Friday, August 28, 2009

The Downtown Plan


Tidbits about The Downtown Plan, found here and there on the World Wide Web:

From American Heritage:
Two years before the 1972 Downtown Plan was passed, the New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable described Portland as a collection of “towers, bunkers and bombsites.” To celebrate the plan’s thirtieth anniversary, the city could adopt a new motto: “We planned. It worked.”
the measures outlined in the city’s 1972 Downtown Plan. The Steel Bridge offers a first glimpse of Tom McCall Waterfront Park, named for the governor who audaciously jackhammered away the unsightly riverside freeway. The first downtown stops are in Old Town and the Yamhill Historic District, which between them have America’s largest collection of cast-iron buildings outside Manhattan’s SoHo. A couple of stops later is Pioneer Place, one of the first of the downtown festival marketplaces that have enhanced so many cities since. Next stop is Pioneer Courthouse Square, which, complete with its speaker’s podium, has become the Hyde Park of Portland.
The Downtown Plan’s most significant accomplishment may be its taming of the automobile. Today, thanks to the guidelines first set down in the 1972 plan, virtually all of Portland’s buildings, even its parking garages, feature ground level retail spaces, turning every sidewalk into a true pedestrian experience. Curb extensions throughout the city make the city’s already narrow streets (20 to 60 feet wide at the broadest) yet more crossable.

From All Experts:
Portland, Oregon's skyline is centered mainly in the southwest district of the city. The skyline is usually viewed to the west, with the west hills in the background and the Willamette River in the foreground.

Portland is unique, in that in its founding, city blocks in downtown were made an even 61x61 meters (200x200 feet). This was to encourage easy walking and make more corner lots, which are more valuable. In addition, Portland's buildings are restricted in height.

The downtown area is usually considered to extend west from the Williamette River to Interstate 405, and south from W. Burnside St. to just south of the PSU campus (also bounded by I-405). Some might consider the South Waterfront area (currently in development) as a potential extension of downtown.

Success vs. Central City Decay
Downtown Portland largely escaped the central city flight (or "urban hollowing") that befell many U.S. cities in the 1970s through a program of aggressive city planning and transportation reform as part of the rather groundbreaking 1972 Downtown Plan (unlike most major downtown revitalization projects throughout the country at this time which normally called for wide-spread demolition and reconstruction). In the early 1970s, Portland's central city was beginning to decay, with the creation of suburban shopping malls in the neighboring cities of Beaverton, Tigard, and Gresham drawing away money and people from downtown. However, the creation of a downtown transit mall (1976) (see Transportation, below), a new waterfront park (1978) later named after Governor Tom McCall, the creation of the Pioneer Courthouse Square (1984), the construction of the Portland-Gresham light rail line in 1986 and the 1990 opening of Pioneer Place Mall successfully drew or retained businesses and lured customers. The downtown, which had been a virtual ghost town after 6pm, is now becoming more and more a vibrant all-hours shopping, dining, and business venue.

This apparent success due to Portland's policies has not been without criticisms. Some charge that the transit mall and increased pedestrian traffic has attracted transient and homeless persons from around the city, and aggressive panhandling has increased, despite periodic police crackdowns. Others argue that a proposed expansion of the transit mall is an unneeded expense, and that parking and traffic problems in the downtown area are an indication of the failure of Portland's transit policies to address growth-related problems.

Despite detractors, the majority of Portlanders believe in the success of its urban policies and many take pride in the accomplishments of the city and its regional planning in creating a very livable urban environment.
The city's downtown is also served by a number of alternate transportation options. Because of its shorter blocks, walking is often preferred by the locals. TriMet, the regional mass transit agency, operates MAX light rail east/west on Yamhill and Morrison street, and north/south on 1st Ave. An extensive transit mall (known as Portland Mall) on 5th and 6th Avenues is closed to cars in many areas and is where over 50 bus lines connect to one another and Portland's suburbs. Plans are currently in place to renovate 5th and 6th Avenues, and the transit mall, to accommodate light rail. This work is completed now.

Additionally, the City of Portland also operates the Portland Streetcar system from Riverplace north into the Pearl District. The system is approximately 8 km (5 mi) long, and an extension in under construction to South Waterfront, a new high-rise district south of downtown that will be connected by aerial tram to Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). The tram is completed now.

This article appeared in the November/December 2005 issue of the SPUR newsletter.

They Planned, It Worked
Learning from Portland’s collaborative approach to local governance

Is there any other city with so many plaques paying homage to planning? On buildings and in plazas one reads about Portland’s 1972 downtown plan, under the heading, “We Planned, It Worked.”
The Downtown Plan
Clearly, Downtown Portland is the glowing centerpiece of planning progress in the metropolis. On typical weekends, thousands assemble for a host of activities, most people using transit for access to this vibrant setting. The plan that was instrumental in making this happen was the Portland downtown plan. Before the 1960s there had been few signs of city improvement downtown. The catalyst for change in that was the leadership of the forward-looking mayor (and later governor), Neil Goldschmidt, who helped fend off competition from a regional supermall, rescue a bankrupt bus company, and prevent large-scale clearance of older historic neighborhoods by redevelopment. Goldschmidt mobilized talented professionals and fostered adoption of the first downtown plan in 1972. It included replacement of a riverfront expressway with parks; offered high-density retail corridors, and promoted transit across downtown; established a university district and other historic districts; and fostered higher-density housing.

The plan called for a downtown bus mall to speed service and allow transfer to other lines, thus tying the downtown and the region together along a north-south axis. The downtown bus mall today seems like a foreign and somewhat disruptive urban element, but it still works well as a transportation artery. With the addition of light rail, first from the east and later the west, both crossing downtown, there was a notable reduction of auto commuting, down to around 50 percent of employees. In 1988, the city adopted a Central City Plan, retaining the focus on urban design, subdistricts, and other elements to make the Central City more livable and walkable.


Don and Krise said...

They had a vision and they're seeing it through. Portland is a wonderful city. Especially for walking or biking. There is so much to see though that every time I am there I feel like I run out of time before I am done.

WendyB said...

It's nice when people plan something and it actually works. I'm not sure I always get that result.

Bernadette Joolen, Beautiful Dreamer... said...

What a wonderful photograph, and a wonderful thing to commemorate. I have always loved portland for that!! cheers from a bigtime walking girl in seattle!~~bernadette...

Anonymous said...

Fab idea. We need that here.

Pick a Peck of Pixels

Chuck Pefley said...

Always nice when the ideas of the city fathers & mothers work out. Portland is indeed a walkable city. Even the hills on the west side are manageable. It's been several years since I've been down and I really should change that soon. Perhaps next month. I'm off to Canada Wednesday on a scooter trip, so my travel plans for the next couple of weeks are already in place. Fall is such a wonderful time to be out and about. Hope all's well in your Rose City, Lynette.