Neighborhoods in Change

“Buildings and neighborhoods and nations are insinuated into us by life; we are not, as we like to think, independent of them.”-Mindy Thompson Fullilove

Since 2012, the Division corridor has undergone a rapid transformation unparalleled in the recent history of Eastside development and well beyond what was envisioned in the Division Green Street/Main Street Plan.  The area between SE 30th and 50th Avenues has seen the arrival of close to 400 new residential units with accompanying commercial spaces.  On one hand, the street has become a vibrant commercial corridor attracting visitors from other parts of the city and the region.  However, for many long-residents, the dramatic transformation of the corridor represents a tsunami of growth that has been quite traumatic, causing a deep sense of loss for the small, locally-serving, “village-like” atmosphere, special streetcar/main street character, eclectic street identity that has shifted seemingly overnight to serve a higher-end level of business and rental market, making it less affordable to local businesses. This loss of affordability has also impacted the housing rental prices, making the new developments out of reach for many renters and causing concerns about gentrification, increased traffic congestion on traditionally quiet residential streets, parking problems and other impacts such as loss of solar access, privacy and displacement of residents.  Of great concern is that the majority of this private development of eight blocks of the Division corridor is in direct contradiction to broad community concern expressed in the media, in public testimony and in neighborhood surveys responses. With few avenues to help shape the changes occurring all around them, there is a good deal of anger and frustration in the Division community, some of it perhaps masking a sense of grief and loss, even of despair. Citizens have deep connections to their neighborhoods and “psychology of place” is important consideration for planners and designers when areas of our city are experiencing rapid growth and change. Hear more about community members think of the recent changes on Division in the results of the Division Perceptions Survey

For Division, some of the breaks in our civic fabric may have happened with the Mt Hood Freeway project that, when ultimately abandoned, led to a fragmentation, displacement, and later disinvestment of public and private improvements for next 40 years. The impacts of this legacy of disinvestment further led to ongoing decline of street and land conditions. It should also be recognized that this history has also contributed to the identity of Division as a small scale, affordable, funky and eclectic, blue collar “maker” street with a collection of scattered historic buildings. With the rapid redevelopment of Division from both public investments in the Division Streetcape project and extensive new private large development projects over the span of 18-24 months, the long-standing neighborhood character and identity as well as social fabric of the neighborhood has been significantly altered. This has left many residents without either the policy or political framework to have a voice in the evolution of their neighborhood. This has caused a crisis within the local Division community that some may paint as growth/no growth, density/anti-density. We see this same crisis reflected citywide. In an effort to help shift the dialogue away from complexities that polarize communities when discussing issues of density to the fundamental importance of DESIGN, ideally focusing less on where we may be divided towards what we can agree upon as shared goals. By creating design guidelines that help us connect to our history, sense of place, and unique identity we hope to help heal some of these impacts and collectively shape a common vision for the future evolution of Division.

Another important avenue for influencing change is through policy advocacy with the City of Portland. With the Comprehensive Plan Update (our 20-year plan for growth) up for public testimony, we encourage community members to read our overarching Top Ten Policy Recommendations for the City of Portland to learn more about proactive policy approaches we might all consider to create more density with fewer impacts.

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