In planning for growth, there’s at least one generally agreed-on idea that most cities are trying out: Densifying along the major streets. The arterials, boulevards and avenues, the wider ones, where the streetcars went, where transit does now.
Portland has a lot of them, radiating out from the river and downtown. Here’s one of those streets – Division. As you’d expect, it bisects the 19th-century suburbs:
Once it was a streetcar route, with a mix of bungalow housing and one-or two-storey commercial frontage – surprisingly narrow for a major corridor of activity. It went into decline as Motordom prevailed, and became heavily auto-oriented. Division, it was said, was where you went to get your car repaired.
But the combination of old houses and low-rent commercial was ideal soil for sprouting new businesses, opening restaurants and coffee shops and all kinds of eklecteria that made it more and more attractive for others.
As Portland grew and the old streetcar suburbs, still affordable, attracted more renters and owners, It was clear that growth had to be accommodated. But there was agreement not to change scale or character in the single-family-residential neighbourhoods between the arterials. The frontage along streets like Division would be the better if not only place for … ta da …more density, more housing choice, more retail, more frequent transit, hopefully more affordability. It would look like this:
Portland started with four-storey condos and apartments, with retail at grade and significantly reduced parking requirements – in some cases, controversially, little or none at all. Today, these blocks are redefining the corridor.
More floors have been added. And more to the debate.
Hopefully some of that mix of uses, ages, styles and eccentricity, if not affordability, can be retained.