March 18, 2011
CNU Cascadia 2011 Summit 3/25-27 in Portland
From Mary Vogel, the PlanGreen and Advocacy and Alliances Chair for the Cascadia chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism:
With a theme of Placemaking's Role in Sustainability, the CNU Cascadia 2011 Summit will put a great deal of focus on the transit-oriented development along the currently operating Portland Streetcar. Expect some world-class critiques of streetscapes, structures and their intersection in various neighborhoods as participants strive to define great placemaking.
Kay Dannen of Portland Streetcar will be joining us for the SW Portland Streetcar tour. And I'm going to ask a few activist neighbors I know in my downtown neighborhood to be available to speak to us too. A representative from Gerding Edlen may join us for the Brewery Blocks portion of the NW tour--and maybe a NW activist or two as well.
Since it's inception, the Congress for the New Urbanism has created walkable neighborhoods with a strong sense of place. Since we see streets as the major part of the public realm, transportation is critical in New Urbanist design. We're excited to have one of our thought leaders, Steve Mouzon share his views along with authors Kingston Heath & Ross Chapin. All three will join us for discussion on the Placemaking theme as well. Mini-presentations by CNU members will focus on their recent work.
The first Streetcar tour starts outside the NW corner of Powell's at 5 PM, Friday, March 25. We'll re-group for a reception with Steve Mouzon at 7 PM at the AIA Center for Architecture at NW 11th and Flanders. Please join us as we are open to all disciplines dealing with transportation and the built environment--including community activists. The fee is only $35, complimentary to media.
March 18, 2011 7:44 PM
Michael M. Says:
Translation: Yippee, come one, come all to see the great strides in gentrification we're making thanks to the new streetcar! We haven't had this much success since the Supreme Court stopped us from redlining!
March 18, 2011 8:03 PM
Chris I Says:
I wasn't aware that the intent of the streetcar was the gentrify. Maybe you can enlighten me?
March 18, 2011 8:16 PM
I don't think it was "intended" to gentrify, but it causes wealthier people to purchase homes in lower-income areas, that can be the effect, and it's something we have to watch for. That said, I don't really know much about the demographics along the streetcar line prior to its construction.
March 18, 2011 9:01 PM
Pretty much all of the properties along the current Streetcar line were expensive real estate prior to the Streetcar coming, or brownfields converted to residential (ie the Pearl or SoWa). There's plenty of poor student housing in PSU, of course.
But the current Streetcar hasn't, to my knowledge, resulted in folks being kicked out of their buildings due to rising rents, condo conversions, or other redevelopment activities.
March 18, 2011 9:18 PM
Chris Smith Says:
Indeed, the development prompted in part by the Streetcar help fund the River District Urban Renewal area's ability to deliver 30% of the housing in the Pearl as affordable (i.e., targeted and subsidized for folks earning 60% or less of median income).
March 18, 2011 10:27 PM
Gentrification is an overused term. To say you don't want gentrification is to say you don't want improvement.
Be that as it may, rent and housing costs are too high.
A lot of people would kill for a bare bones 300-400sf studio apartment. I think there is a huge market for this type of living...not luxury apartments and condos.
When used as a verb, gentrification is not a bad thing, we just need solid public policy that can help people out, and I think that Portland has at least tried good things compared to most cities out there.
March 19, 2011 10:59 AM
Gentrification seems rather loosely defined and different people use it to mean different things. I see it as a function of an urban economy: If demand for proximity to an amenity (i.e. Streetcar) increases, prices will naturally increase. Those who want it and are willing to pay more, will; those who cannot will move out. I don't think we should create arbitrary rules to save face. Clearly there is demand for a good that people want and government should work to provide more of that good. Prices will check themselves because there are more options. I'm ecstatic for Eastside Streetcar and I think it would behoove Portland to look for opportunities to expand.
March 19, 2011 11:45 AM
One of the objections to gentrification, though, is that for poor renting populations, it is frequently worse than the status quo. Landowners benefit from civic improvements--their own property values rise, and they can charge higher rents. Existing renters don't benefit, however--those that stay have corresponding higher rents; those that leave have to suffer the cost and inconvenience of moving. In theory, improvements improve the supply of "quality" housing in a region, especially when blighted areas are improved, thus lowering the price of such. In practice, it seems often the case that some other area, teetering on the edge, will fall into the abyss, as landlords see downward pressure on rents from more competition, and reduce upkeep in response.
What follows is some rather Machiavellian observations of the property rental business.
If you're a landlord, there's several business models you can pursue. One is the "good landlord" model, where well-maintained properties are offered up to "quality" tenants (with stable incomes, good credit and rental histories, but sufficient income/assets to fight back against an abusive landlord). Another is the "slumlord" model where poorly-maintained properties are offered to the poor and/or tenants with evictions, judgments, and the like--many of which, however, can be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous landlord as they're one step from the street.
However, it's bad business for any landlord to mix the two, especially in the same complex--in order to charge the higher rents crucial to the success of the former, it has to be located well away from the latter. (As noted in prior posts, segregation of areas by income is a commonplace phenomenon--those with money generally desire to live apart from those without). Likewise, from the landlord's perspective, there's little incentive to improve a slum--the tenants generally have no other option (besides another slum somewhere else), and in many cases there's a greater chance that they are more likely to damage the property anyway. Apologies for the preceding blunt assessment--but that's how the slumlord business model operates.
When gentrification occurs, it often means a property is switched from the "slum" model to the "nice" model. (And in many cases, tenants are evicted from the slum well in advance of any improvements--there are several empty trailer parks I can think of out here on the west side, which apparently have more value to their owners as vacant real estate suitable for potential future redevelopment than as low-income housing.)
But more often than not, when gentrification occurs somewhere, de-gentrification occurs somewhere else. Buildings and infrastructure decay and deteriorate unless maintained; and older works deteriorate faster. There's always something out there that's only a step away from being blighted. The net benefit to society of new development projects may well be positive, particularly if new infrastructure is created, but the effects on economically vulnerable populations can be real.
March 19, 2011 8:08 PM
OK, I'm getting three different definitions for "gentrification." OED says "The process by which an (urban) area is rendered middle-class." My dictionary widget says it's the process of improving a district to conform to middle-class taste. And Wikipedia says it's "referring to the socio-cultural displacement that results when wealthier people acquire property in low income and working class communities," which is the definition I'm mostly familiar with. It might be helpful for people to clarify what they mean.
Middle-class folks moving into lower-income areas isn't bad in and of itself, but it often leads to displacement. From a renter's perspective, if they can charge more and still rent out the rooms, why wouldn't they?
That said, I'm not sure what the solution is. Rent control is often mentioned, but its effectiveness is questioned.
March 21, 2011 2:16 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
I'm fine with an urbanist vision, with certain exceptions, and may move back downtown myself, which is where I would prefer anyway, as long as I am in the Portland area.
Some of the exceptions, in my mind:
1. All transit options should be rigorously examined for cost saving measures. By now, aren't we supposed to be thinking "outside the box" just a bit more? And that would mean bringing the costs down on things. E.g. Bicycle Plan; Yes. $600 million Bicycle Plan: I don't think so. Rail commuting option: Yes. $200 million/mi. rail commuting option: *%#*@!#!!!!
This also applies to road building. I see a lot of challenges ahead in revenue collection.
2. If there is growth in the urban core, please don't promote it owing to some social vision of "Equity." I don't care if it is international "equity" or some domestic form of it. Other intelligent people have these issues covered, in our vast, wonderful US society, perhaps in ways you never realized. I don't think it needs to be a component of the urban planning strategy.
3. Recognize that individual needs change, as a person's circumstances change and as an individual's vision of what is necessary progresses. Don't assume that your transit option or place to live will work for most people.
4. Not everyone has a priority on their living environment--wherever it may be. Other people have completely different focuses of their passions and interests. You might think that all people should be concerned about such things---at least, to voice what they think. The reality is, some people just see all of life completely different than you do.