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"As always, the best urban environments are ones that have many differently sized and different looking pieces."

That statement pretty much sums it all up in regards to how Portland should develop.

The Pearl's success is not just a mix of building height and form, but a mix of age and material as well. The actual neighborhood predates Hoyt Street Properties by a long shot regardless of what Streetcar advocates try to booster. The South Waterfront, like it's older "twin" brother the Lloyd District, fails in respect to having a mix of height, form, age and material. No amount of planning can create a neighborhood (not even Pullman, IL for those historians out there). Neighborhoods take people and time to foster different perspectives, artistic styles and values that give 'character' and a 'sense of place.' There is of course more to it, but the South Waterfront, Downtown's swath of surface parking lots, the Lloyd District, and HSP's chunk of the Pearl all suffer from a monopoly of land ownership... the exact opposite of what modern planners think is necessary for high-density development (i.e. the Gateway area: honestly it's the location location location not the lack of a large land owner that have stalled planner's dreams there like they say).

I am not against planning, far from it, but PDX's planners need a reality check when it comes to forced design standards versus the chaos and capitalism theories that have prevailed in human history. You can build infrastructure wherever you like, but it's the individual who will ultimately decide to use or utilize it or not.


After meticulously looking at the False Creek development's website I have come to see this posting in a different light: Portland should look at this development as a model.

Why? Because it is a 'step-down' development, a transitional area between the point towers and the old streetcar suburbs of Vancouver. The developers have really focused on the street and human scale here. If you see an aerial of Vancouver now, it looks as if the development was always there, balanced and organic with old and (mostly) new.

Portland has had a legacy of stepped down height planning, but has lessened the importance of these ideals with the platting of South Waterfront and the HSP's vision for the North Pearl (higher development is allowed one block from the river than Downtown for instance).

I am still in favor of a mix of urban fabric, but I can see where in our city a low-rise only development like False Creek could really work.


Interesting how focused this is on height, whereas (and this is admittedly beyond the scope of this post) I think what's also limiting the over-saturated Portland condo/apt market is its focus on young professionals and older couples, to the exclusion of families.

Portland's condos run from studios to 2BR units, with nothing in the 3BR range outside of $1MM+ penthouses. There is little available that's appealing or affordable for a typical (even upscale) family. Vancouver's density would imply many more family-friendly options than we have here.

It would be nice to see some revisioning by developers on this point -- hell, it'd be nice to have the city step in with incentives. If you want that neighborhood feeling, shorter buildings aren't going to get you that far. You need to bring in a broader demographic of homeowner.

Being more family friendly could be a big step in turning things around.


Bingo, elvix, bingo.

I long to live in a nice urban neighborhood like the Pearl or the Westside but am shut out by the lack of product for my nuclear family. Without families like mine, these places will never truly be well-rounded. Maybe that is the point, though...


As Brian notes, a major selling point for the high-rise condo craze in PDX was the supposedly "good practice" model of Vancouver. Just think- PDX could have been a "good practice" leader instead of a real estate trend follower by insisting that "one size doesn't fit all" and that new forms - even tall ones - should respect the existing context. I'm thinking specifically about how in the heated debate over the Allegro such good sense was thrown out the window, with Vancouverism (merely masking greed?) consistently used to silence critics. Luckily Goose Hollow (unlike South Waterfront) dodged a bullet. When the market revives I hope good common sense prevails, but memories in RE are short.


Its really just a matter of economics. It will be low and squatty buildings in Portland's future for many years. High-rise construction simply costs too much. The rents and prices no longer exist to support the high rise buidling type. Over the past few years, we just proved the marekt isn't there. No more towers will be built for many, many years in Portland, despite what planners and architects continue to wish for and dream up. And if people really want affordablity, or "family" housing, then give up on high-rise typology because it will never be competitive on costs with lower denisty, squatty, bulky, and efficient midrise buildings.


The point is that dense housing should always include families. I don't think that dense housing needs to equal high rise, just a level of density that can support a robust offering of walkable culture. That is precisely what I want my family to have. Right now, we live in a very walkable Hollywood Neighborhood but crave more.


I was able to go on Metro's tour of Vancouver a few years ago. They took us to the future Olympic housing sites (then under construction.) One notion that struck me was the unit and population density of the point towers vs. the mid size developments. They are practically identical. (Because of how they plan for light and air the point towers are spaced to take advantage of their form.) Personally, I love high density low-rise neighborhoods, but I like to see and appreciate high-rise also in a city. Being in a smaller city, I also understand these things are comparative. Mid rise in Portland is smaller because our high rise is smaller. (and yet we both have a somewhat similar sun.)


The South Waterfront development would have fit into the city better as a mid-rise development. This group of tall tower sitting along the river seem detached from the rest of the city and harms the natural beauty of Ross Island, which is once again becoming one of Portland’s important riparian habitats.

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