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I never understood why Cascade Station was built AWAY from the MAX rather than toward it. That makes no sense to me. I was sad that it ended up just being another strip mall with big boxes, but I'm thankful to have those big boxes so easily accessible on the MAX.


To me, the big flaw with the idea behind Cascade Station: If TOD requires a certain amount of housing to become a successful neighborhood, it seems like you can't build a TOD neighborhood directly under the flight path of a major runway, as that significantly discourages residential development. It's interesting to ponder what Cascade Station could have been, and what sort of policies/legislation could have promoted a more walkable, enjoyable, unique development, but blaming the 2001 recession and 9/11 for the lack of housing in the area seems to ignore that people don't generally want to live right next to a runway. I hope this doesn't sound snide, but it might not have been a bad location for at least some affordable housing, considering how many people work at the airport or in the retail at cascade station. And we should also be careful about tinging our development interests with cultural war semiotics; would you, Mr. Libby, go to the Circuit City/Jamba Juice/wherever else if it WAS built TOD? Is our interest in building neighborhoods more about the politics of our opinions about the built form or the politics expressed by the businesses that occupy these spaces?

Food for thought.


You didn't mention a key factor ... similar to the buyers coming to Jantzen Beach, there is a Washington crowd that adds to this project's economic viability. Yes, once again the idea of no sales tax makes this a good location for large retail tenants. Add into the mix a somewhat unique big box (IKEA) and there is a pull from both states. So, in short, no big surprise that a auto-dominated strip mall is successful here.


A. I think you meant to say that WalMart has spent millions to buff its image, as opposed to buffet.

B. The key to ANY success in economic prosperity of a commercial retail development hinges on getting to that critical mass of the right tenants, which specifically includes IKEA.

C. The lack of parking structures indicates suburban development, as land price is clearly not an issue if all you have is surface parking. Now mind you, over time the developers could push for higher density by filling in between the two rows of stores, with a third row of mixed use buildings, as infill, and create bilevel parking structures between.

D. Hardly anyone actually takes MAX to this place. That IKEA lot on weekends is chock full of cars like it was Costco.

Brian Libby


Actually I did mean "buffet" as opposed to "buff" - not "buffet" in the sense of a smorgasbord, but to to strike and move along, as in "The wind buffeted him." But maybe "buff" would have been a more appropriate word to use.

Otherwise, I agree with B, C and D of your comment. My question is, is this a good thing, bad, both, or neither?

Brian Libby

Oh and Lyle, you make a great point about Washington shoppers, so I added a sentence to the original post addressing that.

Alex Stange

My understanding from one of the architects was that Port of Portland's easement on the land at Cascade Station made it unattractive for tenants, at least initially. Perhaps that was part of the 2005 changes.

eric cantona

"Unfortunately, following the execution of the agreement in 1999, development stalled due to the events of September 11, 2001..."

hogwash. it failed because they were trying to create a type of development that was not ever going to happen on that site. absolutely no one wanted to develop a mixed-use development including office and housing in an international airport's flight path.



I'm fine with it the way it is for now; eventually, I'd like to see it grow up and become more pedestrian-scaled in the future, including more mixed-use structures.

As we know from downtown Beaverton's Round, it's not always wise to force density in an area that cannot support it. From that perspective, Cascade Station is far more successful, especially if it is a process of development from strip mall to higher density commercial/mixed use.

However, one aspect of the development that I'm not happy with, is that it seems the development grew up next to MAX, rather than surrounding it. To me, it'll always be a drive-to destination, because walking a mile round trip while shopping is untenable for most folks. Maybe they plan to implement a streetcar loop in the future?

Joshua Franklin

Tanasbourne is a similar failure. When the old mall was redeveloped in the 1990s there was talk of an urban village with both housing and jobs, and in fact both were built. Unfortunately due to the configuration of disconnected sidewalks and giant parking lots, it is unsafe to get from one to the other.

Greg Moore

Brian - great article as always. Box store mentality is a very strange thing. Portlanders are great at putting on a good talk about our desires to buy and support local. We make it look easy and a way of life. There are the elite few who pull it off in earnest. The rest of us are hopping in our cars (begrudgingly) and heading to the big boxes more often than we would rather. It may have more to do with the economy gained by buying cheap and (seemingly) plentiful commodities. We are still capitalists, despite our lovely Portland socialism leanings. As such, any smart business knows this and can appeal easily. I would argue that Cascade station was setup ideally to house the big-box plethora that lives there now. It reminds me of the layout of strip malls in Phoenix.

In fact, I suspect if you were to take a poll of the patrons of that Wild Buffalo Wings franchise, I suspect you'd find a lot of travelers and ex-pats from the lands of strip malls. It's familiar and comfortable, perhaps.

One thing is for sure, Cascade station is a bitter-sweet success. It failed at it's original intent, but succeeded at bringing some much needed activity to the region. Even if it is box-a-licious.

For the record - I despise Ikea and every other store in Cascade station, but I still find myself at Ikea at least once ever month or two needing something I can't get at 8:00PM on a Sunday anywhere else.


B , I can live with you dissing most of those companies , but
HEH not IHOP......
Anyway , James Howard Kunstler
says "the 12,000 mile supply chain from Chinese factories to American chain stores is a special condition , not a permanent arrangement." This suburban setup is over ,
the Peak Oil Tipping Point is happening.

Michael M.

I've been to Cascade Station exactly twice. The first time was to check out IKEA, shortly after it opened. I took MAX and I didn't buy anything. The experience gave me a headache.

The second time was just a few weeks ago, to buy a new laptop at Best Buy. Why there? Because I could get there on MAX and because it had the best selection of affordable laptops (my max was $500) in the area.

I'd love to "shop local." I'd love to buy everything I can from local craftpeople, carpenters, farmers, suppliers, etc. I'd love one of those gorgeous handmade bikes built by our one of our talented pool of local builders, instead of my Chinese import sold under a major US brand name. I'd love to have gone to one of our town's local computer stores to get my laptop, if they actually sold one for under $500. But they don't, but I can't afford much at my local farmer's market (unless I want to go a few days a week without food), and so on...

In short, people go to Cascade Station because stores there sell things they can afford. Much of what is touted in Portland as virtuously green, local, sustainable, artisan, fair-trade, urban, community-based, etc., is also priced beyond the means of a great many of us. Someday, someone will explain to me what is virtuous or sustainable about that.


Spot on MM. Big boxes exist because people like to shop there. They like the prices. They like to drive there. That doesn't fit into Portland's self-labeled "we are uber green and better than everyone else" moninker, but its reality. If my local hardware store was open on a tuesday night at 9pm when I need something, I'd go there. But its not, so I have to drive out to Home Depot out by the airport, and burn gas and create emissions doing so. To the planner and activist types, somehow that's better than allowing one to be built near where most Portlander's actually live (like close-in eastside Portland). Its true the big box cheap prices have hidden costs to global society, but I think most people just don't care, or at least can't afford to care.


In retail, tenants dictate what gets built - the bigger the tenant, the more influence. And tenants follow or predict consumers; therefore the Portland/Vancouver consumers made Cascade Station a big strip mall. (gee Thanks!)
Bottom line with Cascade Station is that it reflects what the retail market would allow there. And because it is successful, its likely the right fit for the site. The developer re-hired the same architect that did Bridgeport Village for him; they knew how successful that archtype has been. And it wasn't that an urban village wasn't attempted - I know it was. Developments like these go to the leasing agents way early in the process. No tenants on board = no project.
And the article is right - the 911/slumping economy did have a big impact; that coupled with the risky location meant no retailer was going to take a chance on that site even if getting their typical proto box. That is until our hero arrived...IKEA.
NONE of Cascade Station would be there if not for IKEA signing on. They started the domino effect. So now its IKEA and company and a bunch of happy consumers filled up on swedish meatballs and 99 cent hotdogs.
Way, way back the site was supposed to be a mixed use/amusement park-type development, with a big lake and days of fun for the entire family. My parents and grandparents visited me from out of town a couple weeks ago. While I struggled to find places (for old people) to take them, at no time did I consider taking them to Cascade Station. However...Portland's Cascade Station amusement park/lake/whatever might have been in the running.

Jeff Joslin

Portland's greatest planning successes have resulted from establishing the vision we hope to built to, applying catalysts as appropriate and necessary, and waiting for the market to get there. Some of Portland's greatest failures have resulted from tossing out those visions and succumbing to a big bag of money walking into the room. This is my view of what occurred at Cascade Station.

The generative vision for Cascade Station was not flawed, and it was not an exurban Pearl District model. It was based on imagining PDX as a regional/national/international hub, where a unique office and business district would support the investment in the rail and airport expansion, make a connection back to downtown, and anticipated Portland as a major international center. The pressure of players showing up wanting to strike a fundamentally different deal led to the City enabling the best big box mall achievable on a site that had been preserved and delicately nursed along towards loftier aspirations. What an accomplishment for an emerging great city!. Internally, the discussion shifted from how to strike a more balanced compromise, to joking about the urban design and public investment success that would be revealed as folks got on the Max with their newly purchased couches to go back to their car-less urban environments. During negotiations with the newly arrived potential major investment players, the City's urban designers were specifically disallowed from participation.

I ask all you designers: if you had a blank slate and a magic wand in 1995, would this have been the place such a retail development would ideally be proposed? What would you have suggested instead? Ten years later, was it better to take the first offer, or wait for the ability of the site's highest and best use to be manifested?

This was not an example of brilliant flexibility. It was an example of crass, near-sighted opportunism. If such compromises drove other visions of past, we'd have skybridges and dead streets throughout downtown, we wouldn't have needed Cascade Station because those big boxes would have been littered elsewhere throughout the City (such as on the Coliseum site), and the River District would be a bunch of tilt-up warehouses.

Sometimes building a great city requires restraint, patience, and visionary persistence.


"Save $20 on home delivery when you take MAX to IKEA, just steps from the Cascades Station stop!"

I wish they had that at the Copenhagen IKEA, which is also further from the train.


It's a little bit Country, and a little bit Rock 'n' Roll!


Cedar Hills Blvd transported 12? miles east; easier for Washingtonians to buy crap tax free.

Rick Potestio

Fundamentally, Cascade Station was the prize that enabled light rail to reach the Airport.
That said, I really wonder how anyone could envision this site as anything other than the big box center it is today?

How on earth did anyone think that an airport/metropolitan region that can barely hold onto international flights could become an national/international business hub?

Furthermore, why would we want such a hub at the airport, instead of in the Lloyd District and activating the Convention Center/Rose Quarter area? (for light rail, I reckon).

The design of the area is fatally flawed, if it was intended to be a lively "urban" environment. The park blocks are bounded by two lane, suburban office park like streets, not the narrow streets flanking Portland's downtown park blocks.

The Light Rail station itself wastes an important portion of the park frontage, where a building would provide better containment to the space, and continuity of retail for the pedestrian.

In principal, shopping does not occur along park blocks. Active shopping environments characterized by small retail always happen along pedestrian ways that are narrow and confining. An example would be in Boston: Newbury Street (narrow, dense, continuous) is the shopping street, not Commonwealth Ave (the park block model), nor Boylston. Great shopping streets provide easy visual and physical access across them, making them dynamic. They have narrow widths, and don't need excessively wide sidewalks. Even Malls have taken to filling their over-wide mall spaces with kiosks to constrict flow,(increase revenue of course) and create a sense of crowded energy.

The parks themselves are uninviting and discontinuous... alternating between lawn and storm water retention facilities.

Most of the building mass fronts parking lots, rather than the parks.

The act of driving is one of locating the right parking lot entrance, not of slowly cruising, as would be the case on NW 23rd or N Mississippi or Alberta.

It is unfortunate the dream was not realized, but I wonder if the dream was misplaced anyway.


Having lived in Vancouver/Camas area for a year now, I'd consider Cascade Station just an extension of Vancouver. People are now flocking to the mall to shop, but its just as soulless as the retail sprawl as my "neighborhood" between 1-205 and 164th. So if you live in Vancouver, its familiar. I go to CS to avoid sales taxes with no expectations to find any of the cultural benefits Portland has to offer that Vancouver lacks.

And I suspect it will stay that way. Who would ever want to live under the flight path of PDX? So, just as I have to drive everywhere in Vancouver, its no more inconvenient to head over the bridge to Cascade Station and save a a few bucks in sales tax.

If I want Portland culture, say a Voodoo Doughnut, I'lI happily drive a little farther.


Jeff Joslin

Yes, Ric, it's true: it was giving away the store to enable the long-planned airport rail that brought us the mega mcmall. But we're all here questioning the vision in that trade-off, because it was a massive compromising of vision. If it had been a correctional facility that brought us the rail, would that still have been an acceptable balancing?

There's certainly room to discuss whether the initial impulse was the right one. I'd argue it was pretty damn close, making PDX a unique and attractive hub with business amenities that would've had a bigger downtown and regional ripple. I'd choose that ripple to the tidal wave of regional mall traffic.

One of the reason we're all picking apart the diagram and it's relevance to the activities is because the shell of the diagram (along with the rail) was all that was retained of the earlier intentions. It's tough to turn a tuxedo into gorilla suit using the same pattern and fabric: it's just never gonna have the same fit.


I second the statements of Rick P

Every time I have looked at the park blocks in Cascade Station I wonder who they were designed for. For an area that had so much area available, I must say I was quite disappointed with the public space deployment.

Michael McCulloch AIA

It is possible now to re-consider Jantzen Beach as a water-focused community that could connect to Hayden Meadows, another new higher density development opportunity. Whether you like Cascade Station or not it does locate the newest big boxes and generic hotels along a transit line adjacent to our airport. Its success is in its functions and its tenants, not in its urban design. IKEA will never tuck itself into an older warehouse in the urban fabric. But it just might get surrounded by future "fabric" as Cascade Station matures. Its just 21st century retailing fabric.

What is needed now is time to see the kind of life that evolves there. The arrival of the Port offices should have a civilizing impact.

Our next urban design challenge is Hayden Island, Hayden Meadows, and the areas flanking the CRC project areas. If we in Vancouver and Portland are going to absorb more in-migration in the coming decades, let's celebrate the downfall of the old Jantzen Beach, design this new corridor of water-related communities that engage the Columbia appropriately, and leave Cascade Station to become the successor to the old Jantzen Beach as a tax free place to buy furniture, electronics, host generic hotels, and re-inforce our light rail system in the bargain. In the end we can reclaim Hayden Island because of Cascade Station...

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