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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Blah blah blah vibrancy blah blah blah

Now the O is going to tell you that after six or seven years, the epically failed SoWhat District is almost starting to feel like a neighborhood:

Ethan Seltzer, professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, points out neighborhoods and our perceptions of them are in constant flux.

"Many would be quick to write off South Waterfront," he says, but think of the Alberta neighborhood. The hordes willing to line up for brunch outside the Tin Shed these days probably don't realize that it sits in a spot that was the epicenter of the crack trade in the 1990s.

How a neighborhood evolves, he says, is only partly a function of its physical layout and arrangement. What makes one neighborhood downright hostile, another innocuous and unremarkable, and another rich with street life and cultural vibrancy, is he says, what the "people who live there commit to do with each other. What are the intentions of the people who inhabit the place?"

Almost. It's coming. Any day now. The hard-to-get-to condo tower jungle is going to be a real destination. The next Alberta. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Comments (36)

A homeless shelter is has diversity, culture, and community. Another attempt to redefine reality to push an agenda.

Hurray for the Hipsters! Thanks for moving into Alberta and getting rid of all those ill intentioned crack fiends.

The reality is the long time residents along Alberta are who chased the crack heads away.
It took lots of hard work on the part of people living there and the PPD.
Some of us remember it as a street lined with bustling small businesses. Long before the hipsters were born.

. . .what the "people who live there commit to do with each other. What are the intentions of the people who inhabit the place?"

I found this comment insulting. What if the intentions of the neighborhood are to retain the character of their neighborhood, difficult to do when the city has "set" it up to ruin it?

South Waterfront will probably be a successful neighborhood in another ten years. Which will then be held up by various planning panjandroms as what we should do. Between the streetcar, tram, the light rail, and rebuilding moody we'll have spent...2 Billion or so on this folly. Of course it will be succesful-it's on the river and had a ton of money dumped into it.

Or compare Interstate versus Williams and Alberta. Millions dumped into max for little gain vs six inches of white paint on bike lanes on Vancouver/Williams and a few thousand on bike corrals on Alberta. Portland has good bones-we just need to force the planners to step aside and let people choose where they want to live.

Quite frankly, I think we have had enough of planning to last for at least a decade if not longer. Too many forced changes have created an intolerable instability in my book and way too much for the population to absorb.

The Oregonian can't get out of its own way. Here they're getting all misty about what the people have decided to do with their neighborhood but read the caption under the picture:

Larissa Butler plants peas in a raised bed at the South Waterfront Community Garden. The garden will move later this year when the land it is located on is prepared for construction.

Sorry, Larissa. Your garden's standing in the way of our plans. Pull your peas up and get out.

She may be fortunate in this respect. Has the soil been tested there to be free of toxins for a garden? Used to be lots of industry down there, most likely has had to be "cleaned" by public dollars, but question is by what standards?

Psychobabble....speech that is heavy in post-structuralist jargon that is heavily based on experience and emotion instead of well-known science.

"Some of us remember it as a street lined with bustling small businesses."

So do I. It was called "earlier today."

the South Waterfront is a food desert

My problem with the whole 20-minute neighborhood thing is that it defines neighborhoods based on commerce. Success is judged on how many places you have to spend money.

But there are only so many "brunch" dollars to go around. You can't have a bustling commercial street every quarter mile. People also need places to just live, in homes big enough to house a family. Nothing hip or sexy, no bike boulevards out front, just living.

I saw this interesting quote from an article on gentrification in Cleveland: "The problem with most city revitalization these days relates to its playbook: there are the investors who have capital, and then the political power from which finance flows.... The main interest of investors is to make money, so people are seen as consumers as opposed to citizens. Consumers that fill up real estate space."

""Many would be quick to write off South Waterfront," he says, but think of the Alberta neighborhood."

OK, Ethan I'll bite. I'm thinking of Alberta, NW 23rd and SE Hawthorne. I'm thinking of the popularity and attractiveness of those neighborhoods and the "vibrancy".

I'm also thinking of how much PDC/City Money went into those neighborhoods. ZERO (or close) handouts.

When do these dumb-a$$es realize you don't design a successful neighborhood in a classroom or govt office? Maybe if they invested in well-run schools we wouldn't be in this state and maybe Portland wouldn't be looking at Hillsboro's rear bumper leaving them behind.

Well put, Steve. Those are some of Portland's historic neighborhood commercial streets. They predate Urban Renewal and the PDC by a hundred years. "Portland Planning" didn't create those places.

"They predate Urban Renewal and the PDC by a hundred years."

A hundred years? NE ALberta, N Mississippi and N Williams can't be 10 years old. Hawthorne's been around a long while and NW 23rd was biker bars 30 years back when Richard Singer took his own money and started developing it.

Portland's a lost cause living in their own bubble.

Keep in mind that Ethan Seltzer's career experience is limited to formulating and selling planning theology. I don't believe he's ever held a job that wasn't supported by the public teet, and probably believes the nonsense he spews. He is perfect for the Patronage center, dutifully preparing the planning priesthood to educate us on how we should live. He, on the other hand, celebrates his compact urban lifestyle in a fou bedroom-three bath home near Jack's.

Alberta was a streetcar suburb. It is basically almost exactly 100 years old, a bit older. The oldest remaining commercial buildings date from 1910 or so.

I believe Mississippi and Williams are similar.

So yes, "100 years before PDC" was an exaggeration. Maybe 50 years.

I saw an advertisement for a brand new version of "Sim City". A crop of future planners can now go into training.

It may not be worth the money spent by the city, but South Waterfront is certainly a better neighborhood than it was 15 years ago.

Alberta Street in the 90's? What a load. I lived around there -- if anything, it's more dangerous now than it was then. Oh, and if you want to be precise, Tin Shed was already in existence and (packing them in) before the turn of the Millennium.

IMHO South Waterfront is a hideous, overpriced, traffic-snarled joke. If you see it as a "vibrant community", then great -- please feel free to buy some land and develop the buildings yourself, and they will come. Leave the rest of us out of it!

It may not be worth the money spent by the city, but South Waterfront is certainly a better neighborhood than it was 15 years ago.

That is debatable. Since we are this city of "visionaries" many envisioned better.
I remember a city leader relating to me the plans they had worked on regarding river-fronts. Why if they had to built there didn't they at least adhere to the height restrictions early planners had in place with the step down concept to the river?
As I recall, wasn't it designated as a greenway? I remember some advocating for just that, for a public park greenway, heaven knows with the density push in the rest of the city that could have been a welcome place and use of open space for events, and landscapes, etc. It would have cost much much less and been a positive addition to our city and neighborhoods. It would not have obliterated the views of Mt. Hood and the river of the residents that had lived in the neighborhoods for years. It could have been a wonderful designed space for the people of our community and tourism. Examples: Sydney Opera House.
Ashland Outdoor Theater.

There is big difference between the streetcar communities of yesterday and today. Decades ago when the automobile was in its infancy, the for profit streetcar systems radiating out from the central city were subsidized by land speculators and developers until build out occurred in the neighborhoods that were served. The streetcar operators even had to pay a fee to the city to place their tracks in the public right-of-ways. Once streetcars became money loosers, the lines were discontinued or replaced by a more flexible for-profit bus system. Although property owners within blocks today’s Portland Streetcar contribute to the system, the majority of funding for streetcar construction and operations comes from taxpayers. Fares play a pittance role in the over all costs for the system. Also, unlike the decades old streetcar communities that were built by the private sector, the social engineered streetcar communities of today receive huge public new development subsidies, funding and incentives that often times equate to a negative impact as it relates to providing basic services for other parts of the city.

"It may not be worth the money spent by the city, but South Waterfront is certainly a better neighborhood than it was 15 years ago. "

Sorry Justin but 15 years ago there were still some good well paying jobs down there. Not politically correct jobs as they were the EVIL industrial types.

I have had the to opportunity to attend a couple functions in SoWhat and the one thing I noticed is the Noise! Try to hold a normal conversation out on the street down there, the freeway noise is deafening.

I'd sure as hell take a condo in the sowhat district over the pearl anytime of day or night, take that as you will...

SoWhat is more like a high-risk organ transplant than a vibrant, organic neighborhood. Only anti-rejection drugs, in the form of continuing cash infusions from the city, keeps it from a blistering case of gangrene. If 51% of our City budget goes to pension plans for police and firefighters, maybe there should be a retirement condo located there for them.

Justin Morton, you must be new or don't know anything about zoning. SoWhat was always zoned industrial. You could call it an industrial neighborhood that existed for almost 150 years. Not until the late 1990s was the zoning changed to allow for your kind of "neighborhood"-that is what the North Macadam Urban Renewal Area Plan expedited.

Andrew S., you aren't far off when you state $"2 billion or so" of public money for SoWhat. Back around 1999 PSU's Milner and others came up with about $1.2 Billion. That didn't include all the additional federal, state, etc. money that has since poured into SoWhat.

What's sad is that very few of the transportation projects identified for SoWhat aren't even off the drawing boards, and certainly not funded. Transportation remedies are a requirement by State Planning Goals to be fulfilled before zone changes, Plans like SoWhat are able to proceed.

How is SoWa a 20-minute neighborhood? It isn't unless you count going to the gym or a restaurant as being able to walk to get all your daily needs met within 1/2 mile. For this, the planners get an F-. Groceries? Now why didn't someone think of that? Oh yeah, there isn't enough population base to support a full-fledged grocery store on the segregated "island". Then how about parking for visitors and shoppers? The people who live in the isolated district do so for a reason, and it isn't vibrancy or accessibility to friends and outsiders, and the shop owners are there as an amenity for the condo buyers, not to make real money.

I had to laugh at Bill's comment about the pea farmer. I know someone who moved to SoWa and counted the community garden as one of its main attractions. This is what being an urban pioneer is all about - urban agriculture! Even that term is a joke... but the only people who are laughing are the ones who can't believe it's a real planning concept. SoWa is where concepts come to die.

As I understand it, the portion underneath the rising higher education buildings, next to the westside lightrail bridge approaches, sits on a brownfield gifted by the Schnitzers to OHSU to escape having to remediate the toxicity. That was left to the public, which evidently assumed that if they isolated the toxic waste on the site by installing a membrane and adding another layer of soil, that people could habitate the toxic brownfield. I suspect that OHSU is assuring all that there will be no adverse health situation arise from this decision.

I'm left wondering where the watertable is under SoWhat, how that interacts with all of the toxic materials accumulated there, and how the next flooding of the Willamette will all affect this new development. Aren't all the mechanical and electronic building controls of all the buildings in SoWhat below river level? I also wonder how a flood would affect the 'remediation' measures taken by the developers of structures on the toxic brownfield.

the South Waterfront is a food desert

LOL. SoWhat is a people desert.

Justin Morton, you must be new.

Not new. Born and raised in Portland. I grew up on 18th and Alberta during the 80's when it was sketchy as hell.

You can argue that the city could have better spent the money it invested in the South Waterfront. I won't disagree. And I certainly don't want to live in SoWhat. It's not my type of neighborhood. But some people love it. (I have friends who just bought a condo down there and they couldn't be happier.) So, I stand by my assertion that the high-rises and medical facilities are an improvement.

But, of course, folks can certainly disagree on this.

Justin, your "it's better than what it was" argument is false. Because those weren't the only two options available.

As I recall, PRIVATE DEVELOPERS were chomping at the bit to build out SoWhat, but then-mayor Katz said no... because what they wanted to build didn't fit her "Portland vision". So instead of having a market-based, privately-funded, tax-paying development, we now have a tax-sucking, publicly-subsidied mess.

I would like to compare North Interstate with M.L.K.

Sure, M.L.K. is a little more "gritty" but I see far more life on M.L.K., more businesses, more neighborhood, more community. Interstate is barren, dry - I am more "uncomfortable" around the people at the MAX stations than I am on any street corner on M.L.K. I see more places to walk to and from on M.L.K. than on Interstate - I see many vacant lots, closed buildings...Kaiser Permanente seems to be a walled fortress with virtually no life outside of their building.

Which one has the light rail? Which one doesn't?

Today I noticed that the Oregonian inserted a copy of a magazine about the Pearl District in the paper. It featured an article about people who live in Pearl penthouses and their fabulous views. None of these people seem to have been born in Portland. One couple moved to The Pearl from Salem to retire but they were both originally from New York and confided that they consider Portland "Little New York."

But the most precious thing about the issue was a two-page map of The Pearl that identified, among other things 16 Dog Stations of one kind or another. I don't know exactly what they are - places where poop bags are located? - but there are 16 of them and not one human public restroom identified on the map.


One couple moved to The Pearl from Salem to retire but they were both originally from New York and confided that they consider Portland "Little New York."

Katz's dream!
By the way, how many of those Pearl penthouses/condos are tax abated?

Today I rode the Macadam bus through SoWhat and found it appalling. First we passed some blocky apartment buildings, then Zidell - heavy industrial - cozied up to the Tram, then lot after lot of cyclone fenced construction equipment and what appeared to be empty or half-constructed buildings. Many of these were located under I-5 with its associated noise and exhaust. It got a little better as we headed south, but it reminded me of the new Gresham near the MAX line and that's not a compliment. Highly artificial and filled with large, blocky, light-and-view-sucking buildings. Many of the business buildings near the south end and on Macadam, apparently built on spec, had For Lease signs on them and almost no tenants (unless they hadn't yet got their names up in front). The fact that there are still small businesses on Macadam means that the SoWhat developers have not succeeded in driving the price of property up to the point of sending them packing. That's a promising development (or lack of any).

I really have to question exactly who would choose to live in SoWhat when there are more attractive alternatives. Even Orenco Station or The Round look more attractive.

Are there tax abated condos in SoWhat?


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