Last week, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) released their Existing Conditions reports for the Lower Southeast Rising Area Plan, a new planning effort which launched at the beginning of the year and aims to increase area livability and housing stability. The core focus of the plan is the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood, but it also includes portions of the Ardenwald-Johnson Creek, Lents, Mt. Scott-Arleta, and Woodstock neighborhoods.
The reports are the first phase of what will be an 18-month process of community engagement, analysis, and strategizing about how best to maintain housing affordability and foster area businesses amid rising development pressures. The process will culminate in a City Council vote sometime in 2023.
These in-depth comprehensive analyses that the bureaus produce provide a useful all-in-one-place bucket of information about a region, and in this case include real estate analyses, demographics, land use characteristics, displacement risk, active transportation facilities, transit and more. The history section of the Existing Conditions Atlas is particularly interesting and explains how the color-coded system of rating loan risk (green through red) set lower Southeast Portland on its path of deficient infrastructure and lack of business and retail investment:
the majority of outer Southeast Portland was “yellowlined,” which made it dfficult to receive competitive loan rates. This disproportionate access to federally backed loans resulted in general underinvestment in the lower Southeast area of Portland, especially relative to nearby Eastmoreland and Sellwood that were bluelined and greenlined respectively. Today, the median home values of formerly “yellowlined” neighborhoods have the overall lowest values in Portland. This is part of the reason why the lower Southeast area of Portland is still comparatively affordable, but also helps explain the lack of public investment and infrastructure.
Although Lower Southeast is home to some of Portland’s oldest neighborhoods, they are among the last to have become annexed to the city and did so only under pressure—the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood was incorporated into Portland in 1986 after septic problems made it clear that a sewer system was needed. Over thirty years later, the area continues to be characterized by unpaved streets, absence of sidewalks, limited bus service and retail activity which mean that “residents must resort to driving to meet daily needs.” More recent grassroots efforts have led to a neighborhood greenway, bike lanes and some sidewalk infill.
The Atlas highlights the area’s transportation and land use conundrum. It is low-density, and lacks the neighborhood center or commercial district that anchors many other Portland neighborhoods, and which provide a natural focus for transportation investment. Without an adequate transportation network as a guide, sensitively increasing density is a challenge. The city is also mindful that the area is experiencing mid-stage gentrification and that many residents are vulnerable to displacement.
City staff will be collaborating with community organizations, neighbors, and a Project Advisory Committee to address these land use and transportation issues with an emphasis on anti-displacement and affordable housing strategies. They “seek community input to guide healthy community development.” Check minutes from the first two PAC meetings and get the details for upcoming ones on the project website.
— Lisa Caballero, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Lisa Caballero has lived in SW Portland for over 20 years. She is on the Transportation Committee of her neighborhood association, the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL) and can be reached at email@example.com.