December 10, 2018

What the Missing Middle looks like in Portland

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.

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For the first half of the 20th century, it was common to find small apartment buildings integrated into single-family neighbourhoods, usually a block or two off the streetcar line.  The Bowman blocks in the previous two posts are particularly well-done examples, but even in the 1920s, when the buildings were getting bigger and plainer, there was still use of quality materials and a sense of proportion; they occupied their sites in the same way.

But after the Depression and the War, the formula changed.  It had to.  City zoning bylaws required one key thing all the predecessors lacked.

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I was back in Portland a few weeks ago for my annual transportation-and-land-use lecture.  With a few spare hours I took the opportunity to rediscover a part of PDX’s heritage that should be more widely known – especially relevant for Vancouver in our search for new, denser, acceptable urban development in established neighbourhoods.

I was in search of the small of apartment buildings of Frederick Bowman.

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From oregonlive:

Portland’s apartment-building binge appears to be headed off a cliff.
Applications for new housing developments have nearly ground to a halt over the past year, and there are plenty of reasons for that. Construction costs have ballooned, as have land prices. The glut of new construction, meanwhile, has taken the wind out of rising rents, at least at the high end.
But Portland officials are increasingly worried the city’s inclusionary zoning policy, which compels developers to set aside rent-restricted units in large apartment and condo projects, might be playing a role, too. And if home construction dries up, it could ultimately push housing costs even higher. …
It’s difficult to say, given the many conflicting variables, whether or to what extent inclusionary zoning is to blame for the drop-off. Meanwhile, there’s a backlog of projects that had been submitted before the rules took effect, representing up to two years of future development.
Nonetheless, a city economic planner tasked with monitoring the program says it might be time to consider changes that could give developers a better deal — or risk putting an artificial cap on the housing supply, driving rents higher in the long run.

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