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Monday, September 13, 2010

The magic of neighborhood infill and density

Somehow, it isn't working out the way the 20-something planners were told in their Portland State urban studies classes. Even the developer weasels who pull those kids' strings are cutting each other's throats.

Portland's being wrecked, at taxpayers' expense, for no good reason. It's really time to call a halt to it. Instead, Mayor Creepy and the Latest Kafoury keep babbling about more and more "urban renewal." Wait 'til the credit card bills get here.

Comments (23)

And my neighbors are stuck with the abomination that is 'Clinton Condominiums' that isn't even on Clinton. It is hideous and should be condemned. I can see why the blast walls, north and south, were included; there was an expectation that the whole thing would bomb.

And did.

For this piece of crap, they removed one of the most interesting properties on Division and cut down at least one irreplaceable tree?

Purcell was a moron. Would that more of his ilk would suffer more of the same.

Jack, I once read a funny comment regarding the PSU urban planners. They said they were nerdy kids that didn't have any friends and instead stayed home to play Sim City all day. HA, so true.

When assigning blame, I'd arrange in this order:

1. Political leaders and bodies
2. Monied interests
3. Laws, codes, and regulations
4. Planners

Fact is, planners do follow an ideology, but they don't get to decide what's done--#1 and #3 above are the primary constraints. Homer Williams didn't get to do South Waterfront because of "planners", exactly. I've studied that particular effort in detail. What really happened there, blame-wise, can be simplified this way: Vera Katz and staff, City Council, Homer Williams, and heavyweight corporate arm twisting (OHSU).

Planners were given the task of planning the South Waterfront. There was never a serious option to "do nothing". And believe me, you would've liked the original plans much better. There was a real greenway by the river, meaningfl amounts of "affordable" housing (though soon all of it may be, ironically) and more constraints on what got built.

Then, the Wheels of Politics and Money geared up. The plan was modified. Repeatedly. The greenway eventually all but disappeared. The affortable housing, too. The footprints of the buildings were negotiated taller and taller by effete wonkery of politicians, heavy pressure from money to "pencil it out", and so on. Planners were tasked with revision after revision.

Overall, despite being trained in some of this and interested in it, I'm not interested in most ideologies of typical urban planning in Portland or how cities grow. I think Jane Jacobs was wrong, and is a poor example of somebody to look to for inspiration. Jacobs believed in growth and development as much as the next developer. She thought the Pearl and South Waterfront could be good ideas.

So--I think in this article, the chickens are coming home to roost. I also think that this isn't some ordinary "recession" to be weathered by the Homer Williams out there idling their engines waiting for a green light; I think the trend line goes downward, pemanently.

And if I'm right, that's going to make a lot of the fundmental ways cities operate change in deeply painful ways. It's going to wake up a lot of the wankers like Adams with abstract, congitively dissonant goals like "be an international city while buying and living local!". Those that make their livelihood off of skimming the fat from airdropped developments like South Waterfront will be selling their luxury items to buy groceries. But who will buy them, I wonder?

The upside here is thar now the bank can sell the condos at half their original asking price. Well upside if you don't own a home. If you own a home I see a panic attack coming.

My Jane Jacobs story: Over 50 years ago, we had a chat about my notion of taking graduate studies in urban planning. Her response, "Why would you want to spend your life moving pieces of acetate around?"

Don't worry, Walsh will always survive.

Yes, Tom Walsh and his wife Patricia McCaig (Kitzhaber's campaign manager) will survive, as they build, live off the neighborhood "infill and density" mantra preaching to the rest of us, while they live on three city lots with one large house.

Don, you might find the film "My Architect" (2003) -- an exploration and search for Louis Kahn by his son Nathaniel -- edifying, especially the part where Philadelphia's late, megalomaniacal city planner, Ed Bacon (Kevin's dad), discounts the possibility of the architect ever contributing to the "urban renewal" of the City of Brotherly Love.

I personally think a viewing of the 1979 Portland indie movie (dir. Penny Allen) "Property" would be a timely reminder of how nothing is really every new.

I worked on plenty of Percell projects including the Missippi projects, the one in Goose Hollow and numerous others. As is typical, it really depends on who your superintendent on the job is. I've worked on Hoffman projects, Percell projects and Walsh projects. Hoffman is horrible, Percell was in the middle and Walsh (for the most part) was typically easy to get along with and work with/for. Regardless, all condos are crap IMO, not worth the price - can't get my head around living in an apartment with a different name on it (condo not apartment - bottom line they are the same, still junk). Very happy to see the bottom drop out of the developers plans and the city's plans.

Lets no forget Ms. Kafoury's little spread in Dunthorpe, while she and her spawn live the good life off her husband's family tax free wine money

m -

Kafoury's husband's family's tax free wine money???

I hadn't known that.

Oh, do elaborate.


How about - a prerequisite for building these "ghetto-like" warehouses for people that have been built in some parts of our city, the developer who builds them and the council who approves them ought to be made to live in them for a good year of magic infill?

or the option of making the housing a positive place with space, with a garden, with cross ventilation, with a deck or patio, with access to light and views of nature, etc. etc. and a positive addition to a neighborhood.

what amuses me is those of you who attack density seem to think you and you alone get to live in single family homes on garden plots , when the reality of the planet is density. --China/India/Brazil/Africa
I guess you all are better than all them folks.

when the reality of the planet is density. --China/India/Brazil/Africa

That "reality" was chosen, just like other options were. There wasn't some Invisible Hand of Fate that predetermined cities should or would become megalopolises. Choices were made. In Portland, developers like Randy Rapaport get to say "I had a few million to lose" because Portland is set up to allow people like him to come here and take.

what amuses me is those of you who attack density seem to think you and you alone get to live in single family homes on garden plots

The alternatives to "condo boxes" and "high density" are far more varied than "single family homes on garden plots".

If you don't like "apartment bunkers" or "condo boxes"...don't live in one. It really is that simple.

If you don't like "apartment bunkers" or "condo boxes"...don't live in one. It really is that simple.

Hmm. let's try that logic out for some recent issues:

If you don't like cell towers on your block, don't live on your block. It really is that simple.

If you don't like public schools, stop complaining about them. It really is that simple.

If you don't like PERS spending in Oregon, don't get a job that has PERS. It really is that simple.

If you don't like Sam Adams, don't acknowledge him as Mayor. It really is that simple.

Hey--you're right! It really is that simple!

ecohuman, believe it or not there are some folks who like living in a sub-800 square foot unit. Save for the SoWa district, many of the close-in apartment projects (as opposed to condos) are 100% full -- even in this market. I've long objected to projects that provide no parking (think Urban Development Partners on 38th), but many of these "apartment bunkers" are no different than in many other cities.

I really don't understand the criticism of these projects, other than the ones that were build as condos with PDC backing and urban renewal subsities that ended up in foreclosure.

There are plenty of successful projects that have not been a drain on the taxpayer or the surrounding neighborhoods, and have provided a good place to live for many.

ecohuman, believe it or not there are some folks who like living in a sub-800 square foot unit.

Where did I say that living small is undesirable?

Save for the SoWa district, many of the close-in apartment projects (as opposed to condos) are 100% full -- even in this market.

I think you might misunderstand how the market works. Apartments occupancy rates aren't high because they're "desirable"--they fill up because (a) they're an option for those who cannot buy, and (b) because the housing market is short of affordable rentals. Not short of rentals, but *affordable* ones relative to the population.

There are plenty of successful projects that have not been a drain on the taxpayer or the surrounding neighborhoods, and have provided a good place to live for many.

I'm not hearing much criticism here of *all* housing development, just some of it. Speaking for myself, I'm critical for a variety of reasons--but if I had to pick only one, it'd be this: that the "condo bunkers" represent a way of using land and giving the finger to the neighborhoods they're airdropped into that invites the anger and disdain of residents. Randy Rapaport, by his own admission, could give a crap about where his buildings go--it's all about the money.

To make this dirt simple: land developers are largely disconnected from and emotionally uninvested in the communities they're backhoeing up and putting down triple-scale development in.

Outrage was invoked when a similar scenario occurred with renaming 39th Avenue: a person not even from the community (or even the city) demanded change in accusative, genuinely uncompromising ways (Marta Guembes). Then, despite overwhelming (80-90%) opposition of the most affected community members, the result was the same--utter disregard for those living there.

Taken together, and throwing in several more scenarios like this in Portland the past few decades, and you end up with a very large number of long term community members scratching their heads and asking "what the hell's happening to this place I've invested my life in?"

People can own whatever abode they desire as long as its development and future use (tax abatements for owner/occupants) are not being subsidized by other property owners... I may not like the fugly architecture and the cramped living quarters but I don't choose to live one. My peeve is paying for building crap I will never live in or covering property taxes for that crap.

How about as long as the "ghetto-like" housing does not devalue the property of neighborhoods and property owners next to these and they do! A complaint of many is having a three story deal plunked right over one's back yard, no more privacy or sunlight for their garden, not enough parking and cars parked in front of neighbors homes instead. One can choose to not live in these, but what can one do when the city changes the code and one lands next to you? How easy is it to sell then? (By the way, this has not happened to me, is not why I am complaining, I know of people it has happened to and I have seen the areas of the city where this type of density has been pushed)

Another major complaint I hear by people whose neighborhoods have been devalued by the city's plan and the developers who wouldn't think of living there - are the huge groves of firs and cedars that have been cut and are continuously being cut to make room for these developments. Thought the city was for green and sustainable. There is no respect for the character of the neighborhood or the quality of life for the people who live there. This has nothing to do with livability and everything to do with making more money for the developers. .
. . and additional taxes for the city's pet projects. . by adding flag lots for example.

Could go on about this - maybe more later.

clinamen, it sounds like you somehow got a hold of the business plan for Urban Development Partners. You're describing their 38th/Division project perfectly, right down to the couumnity garden it will be towering over. This is the type of project the Portland needs to re-think. It is allowed because the CS zoning along Division encourages this, even directly adjacent to R-5 zoning, with no buffer other than a measly five feet. The problem is that Portland zoning is like this just about everywhere, and there is no shortage of properties to develop that will overshadow and burden adjacent neighborhoods, and developers like UD+P have been and will continue to exploit quiet R-5 neighborhoods.

As much as I don't Gerding Edlen's urban renewal shenanagins, their project on the corner of 20th/Hawthorne is an example of high density done right. It provides some parking, and doesn't directly overshadow the adjacent neighborhood.

Some developers recognize the tricky balance that needs to be realized and take time to make good acquisitions accordingly and create projects that will strike a balance with their surroundings. Developers like UD+P often take the easy road and pick up "CS" or similarly zoned properties and maximize to their hearts content, neighborhood be damned. That is a Wal-Mart mentality, and Portland neighborhoods will suffer for it. But, if you really want entertainment, UD+P has really great info on their web site about how much good they do for neighborhoods and how important "walk scores" are. What a laugh.


Why do you consider political leaders and bodies to be separate from "monied interests"?


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