20-Minute Community on Portland’s inner fringe

For the past several months, I’ve been working with a community here on the edge of what is known as ‘inner Portland’. While many of Portland’s inner neighborhoods have redeveloped, many gentrifying in the process, this area hasn’t yet taken off — which is a blessing in some ways. There are structural and organizational reasons for this… The street grid kind of falls apart at this point on the city map. The area has been recast from agricultural to commercial to industrial to commercial again, resulting in a patchwork of zoning and building types. Also, the district high street – seemingly the center of the community – serves as the political boundary for 3 different neighborhood councils, leaving it a peripheral priority.

Portland is trying to be North America’s most walkable city by employing a vision for 20-minute communities in much of its current planning. There’s a lot of power in this idea, and if done right, it can be influential beyond the Rose City. The key though, as I see it, is not to embellish Portland’s thriving boutique districts, but instead to strengthen the places that are lacking structural riches. If the city can do this, it will have accomplished something that can inform planning everywhere.

The following is a slideshow I put together detailing some of the challenges we face in my district. I’m currently working on land use and general design recommendations, building largely on the opportunities that exist. Over the coming months, I’ll be sharing some of my work through SketchUp, drawings, writing, etc. Any thoughts, general or specific are encouraged.

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10 Responses to “20-Minute Community on Portland’s inner fringe”

  1. Vanessa said:

    Oct 27, 10 at 6:25 pm

    This is really interesting stuff. I hope you make a sequel that gets more into specific problems and potential solutions.

    Also – love the music.

  2. Dean said:

    Nov 17, 10 at 4:38 am

    Nice presentation!

    A couple of suggestions -

    Maybe have the pictures come up a little slower, particularly for some of the important ones or where you are highlighting an issue. This might allow the viewer a little more time to concentrate on each point you are making.

    Could you circle or highlight in some way the significant points in some of the main pictures – eg why it is or is not pedestrian friendly.

    Good luck

  3. Mike said:

    Nov 17, 10 at 8:13 am

    Thanks for the kind words and suggestions. This was put together pretty quickly one afternoon using iMovie, my laptop’s internal mic and some photos we’d had on file (+ some Flickr pics) — so there’s definitely room for improvement. Perhaps I’ll clean it up a bit and incorporate your ideas, which would certainly make things clearer. Thanks!

  4. Jason Graf said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 1:39 pm

    I think you have stumbled on an interesting paradox where the busy street that can support neighborhood retail, services and employment is located along the border of adjacent neighborhoods- I have been very curious to see how the planning bureau would identify and then codify the 20 minute neighborhood. It is great to see someone taking a look at their own neighborhood. I am a resident of north Portland and well versed on the existing, emerging, and yet to emerge neighborhood “centers/corridors”. I have a lot of experience in neighborhood planning, revitalization and urban design (15 yrs)and would be able to volunteer my time toward you endeavor if needed.

    Great work!

  5. ciara said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 1:44 pm

    I love this concept! One of the main reasons I moved to Portland but please talk to your art department there. The viedo needs some love.

  6. Filling in the Pieces for a 20-Minute Neighborhood « PDX Planning Commissioner said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 9:17 pm

    [...] A great citizen-created video on what needs to happen to create 20-minute neighborhoods outside the ‘traditional’ Portland neighborhoods. [...]

  7. Some of our 2010 activities… « 42nd Avenue Main Street said:

    Nov 19, 10 at 11:23 am

    [...] DeMarco created a wonderful video that describes our vision and challenges, posting it on a blog devoted to city planning [...]

  8. Mike said:

    Nov 23, 10 at 6:02 pm

    @Jason – Thanks for checking out the video and commenting! We could definitely use your input somewhere along the line as we figure this thing out. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for an intersection repair in the near future as a sort of kickoff for more concerted efforts to improve the district. We’re also working on some transportation and land use analysis. In either case, we’d very much appreciate any thoughts you might have. Please feel free to contact me — mike(at)planningpool.com.

  9. r.d. said:

    Dec 20, 10 at 1:39 pm

    “The key though… [is] to strengthen the places that are lacking structural riches. If the city can do this, it will have accomplished something that can inform planning everywhere.”

    Indeed, it would be a coup to improve such places without “boutique-ifying” the neighborhood.

    But how do you strengthen such places (like your district) without some form of boutique-ification–gentrification–in the improvement process?

    Improving walkable access would typically include improved access to a broader mix of more human-scaled stores and services–boutiques in many cases. This improved access increases surrounding property values; thus, improvements equal gentrification (at least some form of it).

    That said, can you offer ideas on how to “improve” the walking accessibility of a neighborhood while avoiding gentrification?

  10. Mike said:

    Dec 20, 10 at 2:45 pm

    That’s the question… How do you improve a neighborhood (add value) without increasing the cost of land and, thus, living? Simply stated, improving accessibility will increase land value. Period. However, by providing enhanced access to affordable housing and promoting the skills/talents of community members through collaborative economic development, we hope to give more people a real, lasting stake in district improvement. That’s why the 20-Minute Neighborhood concept shouldn’t become a cookie-cutter solution, but must represent a deeper commitment to identify community needs in varying circumstances and should the be tailored within those parameters. Surely there are universal community needs — access to food, medicine, education, etc. — but access to opportunities beyond these should be subject to area context. Attracting appropriate investment, supporting local entrepreneurship and building a cohesive vision can hopefully help dampen gentrification. Though we have no delusions that accomplishing these things will be easy, our chances of minimizing displacement can only be improved by a proactive, inclusive and organized approach.

    We’re developing some concrete ideas related to our district, but it’d take a little too much explanation for the comments section. Feel free to contact me if you’re particularly interested in our developing strategies. Of course, any thoughts you might have would be appreciated — it’s definitely a rich topic.