Is Portland Planning for Failure or Success?

Garlynn Woodsong is a planner and a frequent commenter from Portland Transport’s early days. He lives in the Alberta Arts District and is involved in the Land Use & Transportation committees of the Concordia Neighborhood Association and the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN).

As Portland works to update its Comprehensive Plan, things seem to be going mostly well. There have been a series of workshops with neighborhood leaders to gather early input on the current draft materials for the plan; the one that I attended for central NE Portland was well-run, well-attended and full of thoughtful, articulate people all seeking to work together to make this a better place to live.

However, there is some cause for concern. The Portland Plan and the City of Portland Climate Action Plan lay out a series of goals for the city to achieve by 2030-2035. According to the current draft of the Comprehensive Plan Update Scenarios Report, which lays out four scenarios for future growth and then compares their performance for a variety of indicators, on most of these measures none of the scenarios envision us meeting the performance targets we have set out for ourselves as a city. This raises a critical question: If the four scenarios offered are considered to be the four options that Portland residents can choose between for future growth, why do all four scenarios envision failure as the measured outcome for most of the performance measures we have picked as goals for our future performance? Why is there not at least one scenario that meets at least a majority of the performance goals laid out in the CAP and the Portland Plan?

I’m going to run through just one of these performance targets, Transportation, to discuss the issues involved, and possible solutions, with the hope that the menu of options offered up here could be combined as ingredients to produce a successful scenario, one that will meet the performance targets laid out by the Portland Plan and the CAP. This is an attempt to begin to determine the answer to the following question:

What scenario + package of strategies will allow us to meet the goals laid out for VMT reduction in the Portland Plan and in the Climate Action Plan?

I think that a similar exercise could take place for each of the other perfomance targets; and I would like to see the results of such exercises combined to produce a new scenario, one that clearly articulates all of the policies, investments and other procedures required to meet the performance targets, so that we as a community can have an informed discussion about the trade-offs required.

Transportation: VMT, mode share and a shift to active transportation modes

When it comes to transportation, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is a leading indicator of bottom-line performance; it is often expressed as VMT per capita, as this can reduce scenario performance to a single understandable metric that allows comparison between the base year and horizon year, and between differing communities, regardless of the size of the community or changes in population totals. Another easily-understable metric is Mode Share, which is simply the share of total trips (or share of commute trips) taken using each mode (car, transit, walk, bike, etc.). The goal from the Portland plan for each of these indicators is stated thusly (reference page 54 of the Scenarios Report):

“By 2035, Portlanders have reduced the number of miles they travel by car to 11 miles per day on average and 70 percent of commuters walk, bike, take transit, carpool or telecommute to work.”

So, according to the Portland Plan, daily VMT per capita should be 11 (which, when using Metro’s annualization factor of 342 to account for weekends and holidays, results in a target annual VMT/capita of 3,762), and there should be a roughly 30% or less commute mode share for single-occupant automobiles (there may be some wiggle room here, though, as telecommuting isn’t always counted as a “mode”, and carpooling is still a form of automobile commuting).

The year 2030 goals from the Climate Action Plan are:

“Create vibrant neighborhoods where 90 percent of Portland residents and 80 percent of Multnomah County residents can easily walk or bicycle to meet all basic daily, non-work needs and have safe pedestrian or bicycle access to transit.” …and: “Reduce per capita daily vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) by 30 percent from 2008 levels.”

According to my analysis of the numbers presented in the Scenarios Report, none of the scenarios currently under consideration gets us more than 50% of the way towards the goals laid out in the Portland Plan and the CAP. The best-performing scenario, Central City Focused, which puts the largest share of growth into the Central City (~32%), still only achieves a 15% reduction in per-capita VMT, resulting in an average VMT/Capita of just under 24 miles a day (or ~8,050 annual VMT/capita).


The CAP seems to set out a different goal here, of a 30 percent reduction in per-capita daily VMT, from the Portland Plan, of a reduction to daily per-capita VMT of 11 miles, which would seem to actually be a 60% reduction in daily per-capita VMT from existing conditions. Regardless, the Scenarios Report only envisions us getting 50% of the way to the least-aggressive of these two goals.

Roger Geller, the City’s Bicycle Coordinator, has conducted his own analysis of potential reductions in vehicle travel in the future, based on data from the Oregon Household Activity Survey (OHAS) and some scenarios for future performance. Specifically, his analysis looks at what some appropriate strategies might be to help the city achieve its desired targets for non-automotive and automotive transportation. His analysis finds that the east side of Portland, between the river and I-205, will have to play a prominent role in helping the City as a whole achieve its desired performance targets, due to “its density, population and land use that results in short trips.” His scenarios show what it would take to achieve a 29% reduction in automotive mode split by 2035 based on building out world-class bicycle infrastructure and encouraging a continuation of past trends in shifts to active transportation.

While I agree with the approach that Roger has laid out for bicycle infrastructure improvements, I would like to propose that a more holistic approach must be taken to achieve the transportation goals laid out in the CAP and the Portland Plan. To achieve the desired VMT reductions, Portland must pursue a three-pronged strategy:

1) Land Use Changes
2) Transportation Infrastructure Investments
3) Pricing & other demand management strategies

I’ll address these one at a time.

1) Land Use Changes

The Portland Plan is already considering many strategies to encourage the development of centers, corridors and neighborhood main street areas. If the goal is for 90% of Portland residents to be able to walk or bicycle to meet daily non-work travel needs (trips to school, errands, shopping, recreation, etc.), the way to achieve this goal with regards to land use has two parts: a) to make sure that enough destinations are available within walking or bicycling distance of 90% of homes in the city, and b) to make sure that the urban form of these destinations lends itself to walking or riding a bicycle to get to them, rather than driving.

There are tools available to planners, such as Form-Based Codes, that can ensure that new growth is built to be pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented, rather than auto-oriented; but the key issues are to:

– Orient buildings so that their entrances face the pedestrian zone of the street
– Ensure that any off-street parking be minimized, eliminated, priced, and at the very least placed behind or underneath a building
– Construct alleys behind buildings to minimize curb cuts for parking access, so as to minimize potential pedestrian-auto conflicts; parking lots and garages should then only access the alley system
– Build multiple-story buildings on main streets and in centers, with ground-floor retail topped by housing or offices
– Make sure the street environment is walkable, with street trees, street furniture such as benches, and other visual cues that tell the pedestrian that they are welcome

Two of the best indicators of walkability for a neighborhood are:

– Walkable street intersections per square mile. If an area has more than ~150 walkable street intersections (i.e. intersections with at least 3 non-dead-end [cul-de-sac] links, not including streets that are for cars only, such as freeways and ramps) per square mile (measured within a quarter mile radius), then it can be considered to be walkable due to the layout of the streets themselves; of course, they should also have sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities (street trees, etc). Most of central Portland is already above this walkable threshold, but some of the outer areas of the city may lack the dense, complete street network required to achieve this level of walkability; new pedestrian path and street connections may be required in some areas to add to pedestrian network connectivity.


– Retail Floor Area Ratio (FAR). Essentially, if your neighborhood retail is designed to be oriented towards cars, with a majority of the lot area taken up by surface parking for cars, this will show up in the ratio of building floor area to parcel/lot area, and the number will be under 0.5 (likely at or lower than 0.35); if your neighborhood retail is designed to be walkable, it will have minimal surface parking, and this will show up as an FAR above 0.5, ideally closer to 0.9 or higher. If you live in a neighborhood where the retail is auto-oriented, there is a very good chance that you will choose to drive to get there; if you live in a neighborhood where the retail is pedestrian-oriented, then there is a much higher chance that you will choose to not drive for trips to these destinations.

Land use strategies to help achieve the desired VMT reductions thus include changing the City’s zoning codes to specifically require that new development be built to walkable standards, rather than auto-oriented standards; and ensuring that enough land is zoned for walkable mixed-use centers, corridors and main streets within walking/biking distance of 90% of the homes in the City. Of course, the determination of whether a destination is within walking or biking distance of a home depends very much on the quality of the pedestrian/bicycle network between those two points, which leads to our next point…

2) Transportation Infrastructure Investments

Transportation infrastructure investments can sometimes be multi-modal, but I’ll discuss each of the modes individually here.


Roger Geller’s piece was strong in its assessment of existing bicycle infrastructure in Portland:

In regard to bicycle transportation, the experience of cities around the world demonstrates that a 25% mode split is achievable with high quality bikeways that provide a comfortable and safe experience. Compared to the world’s best bicycle transportation cities, Portland’s bicycle network is largely substandard and incomplete. Most of that 250% growth in bicycling in Portland since 1994 occurred in the face of bicycle facilities now recognized as inadequate for most people, that fail to match best practices in bikeway design and that do not directly serve the destinations found on most of Portland’s commercially zoned streets. This is why, at 5.5% of trips city?wide, the potential for increases in bicycle transportation is largely untapped.

Clearly, then, the City must build out the infrastructure to create a world-class network of bicycle paths, routes and boulevards. In many areas, this will require taking space that is currently dedicated to automotive parking and travel, and re-purposing it to provide space for bicycle parking and travel. Since there are many streets with more than one lane of auto traffic in each direction, taking one of these lanes will still allow for cars to have access to destinations, while adding to the capacity for bicycles to safely reach those same destinations. Also, since parking outside of downtown Portland is currently largely free, placing a price on the parking provided within the public right-of-way, per Donald Shoup’s principles that parking should be priced such that no more than 85% of on-street parking spaces are occupied at any given time, will allow for some of the street right-of-way real estate that is currently dedicated for automobile parking to be re-purposed to provide room for bicycle travel and parking without adversely affecting the ability of auto drivers to find a space to park within walking distance of their destinations.


With regards to pedestrians, there are many streets in the city that lack sidewalks; there needs to be a discussion about what it would take to provide either sidewalks or traffic-calmed woonerfs woonerfs on every street in the city. This could be a specific citywide transportation proposal for funding at some future date, one that also includes filling in pedestrian connections where needed to improve connectivity, including through limited use of eminent domain as needed to provide land for new pedestrian paths.


It’s possible that transit ridership may need to more than double within Portland to accomplish the transportation goals laid out in the Portland Plan and the CAP. Additionally, our transit fleet will need to transition towards becoming 100% carbon-neutral; unless sustainable biofuel production can be vastly increased, this will likely require a larger shift towards electrification. Streetcars and MAX have higher capacity than buses, run on electricity and thus don’t themselves contribute towards greenhouse gas emissions (though the power grid they rely on must also become more sustainable over time for them to become truly carbon-neutral), so a continued expansion of these systems would seem to be a logical way to add transit capacity while reducing the carbon emissions of the transit fleet. I would encourage TriMet to establish a policy goal of becoming 100% carbon-neutral & fossil-fuel-free by 2035, and to explore ways to achieve this goal while also meeting the projected capacity challenges envisioned by achieving a doubling in transit ridership. The bottom line is that transit should be seen as a pedestrian trip extender; and that investments in high-quality transit can thus support the place-making required to achieve land use goals. This region is already doing an exemplary job of articulating and building the concept of “Development-Oriented Transit”; if anything, much more of this will be needed to achieve our performance goals.


For the most part, the automobile travel network in Portland is already completely built out. You can drive a car from pretty much anyplace to anyplace else in relative safety and comfort; this is why more than 70% of trips are made by car today. As we seek to invert the mode split towards a goal of 70% of trips being made on other modes, we will need to invest very little in the way of new infrastructure for cars; most of our investments will be in maintaining the system that we already have (which of course serves cars as well as freight, transit and bicycles), in building additional infrastructure within existing rights-of-way that can calm traffic to increase safety for all users, and in re-purposing space currently dedicated to autos so that it can be used to serve other modes where appropriate.

The bottom line is that transportation infrastructure can be expensive, but investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure are relatively cheap in comparison to investments in automotive and transit infrastructure; our future transportation investments should thus all seek to make the maximum contribution towards supporting active transportation and creating livable, walkable places while reducing VMT and carbon emissions. Any new transportation investment proposal that will only add capacity for autos or otherwise not result in decreased VMT or carbon emissions should be rejected.

Other Modes:

Yes, skateboarding is not a crime; wheelchairs must be accommodated by law; Segways are gaining in popularity; and e-bikes are sometimes considered to be separate from regular bicycles. Rollerblades, roller-skates, razor scooters and other non-motorized wheeled contraptions could also be considered their own modes. I’m trying to keep this discussion relatively simple, however, so let’s discuss the diversification of modality at a later date, shall we? Most of these “modes” can be accommodated with improved bicycle and/or pedestrian infrastructure for now, anyways…

3) Pricing & other demand management strategies

For the most part, nobody wants to pay higher taxes or fees, but economists will tell you that if the price of a good or service is low, demand will rise to meet supply; and raising the price is an effective strategy to reduce demand. As population growth puts more people on our streets, and as we find that we cannot build more streets or add more capacity for cars within what is effectively a land-locked city, we must find ways to manage automobile travel and parking so that it fits within the physical capacity of our roadway system and parking supply. Indeed, given that some of our transportation strategies will require re-purposing some of this capacity to serve non-auto modes, we may need to use pricing and other demand management strategies to manage the remaining capacity more effectively. There are a number of these available:

– Congestion charges: Vehicles could be charged a variable fee to enter certain areas, such as downtown Portland, the Central City, or the area within the I-405/I-205 loop. London, Copenhagen and Singapore have all implemented successful systems of congestion pricing, and proved that it is a very successful system for achieving dramatic VMT and auto mode split reductions within certain zones. Congestion charges have been used to fund increased transit service and additional active transportation infrastructure, helping to reinforce a positive feedback loop that results in increased active transportation and decreased auto VMT.

– Highway/roadway tolling: Individual links on the highway or roadway system can be tolled at specific locations, such as the I-5 and I-205 bridges over the Columbia River. Tolling by itself, however, may be less effective than other strategies at achieving VMT reductions; experience from places such as the San Francisco Bay Area shows that even fairly high tolls of $6-$7 per vehicle do not prevent the facility in question from filling to capacity. Tolling is an effective means to produce revenue for use in funding the transportation system, however.

– Parking pricing: Free parking with no time constraints encourages vehicle warehousing on the street, and low turnover of parking spaces. Residents leave their vehicles on the street when parking is free, rather than seek off-street parking spaces; and employees will drive and park in free parking spaces if provided. Pricing can add an incentive to either find another place to park, or to shift travel to other modes. Pricing can encourage a turnover of vehicles such that there is always a sufficient supply of vacant parking spaces so that vehicles do not need to spend excess time searching for parking spaces near their destinations.

– Fuel pricing: The gas tax is currently very low by historic standards; raising the gas tax, or instituting a carbon tax (which would achieve the same effect) could be an effective way to reduce fuel consumption, though in the long run it may have no more than a small effect on VMT as the vehicle fleet shifts towards more fuel-efficient vehicles. As with tolling, however, fuel taxes are an effective means to generate revenue which can be used to fund transportation system improvements.

– Reducing vehicle capacity: We know that adding vehicle capacity results in more VMT through the principle of induced demand; we also know that reducing vehicle capacity can result in less vehicle travel. Thus, over time we may find that, across the city’s street network, on streets with more than one lane going the same direction, lane removal will be an effective strategy to achieve increased mode split for active transportation modes, and reduce auto VMT.


There are other issues involved with scenarios analysis that could lead to scenario results not meeting articulated policy targets:

– It’s possible that the models currently being used to report scenario results are not sensitive enough to changes to land use to pick up the changes in performance that could result.
– Fuel price assumptions might be set too low in relation to observed oil price trends and their implications for prices in ~25 years.
– It’s also possible that not enough policy levers are yet being pulled within the region, including articulated levels of bicycle and transit service, to produce the desired performance outcomes from the model.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s give the City of Portland and Metro the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are using state-of-the-art activity-based travel models running at parcel-level resolution that are fully responsive to micro-level changes in land use in terms of the resulting change in transportation behavior; that the scenarios assume a build-out of the current plans for bicycle and transit networks, and are able to fully model the impacts of these; and that what we are presented with is thus an overall package of land use, transportation and policy that is not yet sufficient to meet the performance goals that we have set for ourselves as a city.

Hopefully, this blog post will combine with other conversations that are taking place to kick-start a discussion about the trade-offs required to meet these policy goals.

123 responses to “Is Portland Planning for Failure or Success?”

  1. From my perch on the Planning and Sustainability Commission, I’ll just say two things:

    1) We’re not nearly done yet
    2) Getting closer to the policy goals will indeed take more than just spatial zoning policies, which are primarily what the report analyzes at this phase.

  2. It doesn’t help when we take regressive steps, such as mandating automobile parking for residential buildings in transit corridors. Nor does it help for “neighbors” to fight every single development for every imaginable reason, mostly with the intent of scaling down or preventing outright a development from being completed. We all need to do our part to make room for 100,000+ new residents over the next 20 years, and to make the best use of our past infrastructure investments – and prevent costly upgrades where possible – we need to put the new residences for these new/forthcoming residents where the infrastructure supports it.

  3. Excellent post, Garlynn.

    I too, have long been puzzled (if not outright bothered) between the apparent disconnect between long-term goals concerning things like emissions and VMT, and the ability of short-term policy decisions to reach those goals. It sometimes seems that the long term goals are mom and apple pie–nice things to aspire to, but optional.

    How much teeth do these things have anyway? Can such goals be enforced externally (either by state or federal authorities, or by private party lawsuits) if local governments are disinterested in meeting them (or are outright hostile to them)?

    We have seen the state LCDC block local municipal planning activities that don’t comform with state land use law–for example, the City of Molalla submitted a proposed UGB expansion a few years back that called for building more sprawl (claiming this was necessary for “econocic development”); this was shot down by LCDC. But that was based on specific violations with black-letter law, not on failure to meet articulated long-term goals.

    Any policy without an enforcement mechanism seems to me to be little more than an optional guideline.

  4. I figured the city council had already given up on these goals, given their recent parking mandate decision…

  5. How do electric autos or other emerging technologies fit in to these?

    They are good from an emissions standpoint but not as good from a transportation planning standpoint.

    However, if a person is dead set on driving – we could get them into electric cars.

    How about code which says there must be one level2 charger installed for any commercial or retail parking lot larger than 6 spots and after that one level2 charger for every 15 spots, up to a maximum 10 chargers required by code.

    And requiring apartments and condos to provide 1 in 10 units minimum with level2 chargers.

    Additionally, provide incentives for carriers with solar capacity. Wasted space might as well be put to good use – and then cars use less energy trying to cool themselves after sitting in the sun.

    Or something like that.

  6. Too bad that the number of people you figure on moving here, to accomplish your goals, will produce more CO2 than your mass transit ideals would save. Businesses and places of employment take a HORRENDOUS amount of energy, as does the necessity of heating AND cooling that people take for granted nowadays. A lot of this will be done through increased natural gas comsumption ,or even reliance on the Boardman plant to meet the summer AC demand.

    Just the corner Wahlgreens in the Pearl is burning a lot of energy. Not to mention all of the other commercial enterprises over there. Lots and lots of energy demand.

  7. Ron, that’s a good point. This isn’t my project, I’m just commenting on it; but if it were, I certainly would want to take a look at the full transportation + buildings GHG emissions for these scenarios, factoring in projected changes to the utility grid and other policy factors that would affect the carbon impact of each kilowatt-hour of electricity usage. Certainly our utility portfolio will also need to shift more towards renewables to achieve our policy goals — even if not a single additional person were to move to the city. There are also other aspects of our existing building stock that will need to be addressed to meet our GHG-reduction targets, including sealing up building envelopes and addressing the large amount of, as you say, natural gas consumption, potentially through vastly increased adoption of solar thermal installations (in addition to the current push for solar photovoltaic), as a good portion of our year-round natural gas consumption goes to heat domestic hot water.

    These aren’t easy issues… but it’s important to take a holistic look at all of the factors involved. I’ve certainly seen, in other scenario processes seeking to achieve similar GHG-reduction goals, performance along the lines of what we’re seeking to achieve in Portland, but it does require looking at land use, transportation and policy options in concert.

    Not all of these factors can be controlled by the City, but they can certainly all be put into play in the form of changes in assumptions as a part of the scenarios analysis process; the information gleaned through such an exercise could then be used, say, to inform the City’s lobbying efforts for changes to state policy that would be required to achieve the policy goals…

  8. The wonderful thing about efficient urban areas is that if a distinct living human being moves from a less-efficient city to a more-efficient city, this is a net gain for the planet in terms of greenhouse gas reductions.

    So even if the corner Walgreens is air conditioned, if the new customer for that Walgreens hails from a previous town with inefficient energy-use patterns on a greater scale, that’s good for everyone.

    In aggregate, under such a migration pattern, the less-efficient, less-patronized drugstores will close down, while the more-efficient ones will prosper.

    A proper pricing scheme for energy (such as a Carbon Tax or a Cap-and-Trade market (not the same thing)) which accounts for the externalities of carbon fuel consumption will help accelerate that process.

  9. (And as for global population growth, which is definitely an issue, that’s not exactly a local issue which City of Portland policies can influence by much.)

  10. Like Chris I, I drew some conclusions from the recent Council actions on apartment parking requirements. I don’t think Council intends to meet the goals of the Climate Action Plan (CAP), nor probably even “plan” to meet them. It’s a shame, and I think we should call them on it, but I don’t know if it will be effective.

    The 30% reduction in VMT/Capita below 2010 levels in the CAP is, as Garlynn notes, is only halfway achieved by the land use changes posited in the most dense of the current Growth Scenarios.

    And as Chris Smith notes, the Comp Plan has not yet addressed the possible infrastructure changes that also will be proposed, which could include wholesale conversion of auto travel lanes and auto parking to cycle tracks, construction of sidewalks and massive transit improvements. (How likely does this seem?)

    But even taking the optimistic view that the VMT/Capita goals of the CAP will be achieved, take a look at the rest of the CAP goals. A good way to grasp the CAP strategy is to look at Page 13 of that report. It consists of a pie chart, showing what percentage of the aimed-for carbon reduction will be achieved by each sector.

    Transportation as a whole is said to contribute only 18% of the carbon reduction. Breaking it down further, this 18% consists of 10% from “Fuel efficiency” (cars get better mileage), and 3% from “Low carbon fuels” (assuming the state mandates these). That leaves VMT reduction credited with just 5% of the overall carbon reduction in the Climate Action Plan. And as Garlynn notes, so far the proposals only achieve half of that.

    For comparison, though, look at some of the other projections. Waste reduction will achieve 15% of the total reduction. Commercial building energy efficiency will achieve 8%. And “Food Choice” is credited with 10% of the carbon reductions (twice what VMT reduction will achieve). That strategy (“Reduce consumption of carbon-intensive foods”) is explained as, essentially, “don’t eat red meat one day a week”. (Page 52) Somehow I see this as even less likely than achieving the VMT reductions!

    But, as Garlynn noted, we’re focusing on Transportation here.

  11. “The wonderful thing about efficient urban areas is that if a distinct living human being moves from a less-efficient city to a more-efficient city, this is a net gain for the planet in terms of greenhouse gas reductions.”

    So, even if you have to put up new buildings, which now come only from large, corporate builders, it’s a gain? And how do you know which cities are the most energy efficient overall? By your reasoning everyone would live in Silicon Valley. The climate is moderate year around.

    “So even if the corner Walgreens is air conditioned, if the new customer for that Walgreens hails from a previous town with inefficient energy-use patterns on a greater scale, that’s good for everyone.”

    No….they can fix their own problems, too. The principle of moving isn’t bad, people do that all the time. However, I think real estate prices will continue to climb the more people move here. Good if you like New York prices, or own a lot of real estate that will be divided. Not good for equity.

  12. Good point about the climate, Ron. However, Silicon Valley is known for it’s not-so-efficient land use patterns, which are designed for auto-only travel. Many people (including some Silicon Valley employees, it seems) prefer the more dense, livable and walkable neighborhoods of San Francisco. So much so that at least one of those employers (Is it Apple or Google?) runs a shuttle bus from San Francisco to it’s Silicon Valley headquarters to “capture” those employees who prefer not to live in Silicon Valley.

    Climate is not the only determinant. I think Bob R was talking about Land Use and Transportation efficiency, i.e. more compact cities.

    I think that if you put up new buildings in a compact, walkable area, it’s a “gain” (no matter who builds them), in relation to the same square footage of new buildings in a sprawling suburban area with fewer transportation options.

    Of course, as you note, enough people these days, at least in some cities, think compact cities are nicer to live in, driving the prices up, and leaving those of lower income to either smaller inner city dwellings (apartments?)or to cheaper single family dwellings further out. BPS is thinking about that, but I don’t know if they have a viable answer to that yet. Certainly allowing (or encouraging) smaller units, without parking requirements, goes a little way toward the equity goal.

  13. The Comprehensive Plan is a legally-enforceable, binding document mandated by the State of Oregon. As such, it has to be grounded in reality and set goals that can actually be achieved. The Portland Plan was a hair-brained kumbayah scheme dreamt up by Sam Adams that was irrelevant the day after City Council endorsed it. Ditto the CAP – the city has absolutely no legal obligation to meet those goals. There’s your answer.

    Interesting historical fact: the Portland Plan WAS the comp plan update when Tom Potter was mayor. The Sam got elected, fired Gil Kelley, and wasted 4 years and $5 million so we could all talk about our feelings.

  14. I think Garlynn and myself realize that the Portland Plan and the CAP are just “goals”. That said, a lot of the Comp Plan will be just “goals” as well, which are not required to be met. Comp Plan language can be referred to in Land Use cases, but can be argued either way. In my understanding, the only really binding thing in even the Comp Plan is the zoning designations, and the Comp Plan designations, parcel by parcel. That mapping is what a lot of us are waiting for. Other binding aspects include changes to the zoning code, such as changes in the requirements in an individual zone, plus overlays, bonuses, etc. That’s the stuff that will really make the difference. The Transportation System Plan lays out designations of streets, as well as “goals”, but is really useful to extract “dedications” and other requirements with development. It has Projects attached, but those are dependent on funding.

    I guess some of us would like to remind Council that, indeed, the city did set some goals for itself, and it would be nice to see the Comp Plan go a little further toward meeting them than is proposed so far. Even if there’s a plan to actually meet the goals, reality will intrude. Best to not aim low from the beginning.

    There is the state Transportation Planning Rule, which used to have some binding language requiring reductions in VMT/Capita in Portland. Staff tells me that when those requirements started to “bite” a few years ago, the state backed off on those requirements as well. I think the additional TPR requirement for Portland to reduce the number of parking spaces in the city still holds, and the elimination of requirements for parking along frequent service transit streets in 2001 (?) was how the state and Portland agreed to meet that requirement. What happens now that Portland has repealed that? Haven’t heard anyone talk about that.

  15. There have been some good comments on this thread. The only thing I’d add is that I don’t think the impact of Portland’s inaction is restricted to the city.

    Looking at Metro communities, I think Portland has the most resources and the greatest political consensus in favor of climate action. Given those advantages, if PDX takes only half measures towards meeting its goals how far can suburban communities be expected to go?

  16. Time will tell who is correct about PDX growth and
    who is dead wrong. I do have this to say about the density along corridors, and that is this: the rents are too dang high. The vacancy rates for the new 1300.00 studios are well over 5% downtown and in SE. As we know, thousands more of the same no parking, no ac small studios, are under construction. There is certainly a market for the EcoFlats lifestyle, but developers may have over-estimated the ability of PDX workers to pay that kind of rent. Couple this with a somewhat weak recovery and the likelihood of a recession in 3-4 years, and I say we will have overbuilt these controversial projects. My source for figures:

  17. Mamacita,

    A 5% vacancy rate is a low rate, not a high rate. If vacancies were a problem, we’d see rents heading down, not up, and construction starts not happening.

    Could a downturn put an end to the current boom? Of course. Generally, the folks who take that in the shorts, though, are developers and builders. One advantage of renting over buying is that if rents go down, you can cash in within a year (the typical length of a residential lease), or sooner if you are month-to-month. Those who buy into a hot market may suffer a significant financial loss, including finding their mortgages underwater.

    If you want to see rents go down, one way is to increase supply of rental units.

  18. “Time will tell who is correct about PDX growth and
    who is dead wrong.”

    I don’t even think we have to wait. Inflation is already here.

    And as an example of where these things go wrong just look at the Interstate MAX. The prices went up, the renters moved out and went to Rockwood. And now Multnomah County lectures us on how we need more “equity” for the “victims.”

  19. Dang those Chevy Suburban SUV drivers, anyway!

    “Jacob Fischler | The Monitor

    MERCEDES – Three men are in federal custody after U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested them Monday for keeping a human stash house that held 84 people suspected of being in the country illegally.

    An anonymous tip to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations led agents to the house in the 7400 block of Eden Street, according to court documents filed Wednesday. Border Patrol agents surveyed the property June 30 and July 1 to corroborate the tip.

    They saw three large SUVs – all Chevrolet Suburbans – at the property at different times. On Monday morning, they watched a white Suburban arrive at the back of the house and unload about 15 people into the house.

  20. And now Multnomah County lectures us on how we need more “equity” for the “victims.”

    ~~~> I would imagine that everyone who has been paying even minimal attention to government structures and functions is acutely aware that all of the ‘offices of equity’ located throughout the various governmental structures knows they are all a farce.

    To quote the greatest con man ever elected to the presidency, Ronald Reagan, “The Government is the problem”

  21. Engineer Scotty,

    Agreed that the 5% rate is not terrible- but what I find interesting is the difference between the
    vacancy for older, cheaper places and the new 1300 studios. As the new more expensive units become available, the vacancy rates in those pricey units will rise to 7%, which would count as a failure to investors. (7% is my informed guess). It would suggest that the developers and the city mis-read the market and what renters want and need.

  22. Mamacita,

    Cycles in the real estate market–rents/prices rise in an area, builders rush in to provide more housing, followed by a bit of a bust–are a common occurrence. And developers get put out of business (and their lenders lose money) by this game of musical chairs all the time. This is equally true for suburban McMansions as it is for urban lofts. I’m not terribly concerned about the profitability of real estate ventures, to be perfectly honest…

    That said, I do share some of your concerns about what renters need. If I have a criticism of much of the urban apartment construction, it is that so much of it is geared towards singles and couples. Truly successful cities will be able to accommodate the eventual children, rather than pushing such families out to the burbs. The first barrier to urban family living is suitable housing choice–studios and one-bedroom apartments won’t cut it for families with kids (those who have choices of where they live, at least–poor families will take what they can get, even if it means violating leases or fire codes by overpopulating small apartments).

    And transportation is barrier #2. Public transit done right (safe, reliable, comprehensive, and affordable) is liberating for families with children–the older kids can get themselves to soccer or band practice, without needing Mom and the minivan to chauffeur them around (or allowing them to borrow the family car for those old enough to drive). If transit is done wrong, though (punitive fare structures, unreliable service outside of commute hours, or unsafe), children can easily become a Reason To Own A Car, and that car can easily become a Reason To Leave The City. Many commuter-oriented transit agencies have little to offer those (including families) who have mobility needs beyond getting to work and back. TriMet does OK in the inner city; poorly out in the ‘burbs–there are many things that can be improved upon.

    (Barrier #3 is school quality–but that will take care of itself if a city can attract lots of middle-class families with a stake in good public schools. It’s when cities populations consist of either childless people or the poor that the schools start to suffer, often creating a self-fulfilling prophecy).

  23. Engineer Scotty,

    Your description of how density needs to happen to accommodate families is spot on. My issue with the new buildings is this: my friends who own houses close-in are told that they need to sacrifice air and light and quiet so that the city can accommodate growth. When the projects don’t fill up or otherwise meet societal needs- the neighbors have a right to feel ripped off.
    They sacrifice livability for a failed project.

  24. sacrifice air and light and quiet

    Ignoring “light”, I absolutely agree that air quality and noise can be major impediments to quality of life, particularly in urban environments. But what is the leading cause of urban air pollution and noise?

    It isn’t people. It’s automobiles.

    People themselves cause negligible air pollution, its cars that make city air dirty (especially nowadays with tight restrictions on industrial pollution eliminating factories as a cause). Excessive human-caused noise can be dealt with by the police; disturbing the peace is generally against the law. But traffic noise is something that is far-less regulated.

    But despite all that–many folks seem to have little problem with restricting where people can live (by limiting the supply of housing), but get upset when anyone suggests any limits on where people can drive (even modest policies such as road diets or eliminating parking minimums get denounced as abject tyranny).

    Obviously, some impacts and incompatible uses need to be prevented to maintain the livability of a place. There are good reasons for the zoning code to prevent someone from turning their one-story bungalow into a hog farm or a machine shop or a nightclub. These things are incompatible with residential uses. But by definition, other residential uses are not incompatible with residential use–new neighbors don’t impose unavoidable burdens on existing neighbors’ enjoyment of their property, just by moving in. There may be increased competition for certain common resources such as parking, but the suggestion that moderate increases in density will make a place unlivable is simply ridiculous–millions of people in the world happily live in places far denser than Portland will ever be.

  25. Engineer Scotty,

    I never said that moderate density makes an area unlivable. And, the city has done little to control the downsides of density for the homeowners- we are just called NIMBYs for pointing out that we make sacrifices, while the developers seem to get a free pass- even if they have added undesirable housing to our mix.

    We need a way to evaluate whether these projects are good or not, and if high vacancy rates cause these dense projects to fail, there should be a re-assessment.

  26. Scotty, saying that Portland needs more family housing isn’t a criticism of small apartments. It’s a criticism of the absence of flats. Such buildings sit on the same size lot as a single family home but have 2 – 6 units, and typically have the space needed to accommodate families. In other cities they make up most of the residential housing stock within a few blocks of popular commercial corridors. In Portland those streets are still overwhelmingly occupied by single family homes.

    That’s bad for families and also bad for neighborhoods. Flats are the missing transition between larger multi-unit buildings and single family homes. In their absence how do you “step down” building heights (blazing saddles type solutions aside)?

    I think it’s worth asking, why aren’t there more flats in Portland?

  27. Agreed with Mr. Cefola re: the need for flats. This is a rare example of consensus. But, to the extent I am right (and I don’t claim to be perfect)
    density decisions have been driven by the needs of developers as opposed to the needs of the community.

  28. “density decisions have been driven by the needs of developers as opposed to the needs of the community.”

    Having owned a Portland home since 1972 and being employed in the construction industry since the late 1970’s. I’ve seen a lot of styles come and go. Many people opted to move into urban areas in the 1970s’ because then, the housing stock was cheaper—-but often needed major repair. There were other reasons, including the difficulty of getting around in suburban and semi rural areas.

    For a few decades housing preferences translated into more complicated dwellings—-i.e the McMansion. The urban condo is a developer and builder’s dream, because they are very simple and quick to construct, and certain facets of construction, such as prefabrication, large glass walls or more modern plumbing and wiring techniques, mean a lot less build time. Well built urban condos have a lot of advantages to the homeowner, also—–such as low maintenance, no moss, weeds, insects, rot, fire dangers,….

    But there are drawbacks, too. Some people don’t like the HOA rules, you don’t have a backyard for your own purposes, you really have no choice but to buy from a large corporate developer.

    While I still am able to own a home on a full city lot, it’s true that there are a lot of maintenance needs. But I am also looking towards building some large projects at this location, that I would not be able to do in a condo association. And my main beef is that rezoning, encouraging, or allowing a lot of people in Portland will likely force all prices even higher, such as San Francisco has. Good if you own lots of property, but not so good if you are trying to get a toehold or have financial setbacks. And the higher prices will occur statewide, too. Except in remote areas like Burns or Klamath Falls. So the bottom line, is that Portland’s wealthy benefit the most.

  29. If these new projects fail to fill up, then there will be no more of them built. Other developers will see the writing on the wall. So far that hasn’t been happening. The new buildings have been filling up.

    When and if some developer perceives that there is a market demand for larger apartments for families, and there are lots available, zoned correctly and at the right price, developers will build them too.

    As BJ points out, though, the “step-down” from 4-story apartments to 2-story flats can’t happen in much of Portland, because just beyond the 4-story zoning on the Transit Streets, 100 feet back, is single-family zoning, or at best, row-house zoning. In an effort to preserve these single family areas, no intermediate zoning has been platted, leaving no room for the sort of apartments BJ mentions.

  30. “Good if you own lots of property, but not so good if you are trying to get a toehold or have financial setbacks…So the bottom line, is that Portland’s wealthy benefit the most.”

    As ever it was, somewhat unfortunately but not entirely. You’ll doubtless be surprised — and probably skeptical — to hear that I do believe in meritocracy, and being able to manage one’s money, to defer gratification and accumulate capital, is of merit. My primary beef with the wealthy is the way they skew the rules of the playing field to benefit themselves and their kids.

    Again, as it ever was, but it’s still hypocritical for many of them to bang on about “Freedom” when what they mean is license to defraud and otherwise disadvantage those with less access to power and information.

    Your list of drawbacks are exactly those I’d list too, but it seems that younger people don’t put so much stock in avoiding those restrictions.

    In any case, I don’t know what any of us might do to prevent “a lot of people [coming] in[to] Portland” if they want to come. It’s a really nice city, even notwithstanding the traffic jams on 26, the Burnside and I-5. In all honesty I can’t think of another thing that’s wrong with it. Well, one; it isn’t next to Puget Sound…..

    I hope those who come do so for the social milieu and fantastic outdoor activities, not just to escape a collapsing Sunbelt ecosystem.

  31. Is there a scenario under which density advocates would say “oh this project doesn’t work, we just angered the neighbors for no good reason.” I am not saying that these new projects will fail (too early to say) I just feel that however a project plays out, density advocates will say that the result is just great.

    The Richmond and Beaumont-Wilshire neighbors have been told to stop complaining about what they see as a loss of value and pleasure in their biggest possession because their sacrifice is for the common good. So, there is an ethical element here- the city is bound by its words. If we are told that the apartments are affordable and will fill up with renters who don’t have cars- they better. If not, the city planners look really bad and the neighbors would be smart to call them out and to clean house at Metro.

  32. Is there a scenario under which density advocates would say “oh this project doesn’t work, we just angered the neighbors for no good reason.”

    The system doesn’t work quite that way. State law requires us to have a set of “clear and objective standards” and if a project meets those standards it gets approved. If a developer wants to do something outside the standards, then we have a project-specific variance or design review process.

    So the policy issue is whether our “clear and objective” standards are sufficient to ensure livability. I would agree that they probably are not yet. There are several policy teams, including one on “residential compatibility”, working on this for the update of the Comprehensive Plan.

  33. @Cora,

    I don’t think I said I thought we actually live in a meritocracy, just that I do believe that broadly speaking it is a good way to organize society.

    There are, of course, caveats which arise because society is composed of differently-abled human beings.

  34. I agree that flats are one way to provide affordable housing for families in a denser configuration than single-family homes. Much of San Francisco consists of flats.

    Another option is town homes, or row houses if you will. You can get up to 30 units an acre with single side-by-side units, or up to 40 units an acre with stacked townhomes (like flats, but two stories per unit). That’s a big increase over the ~8 units per acre of single family homes, and getting into apartment density.

    A third option is just to build more 3-bedroom apartments within apartment buildings…

    In terms of impacts on neighbors, as far as I can tell parking is the main one people are complaining about. The solution is simple — residential permit parking, with limited or no access to permits for residents of those buildings built without parking units to begin with (after all, those folks were supposed to be riding bicycles, taking transit & using car-sharing, right?)… this may be a difficult conversation to have in some areas of the city still, but we should all definitely be watching NW Portland as they lead the way into this new territory.

  35. Clear standards of success and failure would contribute to a better outcome overall.

    If the state fails to state these standards, we will know that density is green wash.

    There is no reason to deliberately make policy decisions in the dark. We can and should condition a variance for Project G on the success of project F.

    We also need to marginalize developers and architects and consultants who have a financial interest opposed to that of the citizens.

    Foxes cannot design hen houses.

  36. Just to be clear, the state does not set the standards, the City does. The state requires that the City have “clear and objective” standards (in order to provide certainty to developers). But what those standards are is up to the City.

    Certainly the City can amend zoning when it learns something. It just did so regarding parking minimums (although I think the wrong lesson was learned).

  37. al m says, “To quote the greatest con man ever elected to the presidency, Ronald Reagan, “The Government is the problem”

    Besides “the great communicator”, I think we also have a runner up in there, now.

  38. Oregon Mamacita, what do you think residents living near apartment buildings are being deprived of?

    Suppose I wished residency on my street were restricted to those who looked like me, had similar income, family structure, and interests. Would I be deprived if I couldn’t enforce such a discriminatory preference through law? To call that deprivation shows a gross misunderstanding of where my freedom ends and someone else’s begins.

    I think what Richmond, Beaumont-Wilshire, and for that matter Irvington have done is no better. Diverse housing allows a more diverse population, and restricting housing choices does the opposite. In my view the resulting impact on neighborhood demographics isn’t a side effect of anti-housing activism, it’s the intended outcome. White walls in place of white flight.

  39. ” To call that deprivation shows a gross misunderstanding of where my freedom ends and someone else’s begins.”

    I know you will come up with the politically correct BS. In case you didn’t know, there are lot of ways to be exposed to diverse cultures and peoples. Like being in the military, for one. Or as another example, all of my life I have had to listen to plea after monetary plea, for people all over the frickin’ world whom the “foreign mission society” is helping..

    Financial analyst? You sound more like a fop.

    And I will tell you what is going to happen in my neighborhood. The main street, Tacoma, is going to get clogged with both cars and people, despite the bicycle cr-apartment they are building, making profits for out of state developers. And our street is, and will be, a lot more dangerous to cross. Because despite the $300 million (and counting) that Kogen-Kafoury Krime Machine led Multnomah Co. has wasted on the Sellwood Bridge project, they don’t have one iota of control on whether more cars from the suburbs are going to come through here. That is the reality of this area, not what your “progressive” theorists spout.

    [Moderator: Personally-directed remarks removed. –ES]

  40. While exclusionary zoning can have (racially) discriminatory effects (and is sometimes employed for that purpose), the primary purpose of upzoning isn’t to increase the ethnic diversity of neighborhoods, but to make more efficient use of existing infrastructure: to reduce travel distances, to allow more trips to be made by modes other than the automobile, and to reduce the amount needed to be spent on other types of infrastructure as well (such as utilities).

    One type of diversity that ought to be promoted is family-size diversity, by accommodating different types of family units (singles, couples, nuclear families, or even extended). Larger families may require houses, smaller ones can often fit into apartments. But only having lofts, or McMansions, can have adverse effects on a community–in particular, as people move in and out due to changing life circumstances, or not bother with certain public amenities (such as good schools) because they’re not needed by the childless yuppies or retirees who dominate the neighborhood.

    And Ron–what do “cars from the suburbs” (which are there today–the new Sellwood Bridge won’t have more automobile capacity than the old one, save for removal of the construction zone and a spiffy new interchange at the west end) have to do with new apartment construction? I’m old enough to remember when Tacoma was a four-lane street often used as a highway. Commuter traffic from Clackamas County will be self-limiting, even if nothing else is done. (And given the bad attitudes of County voters, it wouldn’t pain me to see a few additional stoplights put up on Tacoma, to help pedestrians cross…)

    Hopefully TriMet will have enough sense to restore bus service across the new Sellwood Bridge when it opens.

  41. The primary intention of upzoning may be as you say, Scotty, but in my view that isn’t what draws the opposition. Richmond neighbors didn’t act against Division Street businesses or bike lanes or Trimet. They acted against the potential new residents whose housing preferences would be different from their own. It’s the people they’re afraid of, not a building.

    When discussing density I’d rather confront those fears and get them out into the open than pretend they aren’t there. As with most things, mileage will vary.

  42. I wrote a check to Richmond Neighbors for Responsible Growth, and attended their events.
    I completely disagree with BJ Cefola’s analysis of
    the neighbor’s opposition to the Sackoff Building and politely request hat he offer one iota of evidence.

    We are not afraid of people with different housing preferences- please. No straw men. The problem is that density is being implemented without input from the neighbors. The livability issues (drunkeness at the new bars, noise) are not being addressed. It is convenient for new urbanists to look at my neighbors as incumbent landowners standing in the way of utopia, but I know them as hard-working middle class people who don’t want their houses thrown into permanent shadow.

    Did we complain about parking? Yes- because the Sackoff buildings will bring lots of cars into the neighborhood. I know some urbanists see no liberty issues with landlords getting the power to dictate tenant lifestyles (if you have a car you can’t live in my building) but that policy will never be implemented.

    The homeowners- so of whom rehabbed their old houses themselves- know love and understand Richmond better than Sackoff or Joe Zehnder.

    When the projects fail (a 1350 studio on SE Division costs more than a mortgage payment on a modest house) there will be no accountability.
    During the next recession, when the restaurants that took over the spaces left by departing blue collar businesses) fail, there will be empty storefronts. But no accountability.

    When you minimize the opposition, I guess it’s because you don’t want to deal with the real issues: citizens vs. developers. Property rights.
    Elites telling others how to live.

  43. Addressing BJC’s earlier comment:

    “Suppose I wished residency on my street were restricted to those who looked like me, had similar income, family structure, and interests.’

    BJ, explain how my opposition to the Sackoff project on SE Division was some sort of coded ethnic or class bias?

    Please reflect on this: Portland zoning has moved blue collar jobs (open to non-whites) out of inner SE so that EXPENSIVE apartments could be built. When Sam Adams tried to attract the “Creative Class”- what kind of people was he trying to attract- white single bike commuters.

    The black neighborhoods of North and NE Portland were wiped away by new urbanism as thoroughly as the Vanport flood had wiped out their grandparents. How did my opposition to the Sackoff building harm the interests of Portland’s
    non-elites? I’ll buy you a beer for every resident of Sackoffs building who is blue collar
    or from a recent immigrant group (Vietnamese). It will be a latino-free building, I can tell you that.

    BJ, face it- new urbanism is a elite single childless (usually) male caucasian thing. I didn’t see the Black Panthers at the RNRG meeting
    arguing that Sackoff should not have to consult with the neighbors over design. I didn’t see
    La Raza arguing against parking minimums. Just sayin.

  44. “And Ron–what do “cars from the suburbs” (which are there today–the new Sellwood Bridge won’t have more automobile capacity than the old one, save for removal of the construction zone and a spiffy new interchange at the west end) have to do with new apartment construction? ”

    Because you have to consider the sum total of cars, trucks, bikes, schoolchildren trying to get across…..

    The bike apts. will add more people, and other infill will add more. But when the suburban communities—-outside of METRO’s control—-decide to gear up for their next wave of expansion, there will be even more traffic, b/c most of them probably won’t opt for taking the MAX.

    I’m not arguing ideals—-I’m just arguing bottom line reality. Apparently that is against some rule here. I’m just saying that the bottomline experience in my neighborhood is going to be a cluster****. And I doubt that it will be unique to Sellwood. Not only myself, but others with a lot of knowledge and experience begged Multnomah Co. to just rebuild the Sellwood bridge, putting a bike track undeneath it, and I suggested a permament solution to the increasing traffic, would be an express tunnel for 3/4th mile under Tacoma. But, no, they listened ONLY to the bicyclists—and the out of work Ironworkers and Piledrivers, too, apparently.

    So as far as what happens in other neighborhoods—the bike apartment will add traffic from bikes PLUS cars from their friends. And in the next wave of suburban expansion expect even more traffic—-and there would be nothing METRO or Portland can do to stop it, short of banning trucks and any cars, which they won’t do.

    And this is nothing against people bicycling anywhere—-I think I’ve summed up the macro-economic arguments many times before.

  45. So toll the outer suburbanites. There’s no rule against tolling every single city street crossing the border. OK, this is a slighly out-there proposal, but y’know, if you really want to preven the suburbanites from clogging up the city with cars….

  46. @Nathanael,

    It’s exactly what they do in London, although the tolled zone isn’t the entire city.

    It wouldn’t be hard to toll the inner ring area. But it would be much easier, and probably more acceptable to people, to increase parking taxes within popular zones. It’s much easier technologically as well: a sliding scale based on distance from activity centers levied per slot per month, no matter whether rented, leased, or free and whether occupied or not.

    In other words, we wouldn’t want a tax on parking revenues but rather a tax on land used for parking.

  47. Mamcita, you can’t on one hand claim that “new urbanism” was responsible for gentrification in North and Northeast Portland and also claim that “new urbanism” is about single white males. The neighborhoods that were gentrified were comprised of single family homes (some of them very large indeed) and the people who bought them were families (either with children or Labradors). In 1995, one of those families was mine, and North Portland was pretty much the only neighborhood we could afford.

    The change occurred because there were a great many homes available at low prices, many of them rentals that owners were happy to sell for a good profit–supply and demand. It had virtually nothing to do with City policies.

    In North and Northeast Portland, at least, new construction was almost entirely built on empty lots.

  48. Jeff, You are right-I should not have combined gentrification and new urbanism. Gentrification was often families, (and I was a gentrifier). Still, my bad editing aside, there is an underlying problem with new urbanism and elitism. I am not saying that anyone on this blog is consciously a snob- but things are advocated that harm lower income folks, who have brains, btw. They don’t need us telling them how to live. And no, they are not a part of the conversation. They don’t have time for charettes and lobbying.

  49. “Gentrification was often families, (and I was a gentrifier).”

    The underlying housing problem in Portland has stemmed more from bad architecture, than other reasons. The first time I went to Denver, I saw turn of the century houses that had good, brick exteriors, and I guess this is much more common in the Midwest. A lot of Portland’s housing stock was poorly built, has been rotting away, ruined by ill informed do it yourselfers or contractors, and beset with downright crappy materials—-one of the most recent cases being the LP siding fiasco. The original combination of Douglas fir, red cedar, ‘punk’ cement, etc. was simply a bad choice in an environment where you have lots of both rain and sun. You’ll get the same problems, or worse, in the South.

    Masonry houses are generally a lot better.

  50. Mamacita, buildings don’t drink. They don’t patronize bars, they don’t make noise, and they don’t park cars. Buildings don’t disrespect old houses or those who rehab them. All of those complaints have nothing to do with buildings, they’re about the people you fear will live in those buildings, people who would be your neighbors. You are demonstrating my point.

    You said exactly one thing that buildings do. They make shade. For those living in immediate proximity to new construction (any building, not just apartments) that could be a problem. But let’s remember those people are by definition living in immediate proximity to a major commercial corridor. From personal experience I’d say shade is the absolute least of the problems one is likely to face in that situation. Constant traffic, street noise (overwhelmingly from buses and trucks), emergency sirens, restaurants with nasty smells, rats, bums, panhandlers, street drinkers- all of that goes with the territory, and none of it has anything to do with apartments. Living near a corridor is a distinctive experience and it isn’t for everyone. But there is an obvious remedy for those who don’t like it. They can move, just like anyone else who finds that their housing no longer fits their needs. Why should public policy offer people living near commercial corridors special protection? Life happens.

    That said, I sympathize with your concerns about livability. Effectively regulating or policing public conduct is absolutely necessary, and it becomes more necessary as population density increases. But that regulation has to be aimed at what people do, not at where they live. A drunk is just as obnoxious when they stumble towards a single family home as they are when they’re aimed at an apartment building. To the extent that cars parked on the street are a nuisance it’s one that doesn’t depend on their home address, renters’ cars are indistinguishable those of homeowners.

    Regulating behavior is hard. It takes cooperation from neighbors and businesses, and city resources are often lacking. But the benefit is that it’s a path to actually solving a problem. In contrast proscribing people based on gross assumptions about who they are doesn’t solve anything. The apartment building at 37th and Division wasn’t open when neighbors moved against it. Whatever livability problems Richmond experienced could not be blamed on it and they would not go away had RNRG succeeded in shutting the building down. And has parking gotten any better in Richmond now that new construction is subject to a parking minimum?

    I don’t think Richmonders are stupid, but I think they and the city were poorly lead. Those who stand at the front of the line ought to have the vision to recognize when they’re marching into a dead end and the courage to say so. I can only hope next time we do better.

  51. The parking minimums will keep things from getting worse. They were a result of direct citizen action. You can expect more citizen push back on density.

    As for the idea that “buildings don’t drink.. people do” it is the exact same logic used by the NRA; “guns because guns don’t kill people- people do.” Do you like the NRA’s logic?

    Thanks for recognizing that planning has been poor in Richmond, and that livability is down.
    Lots of drunk white kids. Whee! And now apartments they can’t afford built on lots that once offered jobs. Genius. Sheer genius.

  52. Mamacita;
    Let’s see… The 80-unit Sackoff apartments at 37th and Division replaced 4 bartending jobs (and a bouncer?)at the Egyptian Club. It will have ground floor retail (soon) which may well replace them.

    The 33rd Place northside building replaced the scooter shop’s 4 jobs. It looks like Salt and Straw Ice Cream has at least twice that many jobs, and that’s just one of the retail spaces.

    SE corner of 33rd Pl and Div: Displaced jobs of Village Merchant, which moved to 41st. Will have at least two ground floor retail spaces (8 jobs?).

    SW corner of 33rd Pl and Division: Replacing Ho’s Automotive. 3 mechanic’s jobs? Ground floor retail to go there.

    Division and 31st: Block long building with retail replacing a parking lot. Many more jobs.

    Division and 32nd: Mixed use building replaces parking lot which held food carts. May be a net job loss, but may not be.

    Overall I am not seeing a net loss of jobs along Division Street. I would hazard a guess that there will be at least 50 percent improvement in jobs on the parcels being built on. I’m also seeing a lot of new residents who will patronize businesses along Division, potentially supporting many more jobs than the buildings displaced.

    Many in the neighborhood would say that, in fact, livability is up, with all the exciting new places to walk and bike to. (Although admittedly the ice cream is more expensive. I may have to wait until the 7-11 opens for cheaper treats) Once the new residents start moving in, I expect it won’t just be restaurants, either. Already there’s a new veterinarian, with presumably some higher wage jobs than restaurants.

    And these “density decisions” didn’t happen in the dark. Those on the CS zoned lots happened during the last citywide Comprehensive Plan process in 1981, and have been ensconced in the Zoning Code for all to read, ever since. The change to exempt other lots along Transit streets happened in 2000 or so, and the Richmond Neighborhood Association, for instance, knew about it, and voted to support it. It was done to help the city comply with State requirements to decrease auto use. So even that has been in the zoning code for over 10 years. Once code is adopted, as Chris has pointed out, the city is required to grant permits to those who meet the code, regardless of where they live or what their motives are.

  53. Doug,

    What happened in Richmond angered many of the neighbors to the point that they devoted hundreds of hours of time and thousands of dollars to derail the project. Mr. Sackoff of Beaverton took a hit of 4000 a day while his project was shut down, and I for one laughed. He refused to listen to the neighbors and he paid a price.

    City Planners always take the Nuremberg defense when they wreck a neighborhood. We were just following the code. If the city planners were good public servants, they would go to the Council and recommend changes to make density easier on neighbors.

    Instead, they use double-speak, exist in an echo chamber and act like the zoning code was an act of nature as opposed to regulations that they themselves drafted to please developers.

    Having said that, are there any hard numbers for Doug and I to discuss? What kinds of jobs were lost, and what kinds of jobs were created. What are the payrolls, who has a 401(k). Is there a problem with depending on restaurants as opposed to the previous, broader job base?

  54. Mr. Sackoff of Beaverton took a hit of 4000 a day while his project was shut down, and I for one laughed.

    From your commentary it seems that advocates of greater density in some corridors, and advocates of letting property owners decide how much parking to build, are neighborhood-destroying “elitists”, while proponents of government-mandated parking who take admitted glee in costing individual property owners thousands of dollars per day, are simply grassroots good-government types looking out for the entire public.

    How many blue collar construction jobs did that wasted $4000/day ultimately wind up costing? Did it affect anyone’s 401K?

    City Planners always take the Nuremberg defense

    I invoke Godwin’s Law. Knock off comparing people to war criminals and practitioners of genocide. That’s well outside the rules here.

  55. Mamacita:

    If Sackhoff had “listened to the neighbors” and cut his project to half the number of units, and provided parking, he would have taken a much larger financial hit in the continuing lower income from rentals, for the life of the building. He rightly gambled that the appellants didn’t have a sound case. The poorly written code section that caught up the project had gone unchallenged in dozens of other projects, and is now rewritten to convey its intended meaning. So ultimately, the RNRG challenge (which was never about parking, as it was clear that parking was not required), seems mostly intended to annoy Sackhoff, which it undoubtedly did.

    I suppose one could interview the bartenders, scooter mechanics and cart pod employees, to see what their wages were and if they had 401Ks, but it seems obvious that with the increased number of jobs in the new buildings, payrolls will far exceed the payrolls of the displaced businesses. Some of them, like Village Merchants (and Columbia Disaster Restoration, although it’s building was merely reused), have just relocated, and presumably have the same payrolls as before.

    And it is my experience that Portland’s planners understand the larger picture, and strive to plan a city that serves all it’s residents and businesses, not just the (white, upper-middle class) owners of inner city single-family homes who protest the loudest. Since the effect on single-family homeowners will be minimal (people will park in front of your house!), the planners, I presume, adjudged that the existing regulations, which exempted all of the single family areas from any increased density beyond rowhouses, were in fact a negotiated balance to achieve the city and region’s goals. It’s a political truth, though, that these are the folks the politicians listen to, hence the changes to the regulations.

    A more “balanced” approach would include R-1 zoning for a couple of blocks on either side of the major Transit Streets, to reduce auto use and increase density near commercial corridors to support neighborhood businesses, while preserving most of the single-family neighborhoods. Instead we have extraordinarily narrow commercial corridors (100′ each side of the commercial street), which immediately change to R-2.5 zoning and r-5 zoning, preserving almost 100 percent of the single-family neighborhoods.

    And how many renters, who are the group most affected here, were at the hearings (in the middle of the work day, btw)? Yes, one or two. But most of them, I’ll wager, were at work, and didn’t have the schedule flexibility to arrange to be at the hearings.

  56. Doug,

    There were a few livable streets advocates who rent at the hearing I attended. The reason there were few ordinary renters is these apartments are undesirable due to high rents. The average 30 year old service worker does not feel strongly enough to lobby for these buildings. I am sure the Mount Tabor protest had tons of renters- they just see the resevoir as more important than Sackoff’s expensive studios.

  57. BOb R.,

    All apologies for using the collequial term for the Doctrine of Superior Orders. It is a meme in wide use, and it refers to a legal defense. It does not mean war criminal.

    Superior orders (often known as the Nuremberg defense or lawful orders) is a plea in a court of law that a soldier not be held guilty for actions which were ordered by a superior officer.[1] The superior orders plea is similar to the doctrine of respondeat superior in tort law where a superior is held liable for the actions of a subordinate.

    So anyway, I hope that city planners should reflect on the way they excuse bad results by pointing to a code that they make no effort to change. Their “Superior orders” defense does not work here.

  58. “The average 30 year old service worker does not feel strongly enough to lobby for these buildings.”

    Have you ever read anything by Peter Schiff? He is a nationally known commentator ( CNBC, WSJ, CNN )and was US Senate Candidate in Connecticut. He is president of a Wall Street currency trading firm, Euro-Pacific Capital, and has frequent opinions on the viability of various currencies.

    Here is one article of his on the “service sector:

    Just sayin’

  59. Wasn’t the Mt Tabor protest Friday night and during the day on Saturday? Fits a regular work schedule.

    I agree that our economy can’t continue with increasing service sector and less manufacturing. I work in retail, and have seen the slow progression from mostly US-manufactured goods to mostly Chinese-manufactured goods. There was a while there when customers had a choice: $100 electric drill from US, or $30 electric drill from China. Most chose the cheaper one. Now, because Americans by and large won’t pay the difference, all the US manufacturers make their drills in China. We don’t have that choice any more, and we did it to ourselves.

    There are a few manufacturing operations on Division Street. Langlitz Leathers is known worldwide. Nearby Bent Image Studios is less well known, and their product (animated films and commercials) is perhaps not a “hard” good, but it employs a fair number of skilled workers as well.

    But to address the issues of city planning, requirements that make housing more expensive to build don’t help the service sector or the manufacturing sector. The price differences may currently be obscured by unit size, amenities, and most importantly by location, but all of these being equal, not having to provide parking gives the building owner the OPTION of charging less rent.

    If the market softens for the more expensive units, developers will turn to smaller, plainer, less expensive units, with no parking provided. Still, it’s hard to compete in price with a 1960s building down the street. Unless subsidized, new construction is always more expensive when it’s new. It’ll be cheaper later.

  60. “If the market softens for the more expensive units, developers will turn to smaller, plainer, less expensive units, with no parking provided.”

    The new apartments are small, plain and expensive, so I don’t know where the developers can go from there. The people who support the no-parking projects don’t want to live in them- that’s why ordinary renters didn’t write letters or otherwise lobby for Sackoff’s projects.

    Please note that rent concessions have started in the Savier projects. This is a sign that the apartments are wrong for the market. Look for more rent concessions next year on the Eastside.

  61. Doug Klotz, if I would have to guess I would say that you have bought into the lie of “progressivisn.” Some people knock me, and refer to my self reliance philosophy as backwards. But here’s the deal:

    Homeownership—-especially building your own new home, using the latest, most efficient methods—-is a piece of cake.

    But in the new urbanism, you won’t be able to do that. You will have to buy from the corporate builders, and then sign on to a lengthy mortgage contract.

    So, where is the progress in that? As anyone can see, I have supported mass transit and alternative transit (was just thinking of going for a bike ride, but instead this time will opt for some physical exercise doing some work). But it seems the choice is clear: I can’t support the new policies which either push people into high rent apartments, or tacitly preclude them from being owner/builders. To be an o/b I guess you will have to go to the burbs or small town area. And the bottom line is that now we are getting socked with inflation.

    “There was a while there when customers had a choice: $100 electric drill from US, or $30 electric drill from China”

    I found an option for this: I go to the used tool stores and find older American tools. Some of them may just need motor brushes. I bought a used Skil 77 several years ago, and finally had to buy a new switch and cord; $30 xtra bucks, but now it works like new again. I bought an old 1/2 drill for $10 bucks—and have been using it to mix cement, and will use it instead of a new $400 Milwaukie hole hawg. Good enough for my needs anyway!

    ” This is a sign that the apartments are wrong for the market.”

    And also a sign that Oregon politics is now infested with goofuses—–many of them need to be voted out!

  62. Ron:

    I have never used the term “new urbanism”, so don’t know exactly where you’re referring to that in the City of Portland. Perhaps Orenco Station is a good example in Washington County.

    I have been mostly discussing Portland’s inner eastside neighborhoods. Most of the lots are already taken. You can still be an owner/builder. You would have to do like Renaissance Homes does, and buy a small house, tear it down, and build a new house. So, if your argument is that there are not any vacant lots, you’re right. I don’t see how the zoning along Transit Streets affects that. The inner neighborhoods are quite popular, so the price is higher in the inner city. So, to that extent, yes you’d have to go further out to find empty lots, or a cheaper teardown.

    That said, some people find a way to build innovative houses in the inner city. Look at the new house at SE 15th and Madison, built on what was the yard of the adjacent house. I don’t know if it’s o/b, but could be. Others find “undesirable” lots, like at N Michigan and N Cook, a couple of steep sites, close to I-5 but shielded by trees, and as it happens, close to the Mississippi commercial strip.

    I don’t know that “new urbanist” policies have contributed to the increase in value in Portland’s inner neighborhoods. Did Portland’s refusal to build a freeway along SE Division contribute to this? Did using that money for transit do it? Did the resurgence of downtown in the 1990s do that (admittedly downtown has it’s problems, but it stood out compared to many eastern cities)? Did the increase in bicycle travel (facilitated by a few cheap road striping alterations) contribute?

    Is taller buildings along arterials, and 2-3 story apartments a couple blocks either side “new urbanist”? No, it’s “old urbanist”. City after city around the country follows this pattern. This pattern has been built from the 1910s through the 1960s, even after the demise of most streetcar lines that were the original attraction.

    I don’t see any policies that “push people into high rent apartments”. I see policies that allow apartments to be built (and in most cases have since 1981), but I don’t think city policies had that much to do with the sudden surge in construction in 2010 or so. Instead, as you know, it’s the economy and the nationwide demand for apartments. I don’t think New Urbanist policies led to the housing crash. Perhaps I don’t understand your argument.

  63. Mamacita:

    I have been in the UD&P apartment building at 38th and Division, and it is pretty high end, with 1- and 2-bedroom units, granite countertops (as I recall), and balconies. The rents are high too.

    UD&P is building 3 more buildings at 33rd Place and Division, and from the description they’re also a higher price level. The two buildings being built by Stan Amy and partners, with Mark Desbrow, in the parking lots at 31st and 32nd, are also described as higher end, nicer finishes, etc. (with a fair amount of parking)

    Only two buildings on Division are smaller, and I presume, cheaper apartments: the project at 37th, and one not yet under construction at 48th. As you note, some units in NW seem to have overestimated the market. After a few years, we’ll see which model works on SE Division.

    The NW apartments could be “slightly” wrong, not entirely wrong. It’s not that people don’t want apartments, its that the builder built ones they didn’t want to pay that much for. Subsequent builders, one would hope, will learn from that.

  64. The infill lots would never come close to the population levels that Portland’s “progressives” want. I disagree that it is inevitable as they claim, and I’ve got a right to my opinion.

    But with METRO and Portland behind at least a million new people, where are you going to find jobs for them? I see huge inflation ahead, and I also think Portland’s bureaucracy is counting on a lot of new voters.

    As far as “new urbanist” you seem to use the term with facility so I actually believe you know what it refers to.

  65. Ron:
    BPS has done a study as part of the Comp Plan update, showing how many lots they think are likely to redevelop. They’ve loaded a computer model with the amount of development on each lot, the development possible under the current zoning, and the market value of the lot on the tax rolls, I think. Anyway, they claim to thus be able to determine the redevelopment potential of each parcel. They haven’t released it to the parcel level, but at the neighborhood level, with a map in the latest draft plan document. They thus predict where the new population will go. They are not claiming they’ll all be on vacant infill lots, but that there will be a certain amount of teardown and rebuild. For instance, a single family house sitting on an R-1 zoned lot might allow 10 units where 1 is now. They also realize that it’s a bit theoretical, but it’s the best model they have.

    There are certainly a lot of variables that could affect this, including the desirability of a neighborhood and whether people will want to live there. They have a “number” of new housing units to jibe with their predicted “number” of new residents, which they say will fit within the existing zoning, except perhaps in the “Central City focused” scenario, which would require some upzoning.

    I think predictions of jobs are even more tenuous. I also wonder where all these new people will work. Serving lattes to each other? Will we have new industries, or a lot of new tax-supported institutions, which won’t pay for themselves?

    Unless we start making a lot of what we consume, here in Portland, or growing it, I’m not sure how it will work. In the future I think that Portland, like the nation, will struggle along at a reduced standard of living. Will Portland be better off than Phoenix? Than Cleveland? One could argue that, but it’s really hard to say. I do think we’ll have climate refugees to deal with.

    If times are hard, I figure that being able to reduce living expenses would be useful for some. Savings can be achieved by not heating and cooling as large a space (and not having as may outside walls) so the small apartments have some advantages. Plus, more compact neighborhoods mean you don’t have to drive as much, saving transportation costs.

    On the other hand, as some have pointed out, if we need to grow our own food, do we all need large lots to do it? Or would it be more efficient to live compactly and have large community gardens? Do we plow up the rest of Col. Summers Park for vegetable plots? (Or the Fred Meyer parking lot?)

    Re New Urbanism, I was wondering where you saw it being applied in the City of Portland, and how that affects your goal of owner-built homes. I do know what it means theoretically, but wondered which policies you attributed negative effects to in Portland.

  66. Portland’s vaunted planning reputation notwithstanding, I think what’s happening on the east side is just a continuation of a trend that began in the 70’s…rediscovering the city.
    Many Boomers like me brought the energy of the anti-Vietnam War movement from campuses to cities and began to reclaim neighborhoods that had been marginalized by…among other things…the massive freeway construction of the 50’s and 60’s. We were drawn by low rents, interesting architecture, proximity to culture, a rich demographic, and less dependence on the automobile. Folks continue to be drawn by these virtues in greater and greater numbers. The City of Portland continues to try to catch up with this trend; it did not create it.

  67. Homeownership—-especially building your own new home, using the latest, most efficient methods—-is a piece of cake. But in the new urbanism, you won’t be able to do that. You will have to buy from the corporate builders, and then sign on to a lengthy mortgage contract.

    It seems to me, Ron, that how/where you get your home (build it yourself, buy a lot and hire a builder, buy a finished new home from a builder, or buy a previously-owned home) is a bit orthogonal from how you pay for it. Not completely–lenders are generally more willing to finance already-built homes than owner-paid construction (regardless of who does the work), as there is less collateral risk: at closing, when funds are released, there is instantly valuable collateral subject to foreclosure if the loan defaults. Lenders are a bit more nervous about lending homeowners a big pile of cash intended for the eventual construction of a new home (which would then secure the loan); there’s too many things that could happen to that pile of cash that could make the loan essentially unsecured.

    I’m curious, though–how much can you save in the price of a home by building it yourself, assuming that you’ve got the time and skill to perform a substantial portion of the work?

    And finally–what does this have to do with things like parking minimums? Are you hoping that land-use policies will make parcels unattractive to developers (many of whom thrive on economies of scale, and aren’t interested in building single houses on spec), so DIYers can have a better chance at buying a vacant lot at a lower price?

  68. Doug,

    Can we ever say that density was not implemented correctly? Is there a definition of failure for up zoning?

    I think we both made some good points about Division, and time will tell. The planning community seems incapable of admitting that some things aren’t working. For instance, transit use is down about 4% this quarter(as I understand it from the paper- I know everyone else on this .board can explain the figures in detail). Car sales are up But we ignore that because we want to see more bike commuting.

    What I am asking for is a definition of failure and success from the standpoint of the neighbors. I would like to get rid of some of the dogmatic new urbanists and hire city planners who learn from the mistakes and unintended consequences of past projects.

    And as a final point, I want to see that the population growth projections are only that- projections. I question the Metro numbers as they excluded recession figures. It only takes 18 months to build something, so building today for the expected tidal wave of young creatives
    is premature. When they show up in 20 years on Division, the Sackoff building could be a wreck
    (if my guesses are better than Doug’s).

  69. Transit use dropping 4% and car sales going up doesn’t necessarily speak in any way to success or failure of planning. The former may well be attributed to Tri-Met service cuts, and improved car sales could reflect a recovering economy.

  70. When there is a ton of unused parking on the public right of way, it is absurd to require a renters to pay for the added cost of yet more parking! One does not own the parking spots in front of one’s property, nor are they for the property owners exclusive use.
    If one opposes increased density regardless of the projected rate of growth, one must then favor paving the Tualatin Valley and oppose thriving urban communities.
    Portland will at last become a real city when N. Interstate Avenue and NE Broadway, just to mention streets near and dear to me, are lined with 6 story apartment and condo buildings, whose residents are served by 5 minute transit.

  71. “Portland will at last become a real city when N. Interstate Avenue and NE Broadway, just to mention streets near and dear to me, are lined with 6 story apartment and condo buildings, whose residents are served by 5 minute transit.”

    >>>> 5 minute intervals impossible on the Yellow Line. Lenny. Now, if a BRT had been implemented on Interstate….

  72. Speaking only for myself I think Gateway embodies redevelopment gone wrong. I look forward to getting an understanding of what happened there and why from the Oregonian series. I see nothing, 0.0%, in common between Gateway and inner city neighborhoods reacting against new housing.

  73. One problem with attempting to redevelop existing urban fabric such as Gateway–is that it requires tearing down existing uses and building something else. Unless a location becomes so desirable that this redevelopment becomes worth the cost of bulldozing perfectly good buildings, or significant subsidies are given for such, it’s usually more cost-effective to find a greenfield and build on that instead.

    Gateway is somwhat of a transportation hub, given a) the proximity to the airport, b) the transit center, and c) the two freeways passing through (or by); it also has a few major trip generators of its own, including Mall 205 and Portland Adventist hospital. On the downside, I-205 forms a pretty hard western edge of the community, and I-84 and the Parkrose city limits likewise form a hard northern edge. And while the congregation of transit lines at Gateway TC is convenient for those using Gateway as a hub, it’s less convenient for those seeking to get around Gateway–it would be nice, for instance, for there to be a through bus running on 102nd/122nd from Parkrose all the way down to Foster–but there’s not.

    Also, a road diet on Stark/Washington east of I-205 would be beneficial; there is no good reason for these to be four lanes. I vote for two traffic lanes, a parking lane, and a contraflow bus lane on both, along with a protected cycle track… the Halsey/Weidler couplet is only slightly less obnoxious.

  74. Mamacita seeks a definition of failure for upzoning. As far as I know there has not been any upzoning in the inner city unless you count removing parking requirements as upzoning. If any thing, the 1981 comp plan removed a lot of denser apartment zoning in the inner residential neighborhoods, limiting it strictly to the corridors. Well yes, the Belmont street plan did change some properties from residential (R1?) to CS, at the request of the business and neighborhood to remove non-conforming situations.

    Gateway, however, is another story. It lacks so many attributes of inner city neighborhoods that it’s not a surprise that it’s not developing as planned. A much denser grid of streets, for one thing, is needed to make it a walkable area.

  75. @Nick,

    “[I]f a BRT had been implemented on Interstate”, there would be no new apartment buildings. The street would still be four lanes of rubber tired killing zone without the frequent zig-zag pedestrian crossings. New Seasons would have located its North Portland store somewhere along Lombard, and the strip joints and seedy bars would still reign supreme. They aren’t all gone, but they’re fading quickly.

    And the anti-social whiners in Vancouver would be screaming about “The Crime Bus”.

  76. re Gateway: Development adjacent to freeways is problematic at best. Who wants to live in a toxic river? Hollywood in NE is only now showing new signs of life years after MAX opened due, I believe, to its being next to I-84…not a plus.
    Lents was sliced in half by I-205 and its recovery is a long way off. Interstate did not begin to show signs of life until MAX and adidas HQ opened in N. PDX. Freeways may serve some transportation uses, but they are a huge burden to the communities they pass thru. Ask the residents of Lake Oswego why they pushed I-205 to the south.

  77. Gateway and Lents are not developed because Portland is bad at City Planning. Equity is just a vague concept to whitewash the fact that tax dollars flow away from Lents and Gateway towards the Pearl. Look at what the Oregonian uncovered about Gateway’s urban renewal money going towards non-profit low-income housing and not projects that would pay taxes. In the quest for a car-free utopia, some folks have, imho, been ready to back a bunch of greedy out-of-town developers.

    We have no definition of success or failure- why?
    Is it because the overall livability and wishes of the neighborhoods don’t matter? So we don’t have to have standards? Any fact that doesn’t fit the narrative is minimized- transit use down- no problem. New housing stock undesirable- who cares. People with cars moving into no parking apartments- who cares. Gateway is a disgrace, the max stop did not bring “vibrancy” but who cares.

    Stick to your theory- ignore the results.

  78. I don’t quite understand how you conflate TIF funds from Gateway going to non-property-tax-paying projects in the district with money flowing to the Pearl? Can you explain?

    I’m reminded that Erik Sten tried to explicitly get money from central city TIF districts to the David Douglas school system and was blocked in court…

  79. It’s actually the SDC’s that are being exported from East Portland to fund central city projects –I recall from a meeting last week that it’s been estimated that the Central City owes East Portland SDCs in the hundreds of millions. And, at this point it’s pretty clear that East Portland doesn’t get much of a “Citywide” benefit from downtown projects based on travel times and transit service availability.

    I’m going to refrain from commenting on Glisan Commons except to say I’m privvy to the project and Mamacita’s interpretation is missing consideration of leverage of the total investment.

  80. Chris,

    I was just giving some examples of ways that I believe that Outer SE does not get a fair share
    of various development funds. The city’s failure is comprehensive: it ranges from the three kids who had to die on SE 130th before the area got sidewalks to the long list of problems cited in the Oregonian’s recent coverage.

    Also, I appreciate that Glisan Commons is a fine idea- I just disagree with how it is being funded. The funds should have been taken from the traditional slush fund, aka the Water Bureau budget. Just kidding about the last point. And, I hope the Commons will support some local businesses.

  81. “Gateway and Lents are not developed because Portland is bad at City Planning.”

    >>>> I’ll second that. I’ve seen so many bad planning executions in the 12+ years that I have been living here.

  82. If things in the Gateway and Lents URAs are lagging behind visions/dreams…well that’s pretty normal. But I see little evidence of interest from private investors in those areas, and that’s the key. There is precious little public money to rebuild old suburbs, so the private side is necessary. Maybe if Kroger got bold and decided to build workforce housing along 102nd on their parking lot things might take off.
    Planning is equal parks politics, vision and luck; well maybe not equal parts. And if the vision is a timid compromise, don’t expect investors to come running with money. Portland has done pretty well to my reckoning: Downtown Plan in the 70’s was bold and saved a very tired old downtown. Central City Plan of the 80’s certainly panned out north of Burnside and in the south whether you like what was done there or not.
    Lloyd and Central Eastside may be about to take off. The Albina Plan of the 90’s helped turn around N and inner NE…don’t forget there were over 700 abandoned houses in the area, not to mention blocks of boarded up storefronts.
    What are the measures? Are people leaving a city or neighborhood or showing up? Are property values going up or down? Are local businesses opening or shutting their doors. Are people investing or bailing out? What else?

  83. “What are the measures? Are people leaving a city or neighborhood or showing up? Are property values going up or down? Are local businesses opening or shutting their doors. Are people investing or bailing out? What else?”

    Well, the word from my neighbor in Sellwood is that the new bike (cr)apartment is funded by Saudi investors. I would bet that there is a lot of outside money flowing in, trying to capitalize on the Portland rezoning. There usually is, in situations like this.

    Mr. Anderson, when you talk about changing Portland into a big city, with blocks and blocks of apartment buildings, is that what you had in mind? Glad you know more than the rest of us.

  84. Portland property is still priced lower than all the other west coast cities.

    Until that changes ‘investors’ (speculators, developers) will continue buying property here.

    There is only one measure, how much is property here vs Seattle and San Fransisco.

    From where I sit I see the City of Portland as an obstruction to business not a help.

    I’ve been running this building over here in NW PDX for almost 15 years now and its always the city that creates the problems for the rest of us here. Somehow in spite of the city we still have a few 35 year tenants that haven’t been pushed right out of NW PDX.

    But with the city constantly gouging us on water, business license tax, and property tax how much longer will we be able to keep rents reasonable here is unknown.

  85. One should be proud of our water/sewer bills…at last after 150 years we have cleaned up the Willamette River, reducing CSO flows to almost zero. No more pissing in the River, but it did cost us some money…some of the best I have spent of late.
    Capital flows where the returns are best…its called capitalism, and yes, it sucks, but have you tried the alternative? Can’t forget my two visits to the DDR (East Germany) in the 80’s… a breath taking failure.
    Portland’s laws, policies, rules, flow from public demand for responsible behavior from individuals, corporations, businesses. Don’t like them? Run for office, join your NA, form a Business Assoc. and vote NO.

  86. “Planning is equal parts politics, vision and luck.”

    Have you read any of the products of the city-sponsored “Visioning sessions”? When I read the visioning statement from my neighborhood, my
    reaction was “are you guys high?” The visioning statement read like bad poem, and was full of internal contradictions. “Visioning” is flat out stupid for civic decisions, at least when it doesn’t involve peyote.

    If Planning involves much luck- then it isn’t planning, is it?

  87. One should be proud of our water/sewer bills…at last after 150 years we have cleaned up the Willamette River, reducing CSO flows to almost zero.

    ~~~>Last time I looked the Willamette was still one of the most polluted rivers in the country

    : Willamette Riverkeeper : Pollution :

    When I read the visioning statement from my neighborhood, my
    reaction was “are you guys high?”

    ~~~>The answer is probably yes, from drinking the water out of the Willamette river.

  88. They are probably referring to Superfund, which is another big pill we need to swallow, but different from our literally pissing into the River, ie. CSO overflows. Superfund is in the Harbor, primarily sediments, many of which are a legacy from WWII when we were not too concerned with pollution. Also the Willamette comes into Portland in questionable shape from non point source pollution, primarily ag run off.
    re Group Visioning aka planning. Yes, this is not art…ever tried to write a poem with hundreds of others. The planning process is very messy, self selecting enterprise, but its better than the old days when Robert Moses just few in for a week and left us stuck with a freeway loop vision that degrades Portland life every day.

  89. The Willamette is also polluted from:
    1. Agricultural uses
    2. Rural septic systems
    3. Normal erosion
    4. Upstream wastewater treatment facilities.

    Mind you the Kellogg Creek treatment facility is only a few miles beyond Portland city limits. Sure the CSO rebuilding helped, but there is so much other pollution, I doubt it will ever be very clean.

  90. Lenny,

    Portland uses lots of outdated techniques for city planning decision-making that are dis-credited holdovers from the 1970s. Charettes, visioning,these things must go,. Surely you can plan and use 2013 techniques for how groups make good decisions. You don’t have to indulge in pointless 1970s vision quests to avoid the problems of the early 20th century.

  91. Charettes are discredited? Who discredited them? When did it happen?

    Charettes are outdated? What planning technique has replaced them?

  92. A recent New Yorker article summarizes why brain-storming has been dis-credited as a technique. As I understand the charrette, it involves a lot of brain-storming. It’s a 1970’s revival of a 19th century art school technique. Like a fake Tiffany lamp, a charrette looks dated now.

    BPS is way behind the time when it comes to research on how groups come to good decisions.
    The business school professors study this field in depth. There’s quite a lot of interesting stuff out there.

  93. I feel like ‘don’t knock it until you try it’ applies here. Planning has been very effective- the people involved tend to get what they want. We planned a very suburban world and we got it. Now we’re trying to urbanize and we’ll get that too. Just wait 20 years and then say the plans didn’t work.

  94. Allan,

    With all due respect, who is “we”? The city is not united over the necessity/pace/look of urbanization.

    We can’t afford to make future slums. We can’t afford to stick residents in 20 years with what I contend is undesirable housing stock and an economic mono-culture of bars and expensive food.

    When the real climate horribleness happens (and I fear it will) our greenwashing and our dumb planning mistakes will come back to haunt us.

  95. What’s so dumb about lots of housing on commercial streets with good transit? Who cares about parking…the city has tons of it. More customers for local businesses, more riders on transit, more folks on bicycles, more life on the street, all good.
    Not everything we read in The New Yorker is gospel; the public sector is governed by different rules than the private.
    How about a thoughtful critique of the Downtown Plan, the Central City Plan and the Albina Plan and not just?

  96. “our greenwashing and our dumb planning mistakes will come back to haunt us”

    And what, pray tell, is “dumb” and “greenwashing” about placing density along designated transit corridors?

    I guess “dumb” is in the eye of the beholder, but planning to utilize transportation capital investments better is hardly “greenwashing”.

    Eventually China will come to dominate the Middle East, oil will reach $130 to $150 a barrel and even our current refining overcapacity will be overwhelmed by worldwide demand. We are going to see $6.00 regular gasoline within a year or two. In a world of energy limits, sprawl is the sine qua non of “dumb”.

    The pro-sprawl fanatics in Damascus will be whining for Federal and state subsidies “so we don’t lose our homes”.

  97. I, too, would like to hear what these new planning techniques are. Perhaps Mamacita has a reference to articles or even Wikipedia pages on these 2013 techniques. I’d like to know about them.

  98. To be clear, some density and some light rail is fine with me. But there has been green-washing, especially when we look at large infill houses. Nothing green about two people living in 4000 square feet in the Alberta Arts District. Nothing green about taking up an entire lot that once had a house and a garden with the worlds ugliest modern townhouse
    (3000 sq. feet- no yard). Also, I constantly needle you guys about being out of touch with the rest of Portland. Food for thought. I never pretend to have all the answers, but I see no need to rush into density until the projected millions of single creatives show up.

  99. Doug- I am asking for planning techniques that aren’t actively dumb, or corrupted by the self-serving reports of certain highly paid consultants. Some planing has been okay. But, it’s up to the planners to update their techniques. What’s the excuse for lousy process and outmoded techniques? How about critical reasoning. Hard data. People who understand statistics.

  100. @ Oregon Mamacita

    Density is not green washing. It’s a matter of resources and space. Most homes with gardens cannot fully support themselves on that and are limited in what they can grow, nor would that overwhelmingly make a huge difference in terms of any environmental scale if it did not exist. Simply walking to a grocery store that housed local produce grown a local farm I’d gander would be just about the same.

    Conversion of greenfields into tract-style homes is the probably *the most* environmentally unfriendly thing we can do.

    I grew up in the suburbs here and witnesses complete and utter destruction of the natural environment for junky homes—entire forests that were leveled to house just a few dozen people. Not to mention the oversized roads designed by crazy engineers, disconnected streets to nowhere and exclusionary zoning.

    I agree, a reasonable portion of infill homes are depressingly ugly and misplaced in next to 5k sf lots in already single-family areas that need to be preserved better. We need to do better on that front and it just turns people away from density.

    But density is not a scam.

    Just look at a map:

  101. Mind you the Kellogg Creek treatment facility is only a few miles beyond Portland city limits. Sure the CSO rebuilding helped, but there is so much other pollution, I doubt it will ever be very clean.

    Right, but you can technically swim in it in most areas. Before the CSO, it was not recommended, at least not during rain events, or possible rain events.

    Long way to go, sure.

  102. A person would be nuts to swim in the Willamette. It will never, ever, be cleaned up, especially with the “progressive” vision of 2-3 million more people living here.

    If I didn’t think it would be so disastrous, it is kind of entertaining to see Portland liberals bickering between themselves……And no matter what you can achieve environmentally, the economics of the “big city,” that apparently PT wants, will guarantee horrendous inflation.

  103. “Eventually China will come to dominate the Middle East, oil will reach $130 to $150 a barrel and even our current refining overcapacity will be overwhelmed by worldwide demand. We are going to see $6.00 regular gasoline within a year or two. In a world of energy limits, sprawl is the sine qua non of “dumb”. ”

    There could be a Middle East crisis that triggers a spike. But “peak oil” has been thoroughly debunked, at least for the next few decades. And the Chinese are rapidly moving ahead with energy efficiency—-since US entrepreneurs and globalists have practically given them our patents. But, hell, let’s just let them cross our border as they please, committing acts of industrial espionage:

  104. Peak oil hasn’t “been debunked”, Ron. Yes, there are new extraction techniques which have created temporary new supply, but they’re finite and will undergo the same Hubbert curve as conventional sources.

    The truth is that as humans we experience the Earth as being huge. Most people couldn’t walk around it, even given five years’ support to do so.

    But it is a finite ball, and oil is present in recoverable quantities only in sandstone, limestone and shale beds laid down in or in close proximity to other rocks laid down in alluvial stream beds where large amounts of organic matter could collect. That’s only a relatively small percentage of the dry land surface area and a smaller proportion of the seabed.

    Now there is the possibility that the Holy Grail of seabed methane hydrates may be harnessed. If we can figure out how to collect them in an efficient manner so that doing so yields more energy than it takes, they represent hundreds of times more potential energy than we’ve yet exploited.

    And they’re methane, so the carbon burden is lower than liquid hydrocarbons and massively lower than coal.

    But they’re a long way from commercial viability, and in the meantime Hubbert’s hulking curve is bending ever downward in every oil reservoir ever exploited.

    There aren’t many glory holes left.

  105. I agree with Mamcita in not liking tearing down a small house on a 5000′ lot, in order to build a bigger single-family house that same lot, housing no more people (unless they plan a family of 6?).

    We should concentrate density (and full lot coverage) in those places where it really does the job of reducing VMT, that is, on Transit Streets and near commercial streets.

    An example of where there’s not enough density allowed is on SE Belmont at 27th. A very large house on a 10,000 sq.ft. lot is to be torn down. It looks large enough that there could be 7 or 8 people living in it. I don’t know for sure.

    Since it’s zoned R-1 (1 unit per 1,000 sq feet), the max that could be built is a 10-unit apartment building. This is on the size lot that we have seen 40 to 50 small units being built. (Parking arguments are another issue). And this is the maximum “apartment” zoning used in most neighborhoods.

    So, since he couldn’t make much money with so few units, the developer is instead building 4 single-family houses. The “minimum density” requirements say one must build 7 units (70 percent of the maximum?). So, three of the houses will have an ADU, to get to 7 “units”. (Will they be rented out separately, or just serve as a “studio” for the house residents?)

    It seems a waste of a valuable transit-served space. Further away from the transit and commercial street, it might make sense, but not right here. There’s an older large apartment building right across the street, and the street is not predominantly single family, plus of course has good transit service, and is also in a very bikeable area.

    As far as food production in the city, it makes sense to aggregate property where possible for food growing (away from transit lines), and concentrate the housing along the transit lines.

    Getting from the current neighborhood pattern to this is not easy, but perhaps regulations should be tailored toward that end. To an extent, small houses on large lots would be the “food production” areas, and multi-family housing closer together would be the “housing” areas. I also think we should look at “parks”, as some are just giant mown lawns. We need open space, but are some lands better used for food production? At Colonel Summers and at Sewallcrest Park, community gardens are adjacent. Were these gardens carved out of the parks? Does Hinson Church on 20th need all those parking lots? Could we gain enough parking on-street for their needs, perhaps putting diagonal parking on 19th, e.g.? Will their need for parking shrink over the years? Whether peak oil is now or in 20 years, we should be planning for food production more locally to the extent we can.

  106. Regarding planning techniques. You ask for “critical reasoning, hard data, and people who understand statistics”. On a walk near the new light rail stations on SE 17th, those attengin included a neighbor who has a house on 16th, 150′ away from the Holgate station.

    She said she didn’t want any change on her street, and didn’t want any strangers parking in front of her house.

    At some point, planners have to confront citizens who do not seem to grasp some obvious realities, or the demonstrated need for some change. Would it make more sense for residential land within a block from a light rail station to be more densely zoned than R-5? Accepted practices would try to increase population and ridership within a 1/2 mile radius. Is preservation of a strip of 1930’s bungalows a higher value than getting a thin strip of increased density?

    In this case I believe the planners understand the basic statistics about walking distances to a light rail station, using critical reasoning, and extrapolating from data from across the country (and world) about station proximity and ridership. Certainly they can’t predict ridership exactly, but we know enough to say that people whose destination is near the light rail and who live close to the station will be more inclined to ride it than those further away. Some may even move there with that in mind.

    I see the frustration of planners who have to try to explain these realities to folks who have never ridden transit in their lives, never ridden a bike, etc. Some of the planning processes are pretty convoluted, I agree. It’s difficult to achieve consensus in one neighborhood, much less the entire city.

  107. ” It’s difficult to achieve consensus in one neighborhood, much less the entire city. ”

    Some light rail lines are losers, others have been pretty effective. Maybe, people here don’t realize…..I strongly supported the original MAX and had even volunteered a little bit to help Tom Walsh in his mayoral run, when MAX and the Mt Hood Freeway were big issues. When I worked in Seattle for four years (1998-2002) I defended light rail to some ‘minority’ folks who were worried about the first Seattle line, saying that at least it usually helped property values ( As homeowner I thought that was was good; but a renter might disagree)

    But with CRC on the ropes—-and with it light rail through Clark Co, the Interstate MAX is still looking pretty much like a glorified bus route—-a need that could have been filled at $20 million, not $350 million. The Milwaukie MAX goes through some very noisy industrial areas, goes through about 1.5 miles of parkland, terminates in Milwaukie not in Oregon City where it might actually help a bit, and where it does serve the inner city—I though these people were bicyclists! What do they need a MAX train for?

    And because I don’t think that Milwaukie MAX will pick up anywhere near the bulk of present and future commuters—especially as the outlying areas experience their next surge of growth, I foresee a street near to me, SE Tacoma, as getting VERY HEAVILY impacted with all sorts of traffic—and the planning here as not rooted at all in the real world. Sure, local planners can idealize certain circumstances—-but they also have to acknowledge and plan for things that are beyond their control.

    It’s called “The Real World.”

    I’ve also posted comments and an article about one another NW city’s experience with double decker express buses—which seems to be working very well in Everett WA, thank you.

  108. “The Milwaukie MAX goes through some very noisy industrial areas”

    People do work in industrial areas, you know. That makes them potentially good areas to stop at, if they are high-employment industrial areas.

  109. ” if they are high-employment industrial areas.”

    And that’s the big if. The UP switching yard is not a high employment area. Maybe they will find some newcomers to this city who would want to live in that area. Could be material for a Simpsons’ episode.

  110. “At some point, planners have to confront citizens who do not seem to grasp some obvious realities, or the demonstrated need for some change.”

    Oh, the one-sided sacrifices we ask. Sackoff is pleasured by city planners, but when a homeowner whose home is her biggest investment stands in the way of transit, she is just told to suck it up for the greater good.

    How about compensating that lady? As for demonstrating the need for change, necessary change always involves profits for David Evans & Mehyre et al, and a deep sense of loss for the neighbors. Give that woman 20,000.00 for the loss of pleasure in her home. Because her location now stinks, for her.

  111. “How about compensating that lady?”

    “That lady” just hit the jackpot, though she probably doesn’t know it yet and can’t understand why. That neighborhood between the UP yards and McLoughlin south of Powell is nobody’s idea of a destination. But it will become so with the transit station.

    Her home value will probably increase $30 to $40,000 in the next four years, and she will be the winner.

    Yes, she may have to move to have the same backwater experience. Or she may discover that she like the extra amenities that will follow the station.

  112. In my view Interstate MAX is the most successful line in town and cost us relatively little in local money. It was combined with Airport MAX and Streetcar, both of which were locally funded with public/private partnerships, so the federal match for Interstate MAX was very high. Portland used $30M in Interstate URA funds, about 10%, to cover its share.
    An old, very tired state highway was completely rebuilt, property line to property line, for all modes. Each station has seen new housing, new businesses and new destinations. Its far enough from the freeway so that freeway noise and pollution puts less of a damper on development as along the Banfield line to Gateway.
    Some mistakes were made. PBOT set the curb line is such a way that there are large areas of pavement that are unused by any mode and could have been landscaped areas. BP/S failed to rezone the station areas until well after the line opened. I never understood why the station areas were not up-zoned when the decision was made to build in 1999.
    And ridership is three times what it was on the old 5 bus with a cost of about $2 per ride.

  113. And in my view the Yellow Line was $350 million down the drain. Now we’re stuck with minimum 15-minute headways, no local service, and no direct service to Jantzen Beach and Downtown Vancouver. A good BRT implementation would have attracted a big increase in ridership, also.

    And are not most of the new multifamily buildings along Interstate tax subsidized low/moderate income housing. Some “development.”

  114. “One way to compensate that lady might be to give her a vested right in a parking permit, that she could either use herself or resell on the market…”

    How about we give her a big poster of Alan Shoup to hang in her bedroom, and also a $20,000.00 check?

    See, we can find common ground!

    Or, we can take the Andarkos approach and tell her that she is ignorant and should be more compliant with the wishes of the planning class.

  115. I didn’t say she is ignorant, I said (roughly, combining two sentences I did write) “she probably doesn’t yet understand that she’s hit the jackpot”. That’s because she, like so many other people who aren’t interested in city matters until it affects them — that’s not a criticism, just an observation — listens to alarmists like you.

  116. [Moderator: Climate-change denial troll bait and rant about planners, parking, and bioswales promoting malaria removed. Very old thread, too. – Bob R.]

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