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About a decade ago, I knew I'd seen the future when I visited Vancouver BC and in the middle of downtown, I saw older (50s, 60s) strolling hand in hand, shopping -- at 11 pm. Many stores, restaurants and cafes were still open, and even senior citizens weren't afraid to use them. The condo boom had really ignited there by then, the city was refurbing formerly desolate areas like Gastown, and downtown at night was bustling.

It's starting to happen with Portland, too: The more people shopping and strolling downtown at night, the safer the area feels even for the timid.

And I think the situation will only improve as critical densities of downtowners arrive, which will encourage further retail development, which in turn (combined with high gas prices) will spark higher demand for close-in residences. It's a virtuous cycle.

Streetcar access is also going to have a major impact on encouraging seniors to live downtown; they can get around to interesting and useful places without driving, and the streetcar probably lacks some of the (largely unjustified) stigma buses had for many in that generation. Heck, with the tram they can even easily get up the hill for their medical appointments. And how much better for our elders, and our economy, to not be isolated in sprawlburbs but instead to be participating in and contributing to urban living.

Of course we need to keep pressing for affordable housing, but I love seeing vitality return to the urban core, where it used to be for centuries, before the freeways and gated communities began to drain the life from downtown.


Let's remember that these are the richest of the elderly people. I mean, this new development in the SoWaterfront isn't gonna be cheap.
Most of the elderly people will still be stuck out in sprawlsville.

But, OTOH, I thinks its really encouraging to see older people participate in urbanity.


The initial cluster of buildings is interesting.

It is also interesting to see how they are being marketed as 'contextless,' individual, objects of desire.

The reality is that all of the towers exist in space and in spite of all efforts to minimize floor plates and massing we see the beginings of what looks like a 'mega structure' as one appoaches traveling north on I5.

I think the architects of future elements there need to consider not only the Victorian neighborhood directly west but also to the north and southwest when it comes to the massing and site lines.

One can really feel a change happening in Portland in terms of how it feels. That open to the sky feeling that distinguished us is quickly disappearing.


i spent some time over by the towers, mainly hanging out right by the river.

you look out at the very tip of ross island, and everything is very peaceful and rural looking. then you spin around and the towers loom over you impressively.

all in all, i think its a pretty great spot for that kind of development.

i think the biggest stumbling block is that it connects to the rest of the city oddly right now. its sort of an urban dead end, with a tram that leads to another urban dead end.

Brian Libby

Related to George's point, I think the big elephant in the room with South Waterfront in terms of its connection/relation to downtown is the undeveloped land between the Ross Island and Markum bridges. Regardless of whether and when condos go there, I'd like to see a more seamless pedestrian connection and greenway going all the way.

John Sykes

As a single building I like the proposed tower, for the same reason I like the John Ross. The curves seem to reflect the riverside setting better than square angles.

However, I do feel like the collection thus far is getting a bit matchy-matchy. I wonder how dynamic the scene will appear in 20 years if all the buildings rely on the same design palette.

Frank Dufay

Not one mention so far --so I'll mention it-- about bio-tech and the thousands of jobs the South Waterfront development would bring. Not just condos.

I have to say, too, that 244 parking spaces for a Senior Center seems a bit high, especially when the "goal" is a dense, urban community not dependent on the automobile.

Seamless pedestrian access? You still can't walk to OHSU and the tram from downtown without walking in the street where the sidewalk's broken, or missing altogether.

It's interesting, too, that when you walk down to the greenway trail, such as it is behind the finished condos, there's a sign asserting that this walk along the river is on "private property."

I'd have to say the building looks very attractive, but context is important.


I'm thinking there are a lot of people that expected the South Waterfront project to be a thriving neighborhood in a year similiar to what happened (what seemed like) overnight in the Pearl. The Pearl however had a lot of infrastructure already in place, so the neighborhood came together quickly after major investments were made. The South Waterfront is a large blank canvass so it seems misconnected, cold, and not anything that was promised to Portlanders when it began.

For a little context. The space between the Marquam and Ross Island bridges is land formerly owned by the Schnitzer family, who donated the space to OHSU. OHSU in turn has agreed to move their OGI campus from Hillsboro (they recently completed a sale of the campus) as well as some schools currently on the hill, to a fresh new campus that will be created in the 'dead' space. From what I've heard, that campus wont be completed until 2012, so for the meantime, the South Waterfront will seem disconnected from downtown.

The waterfront greenway is actually Portland's responsibility to build. The condo developers have built a temporary space for their residents until the city comes up with money to build the entire greenway. It was never intended that the greenway was going to be long grass yards like Waterfront Park, once the city takes over the riverbanks and restores it, the greenway will be open to the public.

FYI: The South Waterfront now has over 900 employees working in the new OHSU building, almost 10% of the promised jobs at district buildout, and within 6 months of opening their first building. Considering that only a year ago not even the tram was on the skyline, the project has been progressing quite impressively and rather quickly.


I think the senior center is a perfect fit for south waterfront, and Pacific Retirement Services, Inc. (PRSI) is an excellent group to do it. I grew up in Medford, where PRS runs the Rogue Valley Manor. The Manor has been an architectural fixture in the Rogue Valley since at least the 1960's (not sure when it was built). The manor was the nursing home hub to an entire development geared for post retired people.
PRS has developed communities that take someone from retirement to nursing home. Their community take into account the different living requirements for senior citizens. I agree with the comments supporting the graying of urban Portland. The greenway and the streetcar will be important elements to connect that neighborhood to Portland and the general livability of South Waterfront.


I can't help but think how similar this design seems that of nearby block 38 (now known as 3720).


This shows an interesting rendering of that building. Also, a blurb from that post:

"But still, it's a little disconcerting if we get too much similarity."

Any thoughts?

Brian Libby

That's some good blog research work there, Patrick. Since you asked, I would indeed like to see some bolder choices made in South Waterfron overall. In this project's case, Ankrom probably makes a good fit for this client. A retirement home developer is not looking for Thom Mayne, but rather reliability and experience. In terms of the overall SW district, I think Homer Williams, Gerding/Edlen and OHSU deserve praise for making this happen. It'll be admirably high-density, sustainable, transit-oriented development. Although I'd be more excited by bolder architectural moves--either hiring some of Portland's hottest architects or looking outside the city or the country--it takes a whole team of experts to make these projects happen, and the developers shouldn't have to apologize for getting into a groove with certain design/construction partners who've done exactly what's asked of them in the past. Is SW a laboratory for modern architecture like I hoped it'd be at the outset? Definitely not. But whether in this project or others, I'm still enjoying seeing it all come together. And of the one building I've been inside down there, the OHSU building, I was very impressed.


I'd like to add that cities that are now luring the "creative class" are also in the business of luring well-off baby-boomers.

This monied and educated group is looking for the same things as the creative class: attractive urbanity, good restaurants, lively scene, natural beauty, etc. But they're looking for something a little more upscale than the twentysomethings usually have in mind.

The primary reason to attract this demographic? They bring money! When they invest in condominiums and they're "urban" lifestyle, it brings money into the region from other places. The investment, literally a cash infusion, is going to be worth a lot in the coming years. Yes, they're lifestyle supports the economy, but it also brings in tax dollars.

I see the SoWa as a strategic city investment that will capture this demographic from other parts of the country in the future. Projects like this one are perfect for the SoWa, and though I agree that we should continue to be critical regarding the development of the area, I'm pleased that things are progressing well so far.


Disconcerting, true, but it shouldn't be surprizing. Remember that SoWa was primarily borne of the city's desire to keep OSU from running off to where there was more room to grow. It's not surprizing that power lunching developers rushing to answer the call for an instant neighborhood would stop short of aspiring to produce buildings that were imaginative and creative.

It's o.k. though. Neighborhood isn't done. The big stuff is there now, so some of the pressure is off. The little stuff coming in should help to give the area some personality.


I'm not exactly surprised by the fact that a lot of these developments look similar - particularly since the city offers bonuses for point-tower type developments and all the blocks are almost identical: what else would you really expect except for a similar approach to building?

To check out some truly innovative urban planning/design, you should check out Potsdamer Platz in Berlin:


Frank Dufay

It'll be admirably high-density, sustainable, transit-oriented development.

I don't see how a building with 244 parking spaces is transit-oriented-development.

Bob R.

Regarding 244 parking spaces, 244 is relatively few for a project this size.

Not even counting room for employee and visitor parking, there will be fewer than one space per unit, and depending on the number of bedrooms per unit, perhaps only .66 to .75 parking spaces per bedroom.

Note that for an active retired person, having a car is an important feeling of security and independence, even if it is seldom used.

My own grandfather kept his 1977 Ford Granada, purchased new shortly before retirement, all the way to the end of his life in 2004. But, the car had only 67,000 miles on it. (We sold it and I've seen it around Portland a few times... at least his car lives on...)

I don't think this structure will be adding significantly to the congestion in the area.

The nearby streetcar will take on the function of what most retirement centers provide with shuttle buses: Trips to appointments and shopping. There are several grocery stores (from standard to upscale) directly on the streetcar line -- seniors who need a few extra supplies will not have to drive or wait for a once-daily shuttle.

My grandmother is currently moving into a facility which was constructed with one parking space per bedroom, and a guaranteed parking space is part of the rent. The facility is at 100% occupancy and over a third of the parking spaces are empty (including hers). And yet, visitors are required to use a separate and inconvenient visitor lot!

- Bob R.




Brian's right - we seniors or honored citizens as Portland says - are looking for many of the same things as the "Creative Class." But we also realize that we can't count on there being a place in a quality assisted living or other facility if we should suddenly need it. CCRC's (Continuing Care Communities) get our attention because the upscale ones like Mirabella give us the urban condo independent living, companionship, a gourmet meal a day we don't have to prepare, exercise, etc. And, at one parking space per unit, that's not too bad because we also have some time to drive over to the coast or take in a play in Ashland. Used to be we'd head to Florida and get a trailer and play golf but that's not what many of us today are looking for. My daughter says I'm "college shopping" - and in a way she's right.

Annie McGee

I've been actively looking for a pleasant place to live , along with other over fifty persons. My comclusion is that it's terribly expensive to live in a comfortable, safe retirement situation, with meals, gym, library, bus service, entertainment, etc. provided. I was so hoping that the future retirement building in South Waterfront Park would be affordable to more than the richest. Guess I'll have to look further.

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