A vibrant center city needs housing

A city that provides a high quality of life to all of its citizens needs a vibrant Central City. A week before Christmas last year I went to shop in downtown Portland with my son. The sidewalks had more pigeons than people. A week before that, a key City leader said our downtown was just fine. Compared to what?  Phoenix? Detroit? So we got in our car, like everyone else apparently, and drove to the Bridgeport and Washington Square suburban shopping malls where stores were packed. Downtown is successful?


We’re not comparing ourselves to the right cities. In Amsterdam, or Cologne, or Barcelona, downtown housing is everywhere, there are many good center city jobs, sidewalks teem with people, retailers thrive. Let's develop a new Central City Plan by the end of 2008 with a brilliant implementation strategy that focuses on downtown housing and downtown jobs. From that revitalized base, retail and culture will follow. Let’s come up with strategies for our downtown that also have a direct positive impact to our wonderful outlying neighborhoods. Do both at the same time, not one or the other.


Let’s make a Central City Plan that has enthusiastic support from all members of our City Council, and is a collaborative effort with our best talents in urban planning, economic development, business and design. Imagine a new glistening 35 story tower for, say, Google. Columbia Sportswear leaving downtown should have been our wake up call, but there is, amazingly, still little happening. Imagine downtown housing that fills our sidewalks on all days and times, reducing congestion, improving everyone’s quality of life.


Five years ago, I was commissioned by a city agency to develop a plan for our waterfront that aimed to build 2000 units of market rate housing in one of the best places for housing, near downtown with views of the river and waterfront park. Our plan was directly tied to making downtown Portland more successful and stronger. Five years later, not one new housing unit has been built there. This is the time for strong, sustained leadership to realize a vital Central City that benefits all Portlanders.




by Stuart Emmons

The Oregonian Blog, March 11, 2008