A few of years ago at an AIA conference I met Gordon Price, who was then a city council member in Vancouver, BC and is now the director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University (and whose disembodied head appears at left). He's also a frequent visitor to Portland.
Recently Gordon emailed me with news of a paper he'd written, the title of which seemed intriguing: "Mutual Appreciation: How Portland and Vancouver Exchanged Looks".
The just of his discussion outlines how, as we know, the increasingly tall and thin towers going up in the South Waterfront, northern Pearl and West End are greatly influenced by Vancouver's. What may be less well known to Portlanders, though, is how Vancouver has increasingly begun to embrace the kind of lower-rise buildings more common to the older portions of the revitalized Pearl. Price writes:
Just as Portland was being persuaded of the benefits of the Vancouver style, Vancouver was looking for alternatives to the green-glassed point-and-podium tower. With the redevelopment of the city-owned property in the southeast corner of False Creek as a sustainable neighborhood, a new vision was put forward. In a letter to Council in April, 2004, nine prominent members of the design community argued for a 'town' form of development, "with buildings that are principally low-to mid-rise in height, defining street frontages."
Something, in other words, rather like the Pearl District.
Ecotrust even proposed a re-use of the historic Salt Building as a Natural Capital Centre, specifically modeled after their operation in the Pearl.
In this race to build a new generation of condo towers, has Portland neglected the virtues of the low-rise areas between, say, the north Park Blocks, I-405, Couch and Lovejoy?
As I'm sure Gordon would probably agree, I think a city needs both. Ultimately we want more density here than a city of entirely low-rise buildings could support, and done well a point tower can be magnificent. But there is an intimacy that comes with a more village-like, low-rise setting of two to four-story mixed use buildings. That Vancouver and Portland to some extent have traded styles may be not evidence that one city abandoned the proper path while the other has switched over to finally get it right, but that both cities are completing themselves.