The opinion section of Sunday's Oregonian offered two opposing views on what the Portland Development Commission should do next with respect to its urban renewal areas: to keep devoting resources to making the central city more dense, or to focus more on outlying areas in need such as Parkrose and Rockwood.
Portland State University urban studies professor Carl Abbott favors declaring victory in the central city and heading eastward to do more good:
"The equation [for urban renewal starting in the 1970s] had two simple parts: Shore up downtown as a center for retailing, employment and culture. Preserve and revitalize older neighborhoods to keep them attractive for the middle class.
It worked. From the slopes of the West Hills to the slopes of Mount Tabor, the city is a success by any comparative standards.
The Portland 'miracle' is yet to work its wonders, however, in the city's far eastern neighborhoods. These are areas with more people in poverty, more immigrants, fewer parks and a lot less creative class buzz."
By contrast, Patricia Garner, land use planning committee chair for the Pearl District Neighborhood Association and a project manager with Chesshir Architecture, says there are still important pockets of land in the central city currently not in urban renewal districts that need to be developed and densified. Namely, the flats of Goose Hollow and the area around Con-way in Northwest:
"If these to areas were developed to their full capacity, the city could see an increase of at least 4,000 new housing units and one million square feet of new office capacity. The more that is built in these urban environments, the less we have to build in other neighborhoods."
Gardner also addresses what urban renewal is and isn't:
"One of the biggest misconceptions about urban renewal financing is that fat cat developers are given money to create their projects for rich people. This is not true....Urban renewal does not work in established, healthy neighborhoods unless there is a desire to fundamentally change the character of that neighborhood toward more density. But it works fabulously in these blank opportunity sites."
I tend to agree more with Patty Gardner on this one. Of course Abbot isn't wrong that poorer neighborhoods would certainly benefit from more investment in services and infrastructure there: libraries, open spaces, schools, transit. But urban renewal money isn't social service money. It's meant to plant seeds in mostly vacant areas and make neighborhoods. It's true that some of the close-in industrial areas in Northwest Portland seem better candidates for high density than neighborhoods like Parkrose and Rockwood that are far from the city center.
If we're going to go very dense outside the city center, however, it should be at key transit intersections, such as Parkrose's next-door neighborhood, Gateway, where Interstates 5, 205 and 84 intersect along with the MAX line to downtown, the airport and eventually Clackamas. But Gateway already is an urban renewal area.
To some extent, pitting low-income outer Portland neighborhoods against the central city for urban renewal dollars feels like an incongruent, apples-to-oranges affair. Even so, we shouldn't abandon our dance partner -- the central urban core -- in the middle of the floor to cut a rug on the fringe of the dance hall.