Archive for February, 2010


Great Buildings vs. Great Places

February 22, 2010

This evening I attended a very interesting program that was part of the “New Oregon” interview series. The program featured architecture/design critic Randy Gragg, architect Brad Cloepfil and Mayor Sam Adams.

A major thread of the discussion was about whether Portland aspires to good design – or if we settle for less-than-stellar design.

Now I’m a big fan of good design, I think it’s essential to doing infill and density in a livable way.

But several times during the discussion the phrase “important building” was used, and the lack of them in Portland was lamented. This struck me as somewhat off-key.

I don’t think that Portland aspires to have important buildings. What I think we do aspire to is having great places. And if great architecture for a building can contribute to a great place, I’m all for it.

But I get more excited about things like last year’s Courtyard Housing Design Competition, which can potentially result in a lot of great places all around the City.

Am I wrong in my reading of Portland’s collective appetite? Do we in fact value great places more than great buildings?


It’s All About Trees

February 20, 2010

A comprehensive re-write of the City’s regulations around trees has been in development for some time now, and the public process around its adoption is heating up, beginning this week.

The first opportunity to hear about this is at the City Wide Land Use group meeting Monday night (2/22 at 7pm, 1900 SW 4th Ave, Room 2500B), followed by a joint Planning Commission/Forestry Commission briefing on Tuesday (2/23 at 6pm, 1900 SW 4th Ave, Room 2500A/B).

Here’s the rest of the schedule along with with links to the documents involved:

BPS News

February 12, 2010

Eden Dabbs
Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

Roberta Jortner
Bureau of Planning and Sustainability


Citywide Tree Project Draft Proposal Goes Before Portland Planning Commission and Urban Forestry Commission; Open Houses Planned
Residents encouraged to read the document and comment in person or online

After extensive analysis and discussion of complex tree-related issues, and developing and sharing potential solutions with multiple commissions and neighborhood groups, the Citywide Tree Project is publishing a comprehensive draft proposal for public review. The Portland Planning Commission and Urban Forestry Commission will invite public testimony on the proposal at a joint hearing on March 23, 2010.

Two open houses will be held before the hearing so members of the public can meet with project staff and learn more about project and draft proposal.

Upcoming Public Events

February 23, 2010
6 p.m.
Planning Commission Briefing
1900 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 2500A
Portland, OR 97201

March 23, 2010
6 p.m.
Joint Planning Commission and Urban Forestry Commission Hearing (public comments welcome)
1900 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 2500A
Portland, OR 97201

Public Open Houses

March 9, 2010
7-9 p.m.
Multnomah County Arts Center Auditorium
7688 SW Capitol Highway
Portland, Oregon 97219

March 16, 2010
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Floyd Light Middle School Cafeteria
10800 SE Washington St
Portland, Oregon 97216

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has worked with other City bureaus and community stakeholders on the Tree Project because the City’s tree codes are confusing and out of date. With input from community stakeholders, City staff have developed a proposal intended to:

• clarify, simplify and improve the effectiveness of the codes;
• advance City goals and canopy targets for Portland’s urban forest, neighborhood livability and development;
• update City tree preservation and planting requirements that apply when development is proposed;
• standardize and streamline the existing tree removal permit system to apply consistently throughout the city;
• create a new comprehensive tree code to house most tree rules, and elevate the role of trees and the City’s urban forestry program; and
• enhance customer service for residents and builders looking for information about trees and permits.


  • Volume 1: Project Report
    Project origin, approach, key issues, and recommendations.
  • Volume 2: Proposed Code Amendments
    Proposed new Title 11- Trees, amendments to Title 33 – Planning and Zoning, as well as corresponding amendments to nine other City Titles (3, 8, 14, 16, 17, 20, 24, 29, 31)
  • Appendices
    Additional project background documentation for the Project Report

Coming Up on February 23rd

February 11, 2010

Formal Agenda

6:00pm – Joint Briefing with Forestry Commission on new City-wide Tree Policy

My Commission colleagues had been briefed on this prior to my appointment, so this will be my first look at the topic.

It’s ambitious. The project intends to take tree regulations from several parts of City code and not only create a new unified code title, but also unify the regulations so they apply more uniformly to all trees (larger than a certain diameter) in the City. This would include eliminating an exemption that currently applies to many trees on some (but not all) single family lots.

All in service of increasing the urban tree canopy, which has considerable environmental benefits.

Last year City Club had an excellent program on the value of trees. You can check it out and download the audio here.


Meeting Summary – 2/9/10

February 9, 2010

12:30pm – Milwaukie Light Rail, OMSI to PSU segment

We reviewed the plans for this segment of the route and its stations, with discussion around how Light Rail, Streetcar, buses and bikes would interact on both sides of the river.

1:40pm – Portland Plan

Staff overviewed the periodic review process and how it fits into the State legal and administrative process.

Citizen testimony began at 1:58pm and we got a point-counterpoint on the value and usage of the Natural Resources Inventory. There was also testimony on CS zoning and how it affects the character of main streets and another individual spoke to the requirements for infill housing development.

The Commission then had a good discussion about different housing types and where they may be most appropriately located. Background data on this may be found in the Housing Supply report, and I may post on this in the future.


Where Do the Jobs Go?

February 8, 2010

As we process the Portland Plan background reports, one of the most fascinating in my opinion is the Economic Opportunities Analysis – Alternative Choices (PDF).

It sets up a series of choices about where we plan for jobs in the next 25 years.

As background, Portland has about 40% of the jobs in the region (excellent when compared to other cities that are centers of their regions). But during the period from 2000-2006, we only captured about 11% of new  jobs. Over the period the Portland Plan covers (through 2035), we want to do better and expect (hope?) that somewhere between 18% and 36% of new jobs will locate in the City.

The report looks at different types of spaces and locations where we might accommodate these jobs, and what kind of public investments and policies this would take. Some of the locations types are:

  • Central City Office Space – there was relatively little new demand for this in the last decade, but we have lots of zoned capacity – what will the demand be in the next 25 years?
  • Do we need an Office cluster outside the Central City? An office center at Gateway or the Airport might provide lower cost office space to compete with places like Kruse Way and help improve jobs/housing balance by providing employment locations in the eastern part of the City.
  • Incubator space – inexpensive space where new companies can get started. Today the Central Eastside and Lower Albina play this role, but the projection is for more demand than these areas can handle. Should we upzone these areas or look for other areas for this function? Could this be an additional role that Gateway could fill?
  • Town Centers, neighborhood commercial districts and commercial corridors – what kind of jobs could/should go here and how do we plan for them?
  • Campus development – we have a few sites (Conway, Post Office site) that could work for new campus developments. What kinds of employers need it and how do they fit into the bigger picture?
  • Industrial space – how much do we need and where does it need to go. Can some of it be built ‘up’ in multistory development, or does it all need to be single-story?

Of course, all of this only makes sense where and when the private sector creates these jobs. How do we create City plans that are flexible and responsive to what will surely be changing trends in the private sector over the new few decades?

Come tell us what you think! We have two more hearings on the background reports:

  • Tuesday, February 9th, 1:15pm
  • Tuesday, March 9th, 1:15pm

The meeting on March 9th will focus on land supply, so would be particularly apt for this topic, but you’re welcome to testify on any topic at either of the hearings.


Coming Up on February 9th

February 4, 2010

Official Agenda

12:30pm – Milwaukie Light Rail, PSU to OMSI (briefing)

1:15pm – Portland Plan, overview of Periodic Review process and hearing on background data.

Come out and tell us what you think about the background reports!


Infill, Historic Preservation and Corridors

February 1, 2010

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend an excellent workshop hosted by the Architectural Heritage Center on “Infill in Traditional Neighborhoods”.

Infill is not a new topic for me. I had a chance to study it in depth when I served on the City Club’s study on “Increasing Density in Portland” that looked at how Portland could achieve the increases in housing suggested by the Metro 2040 Growth Plan adopted in the mid-’90s. Two take-aways from that study that have continued to guide me are:

  • As much as possible put density in new neighborhoods on brownfields (like the Pearl and South Waterfront).
  • Where infill must be used, design will be critical.

Traditional neighborhoods are also not new to me, having served for almost a decade on the board of my neighborhood association in NW Portland. During my service a big chunk of our neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the “Alphabet Historic District” through the efforts of a number of dedicated volunteers and support from the City (I get none of the credit, I was working on parking issues at the time…).

So while the topics weren’t new to me, the workshop did open up some ideas for me, principally around the idea of “compatibility”. In the past I’ve thought of compatibility of new development with the existing neighborhood primarily in terms of building height, building mass and building style (e.g., modern versus traditional, etc.). But some important ideas that the workshop brought up were issues of compatibility with the development patterns of surrounding buildings: does the new development match the setback patterns of surrounding building? Is the use of green space similar? Are the building types (e.g., residential over storefront) similar even if the style is different?

In particular, this got me thinking about our major transit corridor streets, since our strategy is to focus much of our housing growth on these streets. It seems to me that as this planned growth occurs, we are necessarily going to see (indeed are already seeing in some somes places) buildings that are often larger than their neighbors (the current zoning generally already supports this). Given this reality, what other elements can we focus on to retain the character of our main street corridors, while helping them evolve to meet our future needs? How should the Portland Plan create supportive policies for this?

While we’re speaking of growth and buildings, I would note some opportunities for citizens to speak to these issues NOW in the Portland Plan process. The Urban Form Report gives a very educational view of what kinds of building heights and massings the current zoning supports. At our last hearing we received testimony that these heights and masses would surprise many people! The good news is that there is enough existing zoned capacity for housing that the Portland Plan should not need to do wholesale up-zoning to support projected growth. Indeed, there might be opportunities from some selective down-zoning to protect environmental assets. Your next opportunity to testify is at our February 9th hearing. Tell us how you think Portland Plan policies should focus this growth.

And on the topic of growth, there was testimony at our last hearing that the growth numbers appear to keep changing. At our meeting on March 9th, we’ll be visiting assumptions about land supply and staff will have the opportunity to review how the growth projections were arrived at. Come out, list, learn and testify!