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As pressures force Portland to become taller and denser, will it look like a different city in 5 years?

15959234-mmmainAn essay by Carl Alviani, who works at Portland’s Ziba Design, has triggered a lot of online conversation about the kind of city that Portland seems to be becoming.


Alviani’s essay, called “Repacking Portlandia” on Medium and “Portland’s New Building Boom” on Design Week Portland’s Tumblr page, notes the many ways that the Portland of tomorrow will be a city that’s quite different from the Portland of just, say, 10 years ago.


Alviani was struck by the proliferation of urban projects taking shape in many quarters of the city. He discusses the Lloyd District, the Burnside Bridgehead area, North Mississippi Avenue and other new centers of activity.


“Each of these buildings could stand alone as an interesting departure from the vision of Portland as a city of Craftsman bungalows and great big trees. Taken together though ‚ along with the new construction slated for (or underway in) the South Waterfront, along North Williams and SE Division, around the NE/SE 28th corridor, and the residential skyscrapers emerging downtown and in the northern reaches of the Pearl District — this is a reweaving of the city’s urban fabric. Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard was once an anomaly on the city’s east side: a commercial street with enough vibrance and walkability to be a destination. As a dozen neighborhood centers reach similar density, it’s poised to become the norm.”


The Oregonian’s Elliot Njus has been chronicling the explosion of construction projects and rising home prices on his Front Porch blog. His last open house roundupdiscusses commuting to cheaper housing, a decrease in underwater mortgages, and Portland’s efforts to promote family-friendly infill housing.


He’s also written about the way the pressures to fill and upgrade a metro area enclosed by an urban growth boundary is putting pressure on historic structures, such as Southeast Portland’s Markham House.


This is also a topic of recurring conversation on Brian Libby’s Portland Architecture blog.


In a discussion triggered by the threat to the Markham House, Libby wrote:


Meanwhile, there is the larger question of how we stop the so-called epidemic of historic home demolitions, with the Oregonian editorial board the latest to weigh in, also in today’s paper. The board is recommending what the Architectural Heritage Center and other preservationists have already called for: waiting periods.


Alviani notes two major forces that are pushing change to the street level in Portland: A population that’s getting “younger, more transient and more educated” and the Portland “region’s long-standing allegiance to close-knit urbanism and smart growth.”


He said these trends are driving a construction boom that’s “nearly inevitable,” but “far better than many alternatives.”


What do you think? Is this boom inevitable? Is it better than many alternatives? Will it affect the way you live and work?


-Mike Francis



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