service. Some are willing to sacrifice their mobility and are able to get by without a car, but many are not and so drive frequently. This further suppresses demand for transit service, reducing the quality of service that can be provided.”

This sounds like a paragraph out of a land use planning text book, but it doesn’t ring true in the slightest for me. Pick the densest parts of the non-NYC US. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population_density Are the percentages of carfree households higher there than in SE Portland? I have my doubts. No, carfree living is a choice that has far less to do with specific levels of density (as logical as that argument might seem in the abstract) and much more to do with what the people who (choose to) live there are inclined to try.

There are two issues here that I think you are conflating.
(1) how to get more people to give up their cars?
(2) the statistical relationship between density and carfree living.

The infrastructure in the neighborhoods I am familiar with (inner SE) could support very nearly 100% carfree living right now with no increase in density. The problem isn’t density it is habit.

As for how to get more people to give up their cars, density surely wouldn’t hurt, but I think it is a very circuitous way to pursue this if it is the only arrow in our quiver.

Oh, and I resent your characterization of our carfree living as a sacrifice in mobility. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And my friends I mentioned above also wouldn’t take or use a car if you paid them to.

ted
Guest
ted

Perhaps I wasn’t clear, but I don’t think you understood what I was trying to get at.

I’m not sure which zip codes you have in mind, does this fit?

Zip code: % of car free households
97202: 13.1%
97206: 10.36%
97214: 21.42%
97215: 8.06%

From census ACS, if they offer vehicle ownership rates at smaller geographical divisions in Portland I don’t know where to find it.

There are plenty of cities with a higher share of car free households
.
http://www.humantransit.org/2010/01/three-kinds-of-lowcar-city.html

The close in neighborhoods in inner SE are where you don’t have to sacrifice mobility to get by without a car, in no small part due to its proximity to the dense downtown area. Proximity to density can substitute for density. If you live five miles east of 205 is that still the case? For what share of the population? Some could get by just fine, but not nearly as many as could in inner SE. For many living five miles east of 205 without a car would require a sacrifice in mobility.

If you want to increase the number of people who will live car free/car light, then you need a combination of quality transit and short travel distances. Sure, some can get by without that, but it doesn’t scale. Portland is too big a city for everyone to live in a single family house, and to keep travel distances down. Not that large a share of the population is willing to bike twenty miles a day. Driving that far is pretty common though. And if everything is sprawled out, then transit service is poor, as it currently is in much of the city.

When it comes to ease of living without a car, for an individual it doesn’t matter if they are in a house or condo. Living adjacent to a dense area isn’t all that different from living in one in this respect. If you are three miles from downtown and closer to shopping, you can have an easy time living without a car. That makes that land close in valuable. It’s where many people could live without a car without having to sacrifice mobility. When you reserve it for low density housing then you accommodate a handful of households per acre, instead of a dozen or more.

And who are those handful? If you didn’t move in a long time ago, it’s the top twenty or thirty percent in income in the closest in areas. Protecting luxury neighborhoods like this doesn’t serve the public interest.

You were wondering why more people don’t live without a car? Do you or your friends have kids? ~70% of Portland households without a car are one person households.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Thanks for your detailed response, ted. I’m mulling it over.

“Do you or your friends have kids?”
yes. Many do.
“~70% of Portland households without a car are one person households.”
The share of one-person households is increasing rapidly (27% currently for US, and btw, 31- and 40% for Multnomah Co–perhaps you know the precise figure?). I wouldn’t hold this against them.
But statistics are fun. You can look at them from so many different angles. ~70% of single person households in Multnomah Co. own a car 🙂

ted
Guest
ted

http://imgur.com/NP0ZRBM

~35% of households in Portland are one person, ~33% in Multnomah

9watts
Guest
9watts

Thanks. Ten years ago it took a huge amount of digging to access this data. I haven’t tried in a while. Very useful.

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

Most single family homes aren’t on arterials, and are not served by bus anyway. If you replaced every one of them, would you really run a bus down those streets? I doubt that would happen.

If you added density, especially shops along Division and Powell, all the way out to 82nd, would you not have a decent start without removing any single family houses except those on those two streets? You have the buses, and possible BRT on Powell for moving downtown.

ted
Guest
ted

No you wouldn’t run buses on minor streets that are often narrow or on an offset grid. Belmont, Hawthorne, Division, and Powell have buses relatively often, there are a lot of single family houses walking distance from the bus on one or more of those streets. But relatively often in Portland can mean scheduled headways of fifteen minutes at midday, and anything on street reliability will be an issue. It’s easy to spend more time waiting for the bus than actually riding it. If your choice is a ten minute car trip or a thirty minute bus trip, half of that time spent standing in the rain while cars and trucks speed by on a busy road many of those who can afford a car will buy it and use it. Improved cycling facilities help to compete with cars of course, but isn’t enough.

Density on the arterials is a start, and you’ve seen some of that. It just isn’t enough to support high quality transit all day. Think of the walkshed of a transit stop as a quarter to a half mile radius around it. Most of the properties walking distance from a transit stop will not be on the arterial.

When I walk around in some of the inner SE neighborhoods I see some old houses that are a little rundown. When I see who goes in and out I gather that they are long time residents who couldn’t afford to move into the area today. At some point, a lot of them are going to move. Not because they’re being forced out. Just because people move. They want to live somewhere else. They want more room. Less house to care for. A quieter place to retire. Or sometimes when they die, their kids don’t want the home. What happens when that old home that was affordable decades ago is sold?

All too often today it’s being turned into a luxury product, affordable only to the top 10-30% of city households by income. Why ask for that to continue for the next couple decades until the properties that front the arterials are built out denser?

http://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/reb/4941187894.html

Here’s a house a quarter mile from buses on Hawthorne and Division. 3BR, 2200 square feet, at SE 30 and Lincoln and an asking price of $680k. When I looked up the zoning map for this property I found that it was zoned R5. That means it’s limited to one unit per 5000 square foot lot. So zoning is requiring this property to be a single family house.

When a property around here comes on the market, and you say that it has to stay a house, who does that serve? It benefits the neighbors who value the “character” of their neighborhood. It values the buyer who doesn’t have to compete with denser developments. Sometimes it benefits the neighbors who don’t want to deal with construction, but sometimes the homes are small, so they’re torn down and replaced with a new build minimansion, or at least there is a major rehab, so you have a sizable construction project anyway. Who loses? A lot of people can’t afford a $680k house, so they’re priced out of the neighborhood, they lose out. It’s a knock on effect, since those who could afford a $300k apartment in a nice building with a little garden yard or on the roof close in might now decide to buy a house further east, since it’s all that’s available. That raises the prices there, pushing everyone else further out, or into a smaller or lower quality home than they could afford otherwise. Living further out transit service is worse, biking is less feasible, so more people choose to drive, making it harder to have the political support to reallocate scarce road space to transit, bike, or pedestrian facilities. The losses are spread out over much of the city, but are real.

I think the houses in inner SE can be very attractive, inside and out. And I can sympathize with those who don’t want to see their neighborhood change. But accommodating them asks a lot of the rest of the city.

davemess
Guest
davemess

“Who loses? A lot of people can’t afford a $680k house, so they’re priced out of the neighborhood, they lose out.”

This is so important, and is a major factor for the drastic increases in home prices we’ve seen in the Portland the las few years.
Tear down a $200K house and build two that are $400K+, forcing the lower income buyers to just search in neighborhoods further out.

greg byshenk
Guest
greg byshenk

Others have already addressed most of these issues, so I’ll just note that I already agreed that one can be car free. The point is that it won’t work for any significant part of the population.

I live in 97202, in a neighborhood of mostly detached single-family houses. But when I go to the market, I see a lot more cars than bikes. Indeed, if I head over to Division Street, my impression is that there are a lot more people arriving in the area by car than on foot, bike, or public transit. And heading, say, to Lloyd Center as likely as not means that I’m the only bike in the rack.

So, yes, as I already said, it is possible to be carfree even in a DSFR neighborhood. And those who really want that life will live it. And bike mode share will remain in the neighborhood of 10%.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“I see a lot more cars than bikes”

I do too.
But we weren’t talking about what we see out the window or at the market but what is possible—what can be (your words). It is not terribly interesting to note that most people still drive cars; I’d prefer to investigate what is holding people back, and your earlier post appeared to be in that vein. I disagreed with your contention that the kind of low density in your zipcode and mine (97214) was incompatible with greater numbers of carfree households. I did not disagree that the number of carfree households is fairly low (13% & 21% respectively—thanks ted) but I do disagree that the number can’t rise without density increases, that our relatively low density makes it unpossible. The very fact that all of us who do live here without a car manage the very things you describe might suggest otherwise.

~n
Guest
~n

“The mystery to me is why more people with the kind of proximity to stores, transit, bike infrastructure, downtown, etc. we enjoy haven’t jettisoned their cars yet.” -9watts

Because they don’t do those things in town; they work all week and want to drive to hour-away Oregon hiking spots on the weekends. So they hike, yet can’t seem to walk the distance to an available Zipcar, which, if you went on dayhikes every single weekend might be around $320/month. Great trade-off for car ownership costs, if you ask me. Okay, so they want to hike on weekends and “need” their car for that (despite the many car-sharing options available). I’ve long found it odd that folks argue they need their car for hiking trips yet “can’t” walk or bike to errands in town.

Brad
Guest
Brad

It was cheap for us to hold onto our car for “hiking/camping trips” because it was paid for and parking was free. When the car needed an expensive repair last October to make it pass DEQ inspection, it was sold. Helloooo Zipcar. If your car is paid for, free parking actually tips the balance in favor of owning instead of renting. Back when I still owned the car, I went over the math several times before the repair cost tipped the balance.

~n
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~n

Well, the car may indeed have been paid for, but parking’s never really “free.” Except perhaps for the apartment residents parking in my empty-but-required space that is bundled into my rent even though I don’t own a car… It just seems free to them because someone else (me) is paying for them to have the extra car parking. The apartments required the space with the rental. Teensy bit unfair, I say, that I have to subsidize someone else’s car, even in this “small” manner… I’d read with interest an article explaining/detailing why apartment complexes can or must (by law?) require a parking space even for the car-less, if anyone has a link.

Psyfalcon
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Psyfalcon

I pay for my driveway whether I put a car in it or not.

9watts
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9watts

Except, in contrast to ~n, you could tear it out or rent it out or put an ADU on top of it, since it is *yours*. The unfairness ~n is lamenting doesn’t translate to a homeowner situation as far as I can see.

bjcefola
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bjcefola

“You’re inheriting what people who lived here before you made. You’re reaping the benefits of the work of the people you and several others here excoriate. This place became the place everyone wants to be because people who’ve been here a long while valued quality of life issues and voted our priorities and did the work.”

I think increased parking requirements and anti-housing efforts in general are a gross violation of the work done to make Portland livable. I think people opposed to such efforts, people promoting walkable, livable neighborhoods, are continuing the work you cite Rachel.

rachel b
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rachel b

Woohoo! $5! Thanks, bikeportland.org. I meant it when I said I’m spending it all on Smarties. 🙂

The comments here are a great read. I want to point out that some of the quotes folks have esp. called out from my posts MIchael shared were actually from davemess and Anne Hawley, whom I quoted in one of my responses because I appreciate their thoughts. Today I really appreciate a lot said by many here, including this from 9watts:

“Rapid change like this is disruptive; I don’t think there is really any argument about that. But defenders of density tend to treat this simply as the price of achieving the necessary or desirable outcome. Perhaps they are not paying those costs, are not left holding the bag, are not priced out.

Going about this change in a way that seeks to invite the losers to participate in the conversation, perhaps even avoid losing seems a goal worth considering. My plea would be for less shouting and more listening. Anne Hawley also made this point very well upthread.”
(ditto re: Anne Hawley)

The difficulty with ‘shouting’–i.e., lecture-like, chronically disdainful posts–is that they shut down conversation, raise blood pressure and eventually, inevitably train readers like me to skim over them entirely, which–I’m sure–is the exact opposite of what you want. My eyes go dead of their own accord after awhile when I read repeated flat assertions that reflect seemingly no absorption of what the other party said. Impermeability. And as all we in the sustainable stormwater field know, permeable is the way to go. 😉 I’m certainly not going to keep repeating myself ad nauseam in response to a broken record; it’s futile. What’s the point? A discussion can’t exist in that kind of airless environment. And I’m primarily interested in conversation.

As 9watts alluded, the very nature of anonymous posting on these forums brings out our unfortunate tendencies toward proclamations, arrogance, bad manners–we all know that and have probably all fallen victim to our own petty selves. I have to wrestle with my ugly self all the time. But when such a good, intelligent, well-moderated forum is provided, it really makes me want to fight for civil discourse, so I try to contain my more active bile (not always successfully). The amount of thoughtful, passionate-but-not-rude opining that goes on here is remarkable: it may be the best forum in the city for discussing important city issues. Using it as a platform to cross your arms and shut your eyes and shake your head and spout rhetoric is useful in exactly zero ways. Especially not useful to you, in the long run. Because people will tune it out.

Thanks, Jonathan and Michael, for doing the hard work, making the place and keeping it up so well.

p.s…half my winnings (Smarties!) to GirlOnTwoWheels for her thoughtful tenacity in this thread. 🙂

GirlOnTwoWheels
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GirlOnTwoWheels

Thanks rachel b!

caesar
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caesar

jeg
You can be a white male and still be espousing racist/sexist views. I am not you.
Recommended 0

On occasion (hint), the dignified thing to do is to just stop. You’re argumentativeness is unbecoming of this forum, And “mansplaining,” according to the Urban Dictionary, can be perpetrated by either sex. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar….

Brad
Guest
Brad

That’s a very interesting set of comments from Rachel. I can definitely see her point, although I strongly disagree that Portland’s quality of life has gotten worse. The demographic flood in Portland (and also in Seattle, San Francisco, D.C, etc.) is not so much about Portland somehow doing everything right, it’s more about how so many American cities do so much wrong. My wife and I are both from Wisconsin originally. We hate living so far from family, but we highly value a lively city with a happening downtown, inner neighborhoods that aren’t on life support, personal safety, and good public transport. We also wanted a city that didn’t make walkers and cyclists feel like second class citizens. We found most of what we were looking for in Portland at a price we could afford. If Milwaukee or Minneapolis offered these things, you can bet we’d be there instead. To any commenters here who might be from those places, I used to live in Milwaukee and walking or biking there was not terribly fun and if you were looking for anything besides alcohol, there wasn’t much for you downtown. For me, more people moving here means even more of what I moved here for in the first place. Denser development means even more downtown and inner neighborhood vitality, even more cyclists, and even more walkers, even more eyes on the street. More walkers and cyclists will lead to calls for even better walking and biking infrastructure in a virtuous circle. For me, the changes happening in Portland are not destroying the qualities that brought me here, they’re enhancing them. When I see people fighting back, I see a seeming desire to roll back Portland’s continuing improvement. A seeming desire to look more like the cities I passed up in favor of Portland. A rejection of the very things I value in this city.

9watts
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9watts

“For me, the changes happening in Portland are not destroying the qualities that brought me here, they’re enhancing them. When I see people fighting back, I see a seeming desire to roll back Portland’s continuing improvement.”

“For me, more people moving here means even more of what I moved here for in the first place.”

This is pretty much the party line, and, in my reading, precisely the conclusion that Rachel and some of us are pushing against. The point I took from Rachel’s comments was that while the situation may well look like this to you: I embody these changes and let’s have more of them; those resisting changes are misguided some of us who have been here a long time, have a different perspective, resent this facile equation of the changes with progress and resistance to these changes (any aspect of them?) as foolish.

9watts
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9watts

One of the problems with what you are saying, Brad, is that the way you characterize ‘the changes’ comes across as unitary, as easily summed up, when in fact the changes we’re seeing, experiencing, celebrating, or resisting have many dimensions: some fantastic; others quite problematic. The boosters (and also sometimes those objecting) tend to overlook the fact that there’s no tidy way to sum up this set of transformations. You may like the idea that those still to come will also be bikey types who may eventually outnumber those not so inclined; while I may not like the economics of gentrification or the ugliness of McMansions. What your comment elides is that at least right here right now change means both—and a dozen other things too, some of which you may not like either.

The point is to look beyond what you, or your newly arrived demographic contingent, prefers and recognize the messy reality that includes a bunch of folks who are getting the short end of the stick, or who have an even more tenuous grip on the stick than they had before the recent influx of money.

rachel b
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rachel b

Hi Brad– thanks for your thoughts. 9watts nicely said what I also feel below, but I just wanted to add this. The thing I don’t get and that I see oft-repeated here from newcomers is this idea that existing residents’ expressions of concern, dismay and unhappiness correlate directly to “a seeming desire to roll back Portland’s continuing improvement.” What? Forgive me repeating myself, but we’re the ones who were so hardcore about livability, green spaces, community, biking, etc. that–starting decades ago–we put our actual money (countless bonds and taxes) and our votes (we elected to take more money out of our own pockets!) where our hearts were and directly supported the city you love! It’s unjust to liken us, then, to the people in (according to your example) Milwaukee who haven’t done the same–who (apparently? sorry–I’m not up on Milwaukee) haven’t prioritized walking, biking, livability, and who’ve clearly disappointed you.

All we’re expressing is what we’re feeling, and hoping not to have it trivialized, or to get ourselves mischaracterized in the process. I’ve repeatedly noted that I’m not anti-change and am very supportive of many of the ideas Jonathan and Michael are covering here (ADUs, making it easier for homeowners to convert to duplexes, triplexes). And–as I pointed out previously–I was a regular welcome wagon up to about 2008 when it all went on steroids and Portland became a theme park, as I see it. It’s the bigger picture I care about–I just don’t get that some newcomers seemingly want to color locals as philistines who are against everything you like here–esp. since we are the ones (many of us) truly behind the making of everything you like here!

The fact that it’s all jumped the shark (sorry, tired expression) for me and many others and has gone from “hurrah!” to “oh, no!” in a matter of seven or eight short years is a matter of opinion, yes. But as a carless child-free UGB-hugging recycler-since-childhood LONG-time tax and bond-paying resident of this place who hasn’t been on a plane since 2005, it boggles my mind that anyone who just moved here would or could characterize me and my ilk as enemies of Portland’s continuing improvement, while (and here’s ‘turnabout’s fair play’) they themselves move in and add to increasingly crowded conditions four cars, five mouths and a baby on the way, plus frequent air travel back home to see grandma, for example. Because they like it here and value it so much more than I do.

My current opinion and feeling about Portland’s tunnel-visioned development-in-overdrive is not antithetical to my core, very green values. We could really stand to stop conflating not liking what’s happening in Portland at this particular phase of The Morphing with “You clearly hate Portland and walkability and green spaces and the UGB and bikes and kittens and fun.” 😉

sw resident
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sw resident

I feel what rachel b is saying about loss of place. I moved here in ’92 and things have changed immensely. I have lived all over this city. There have been good and bad changes (depending on what is important to you).

Part of the defensive sentiment and “whoa, slow down a bit” expressions of natives and older residents can be expressed like this: we lived in, or moved to Portland; now people are moving to “Portland.” The city and neighborhoods are being treated as a blank slate with little or no respect, and no understanding of the historical aspects.

I also hear a lot about the benefits and increased tax base that have come with the recent influx. But I see little evidence outside the core. The ones who are benefiting the most are developers and the elite powers. But many problems have persisted or gotten worse: homelessness has increased and is not a policy priority (who here remembers the first Dignity Village?). The outlying east side and west side still have few paved roads and sidewalks. The cultural base is embarrassing for a place that trumpets its civic culture and quality of living: a mediocre downtown library and underfunded other ones, a public school system that ranks around 40th in the nation – these are just two examples.

I’ll point to one street for reflection, Division St. There was the Egyptian Club, junk shops, light industrial, and the original location for the Red and Black cafe. Now it is New Urbanism where the buildings have no design cohesion with the surrounding ones, rent is through the roof, and there is a culture and economics that can feel alienating and disorienting to some of the original residents.

Try to empathize and you’ll see why this rapid change can be disconcerting.

davemess
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davemess

“The ones who are benefiting the most are developers and the elite powers.”

We elected Hales as mayor. Who would have guessed this would happen?

davemess
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davemess

“a mediocre downtown library and underfunded other ones”

We actually have one of the most expensive and well funded library systems in the nation.

http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-19508-when_stacks_attack.html

VTRC
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VTRC

Oregon has never really recovered from the Timber Bust of the early 80s and Portland has always been a very dynamic city in it’s short life. Vanport, the Timber Bust, the Salmon Bust… honestly, the only constant thing in Portland is the constant pace of change and a love of beer.

Things are different, and they are going to be different.

9watts
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9watts

Ever heard of inequality, power, the disproportionate influence that those with money get to wield? How just about every piece of what we enjoy and take for granted today is the result of generations of bitter struggles for social justice? I don’t think your bland <what happens, happens inference is very helpful here.

jeff
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jeff

but he seems to know more about Portland than you. I’ve lived here over 40 years and agree with everything he says. whining about the changes isn’t going to stop it. In fact, I doubt much of anything will stop it as long as other people want to enjoy the lifestyle we all have. Why not just buy your first home and enjoy the growth and prosperity it brings? Portland is the last major city on the west coast where housing prices are actually somewhat affordable within a few miles of the downtown core. The opportunities are amazing if you know what to buy.
I’m a home owner…and I bike every day to work and leave our 2 cars in the driveway most days.

9watts
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9watts

“Why not just buy your first home and enjoy the growth and prosperity it brings?”

Après moi, le déluge?

I’ve also lived here over 40 years, with some gaps, and have apparently come to some different conclusions than you or VTRC. Social justice, climate resilience, human powered locomotion, none of these will come about by you or me buying a house and sitting back and enjoying the growth and prosperity you think will flow or should flow from that. The invisible foot keeps kicking it all to pieces.

VTRC
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VTRC

Actually I think that a commitment to social justice and forward planning around Oregon values is going to be essential to trying to ease some of the boom/bust cycle of Portland and make this an incredible place to live going forward.

My post was directed at people who seem to be nostalgic for a Portland that has never been. It’s been really frustrating reading the threads about the Springwater Homeless situation and have people complain that it’s worse than it’s ever been. It may be, but it has been bad for decades.

I think it is critical when we look at planning and changes to see where we are coming from with some honesty, and that’s been missing from a lot of BP threads lately and it has been making me pretty frustrated. I think we can make this an amazing place to live, but we’ve blown it for a long long time.

9watts
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9watts

“I think we can make this an amazing place to live, but we’ve blown it for a long long time.”

I can get behind that; thanks for clarifying. I didn’t get this from your earlier post.

Glenn
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Glenn

“Helpful” depends on what goal you have in mind that you expect help with. If the goal is to spread 9watts’ opinion, well we already have 24 such posts on this part of the thread and at least 5 on the first part from last Tuesday, so I think we’re good there.

Whereas if the the goal is to introduce people who aren’t good at “letting go,” to a new idea, or rather non-idea (that being “never mind all this”), then it was very helpful. Looking back at history is a good trick for realizing there have been many humans and human activities before you came along, and there will be a bunch more after you’re gone. And from there it’s only a short hop to realizing you are not the center of the universe, are not in charge, and can relax.

Yes it’s a bit bland, but advocating a non-idea usually comes off that way. Although of course if you’re one of the people who most needs to hear it, you may actually find it actively disagreeable. Other related and similarly hard-to-swallow ideas:
None of really has an inherent meaning or is “important” per se.
People with money & power are no happier.
Injustice continues everywhere, and is often strongest in places where people fight against it.
Is there a Portland?

Lester Burnham
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Lester Burnham

Okay…probably will be censored again, but car ownership: evil! Home ownership: evil! $5000 bicycles: cool! Trendy, expensive apartment buildings that exclude and displace poor people: way cool!

maccoinnich
Guest

Which apartment buildings specifically are displacing poor people?

Oregon Mamacita
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Oregon Mamacita

Anything on North Williams.

bjcefola
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bjcefola

http://m.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2014/09/25/heres-what-four-decades-of-gentrification-in-north-and-northeast-portland-looks-like

Look at how much displacement occurred between 1990 and 2000, and again between 2000 and 2010. Were teardowns and/or apartments driving that displacement?

Gentrification doesn’t depend on building style.

jeff
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jeff

do you guys ever think about anything other than N. Williams? the infill around SE is taking over parking lots, empty lots, worn out buildings, tearing down churches (we hardly need more of those), etc.
not a single person displaced…

davemess
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davemess

However those things do not happen in a vacuum. The rest of the neighborhood (and perhaps much of the city) is affected.

davemess
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davemess

Williams?

maccoinnich
Guest

Almost all of the buildings on N Williams are being built on land that has been vacant for decades, or in the case of the project between N Mason and N Skidmore where the previous commercial owner has relocated. The number of people being forced out their homes (if any) must be tiny.

The big demographic shifts in the area happened before the apartment boom, between 2000 and 2010. The under construction buildings are a response to this, not the cause. If those apartments were not being built then the residents that are now living in them would be otherwise be competing for the older housing stock in the area. More displacement would happen in the absence of new construction than is happening with it. (The perfect example of this is the Mission in San Francisco.)

oliver
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oliver

Infill development is not taking a lot, erasing the yard and building a 3 story brobdingnagian McEyesore on it at triple the price of the existing building.

I’m not saying that people can’t do what they want with their money, but it’s not their money is it? It’s the banks. They did it to us in the 2000’s and they’re doing it again, writing paper just as fast as they can sign it. And they’re for-unlawful-carnal-knowledge-ing the longtime residents in the process.

3 stories? WTF not? No one else has done that on this street yet.

greg byshenk
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greg byshenk

If I’m not mistaken (and I welcome correction if I am), part of the reason for building the new house at triple the price is that the builder is not allowed to build three rowhouses (for example), which would allow for a profit while selling less expensive houses.

davemess
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davemess

Some are going up, and the zoning does allow for it in some (many?) areas.
Row houses are less profitable though. There is a much strong demand for detached houses.
Developers want to make money and more money is better than less money. It’s very naive (in my opinion) to rely on the good conscience of developers than having stronger zoning laws to keep our housing prices a little more in check.

jeff
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jeff

Jeg
I suspect your house is already more valuable and only becoming moreso. Preventing infill will speed this process of filtering out due to income.
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you seem to like to assume a lot of things to support your argument.