“Nobody walks there.  And nobody is going to walk there until the physical environment changes.”

So says teacher Jon Gottshall about the  ‘downtown’ in the community where he teaches: Beaverton, Oregon.

Beaverton is the anti-Portland: a sad case of a farming town absorbed into metro sprawl, wonderfully located, but now cut up by arterial and rail rights-of-way, its urban design dominated by highway engineering.   And too low-density to have a ‘there’ there.

But there’s hope.  Bob Wall of FW Focus Productions – “a creator of innovative public engagement documentaries” – sends along his video on Beaverton.   “People seem to love this piece – we involved some young people (a high school urban studies class) and did some fancy things with our title graphics. ”  And not just the titles: the transformative graphics are cleverly done throughout.

Comments

  1. As a resident of a neighborhood just north of beaverton’s jurisdiction, I wanted to share a handful of random thoughts.

    1) Beaverton has a larger percentage of non-white residents than nearby central city Portland. This is largely a product of the nearby growth of west metro’s Silicon Forest, and historical proximity to farmland, but is also a product of cheaper rents than the central city and the established Korean and Mexican communities. Food for thought.

    2) Beaverton also actually has a higher density ratio than the city of Portland. This is because the city of Portland’s limits include the vast Washington Park that lines the city’s West Hills, but it is still a reminder that density takes many forms, and that even with Beaverton’s central area being dominated by automobile-centric suburban sprawl, the region’s Urban Growth Boundary has curtailed the sort of extremely-low-density development that plagues other American cities. This video was created by the city of beaverton and its eager planning associates to build support for their new plan to redevelop much of the downtown. I am in favor of their efforts and hope they succeed, but I wish to note that Beaverton is certainly not starting with a “blank slate,” and that their downtown already possesses a street grid, collection of restaurants, and a historical set of social institutions like a library and high school, and a sizable population already living in a dense-for-suburban-standards municipality.

    3) Beaverton is also very well served by transit. A ride on the MAX from Beaverton Transit Center to downtown Portland can take as little as 15 minutes, and is also the destination of America’s first new suburb-to-suburb commuter line. While the MAX is frequently used the commuter rail has had remarkably disappointing numbers, and more importantly the transit oriented development project located directly in the new “center” of Beaverton has failed to attract significant tenants, despite a litany of tax dollars to help the project along. I’m entirely sympathetic to the effort to build satellite town centers in a metropolitan region, and I’m in favor of restructuring tax codes and gas subsidies and whatever that encourage denser TOD developments such as the Beaverton Round to be economically successful, but at what point are the tax dollars spent a waste of precious government funds? At some point, density has to be the product of demand, correct? I’m all for encouraging it along, but efforts so far in Beaverton have been a mixed bag at best. (TOD farther west of Beaverton, at Orenco Station, meanwhile, have been held up as exemplary models of TOD in suburban greenfields.)

    4) My final comment is about the role that Beaverton (which, for intents and purposes, can perhaps be used in rough comparison to North or West Vancouver) is to play in the region as a whole. I grew up near Beaverton because it was near the tech jobs my parents held and because they wanted to live in single family housing and not pay too much taxes. As a kid from beaverton myself, I can tell you that it would take a lot more than a few parks and some denser buildings to convince myself to stay in Beaverton well into my twenties. The youth movement to Portland nationally is well documented, and I can assure you that a “Keep Beaverton Weird!” campaign, and all of the food carts and queer vegans and whatever else is so alluring of the center city, is not only culturally unlikely but politically unpalatable. Even regions like Portland and Vancouver, world-renown for sustainability efforts and smart growth planning, will invariably need places for people to live that look more like Levitttown than Portland’s Hawthorne neighborhood, let alone the Pearl District (substitute Hawthorne for Commercial Drive and the Pearl for Yaletown, for comparison).

    Yes, I’d like to see Beaverton densify, have a town center, and become a stronger regional hub. All too often I grew up unsure of whether my hometown was Beaverton, Portland, or Unincorporated Washington County, and I’m the first person to stand up and declare that the suburbs need to reshape themselves over the years to come. But Beaverton also has a role to play in the region, and that role here is “the suburb for soccer moms who are technical engineers, but not lawyers” (that’d be lake oswego), who appreciate Portland’s quirkiness but don’t necessarily want to live next to a food cart, let alone concerns of crime or poor educational systems. I can tell you right now that there’s nothing Beaverton could offer me, a 20something white male, to stay in Beaverton as an adult, at least until I had kids and a theoretical wife insisted we move somewhere out of the city with better schools.

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