What's happening now

Formerly the home of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the Portland Land Matters blog explores citywide land-use concerns, such as home demolitions, with the belief that development should create an improvement.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

It finally happened

I'm sure it's not the first time, but it was for me, seeing a sign in a yard where a home used to stand that housed people of color.

How to spread the word about these new builds, and what came before them, so people can align their values with their consumer choices?

The years-long demolition epidemic continues unabated, and with it the economic redlining of Portland's neighborhoods, but there is change in the air, more important on City Council, where at least teardown builders can no longer pollute and endanger people's health and kids' IQs with impunity. That's according to rules taking effect July 1 (or earlier), with great faith placed in enforcement.

Black lives matter; so does affordable housing.
Early last month City Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of methods to reduce the spread of hazardous materials during mechanical demolition.

Even though federal studies show demolition dust travels up to 400 feet, under the new rules people living within 300 feet of the plume will be given notice and hopefully can take precautions, even though the particulates that settle on the land around them may yet pose a problem for residents, and future generations. If you know of a demolition, and get notice, do your neighbors a favor who might be a little farther out, and warn them too. You never know which way the wind will blow, and demolitions are allowed to occur as long as the wind registers under 25 mph.

As Mayor Wheeler noted at the February 1 session, "That's a pretty stiff wind."

Teardowns RIP this city

Meanwhile, the Residential Infill Project heads to the Portland Planning Commission.

Attention and enthusiasm for the teardown side seem to be flagging, perhaps because Portlanders are used to following the money trail. As time goes on, and developers' properties languish on the market, there may be fewer contributions to garner needed grassroots support for a teardown blitz mostly brought on by out-of-town interests. Hopefully those developers find that no matter how many former environmental groups are bought along in this process, or no matter the pretty, eager faces hired to drive the drumbeat, Portland people tend to look and think deeper.

As we've lost diversity in our neighborhoods, trees, and community (buyers of the new homes tend to move on soon), the truth emerges at ground level.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The bamboozling goes big-time

Much is happening on the land-use front, with developers going for gold at the local level in Portland, Oregon. You can read much more about it here.

The good news is that there are even more chances to see a fine movie sharing important Portland history lessons. Hopefully masters of the plan mentioned above will watch Priced Out and scrap the city's proposal that would entail yet more Urban Removals.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Farewell, old friend

Every demolition hurts, considering the history that vaporizes with walls that could have sheltered more lives and witnessed more stories. The Ancient Order of United Workmen Temple, which fell to airborne jackhammers and other heavy machinery last month, had ruled the intersection of Southwest Second Avenue and Taylor Street downtown since 1892. What an incredible building it would have been to reuse! What a wasted opportunity.

In this photo essay, Portland photographer Scott Tice documents the building as it left our landscape.

A fantastic reuse opportunity, wasted.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Middle housing also gets demolition treatment

A shiny batch of units rises along the river in Portland, while another resident
pitches a tent. Demolitions remove the affordable in-between.
Courtesy of Stephen Poole.

Midway through the city's troubled Residential Infill Project the term "Middle Housing" became the buzzword. Introduced by the developers' lobby, it also turned into the battle cry for housing activists bankrolled by developers in another all-too-transparent bid to maintain dominance at City Hall and take down more of Portland's viable, affordable housing stock for cheaper construction with a greater rate of return.

The latest list of demolitions shows dozens of units more affordable than what is being built now—the sort that city leaders and staff, not to mention neighborhoods, say we need. Among the properties destined for the landfill are duplexes of that so-called middle housing, apparently not expensive enough for the teardown crowd to keep standing.

In another irony, don't miss the demolition permit issued to the firm that calls itself "Sustainable Development." Has Portland finally jumped the shark? (We do know Portlanders increasingly are jumping ship.)

How long until we say No to the destructive and outsize impacts of this kind of development?

The city's Urban Forestry gang has gone on the offensive looking for ways to stop or reverse an alarming loss of mature urban tree canopy. Going around to the neighborhood association meetings, the staffers harangue neighbors to plant trees, especially the large, old-growth-suitable kind that teardown developers love to raze for cookie-cutter units across the city.

Preserving this neighborhood old growth benefits everyone and requiring it would lead to more creative and site-specific buildings. A more robust, preservation-oriented tree code—instead of the pay-to-clearcut program in place now—could score a win for everyone, even for developers who might be able to make even more money with a plan less out of a plan book and a project more driven by the beauty of an established tree.

We love trees, don't we?


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Here come the 4,375-square-foot bungalows

A pair of Northeast Portland houses illustrates the trend in recent development,
which would proceed unabated under the proposed Residential Infill Project.
I've written more about the Residential Infill Project (RIP) here, but not about its scale provisions.

Planners and proponents of RIP still say that the proposal would limit the size of new construction. But one RIP committee member, architect Sarah Cantine, has found the proposal would do nothing to change the shape of the outsize construction we see now. Listen below starting at 1:26 where she presents the math that finds homes would be "limited" to 4,375 square feet, which no developer builds to these days, not even the new house in the photo above. It's only 3,520 square feet.

In this way RIP doesn't change anything about the size of new construction; it maintains business as usual. Many people want to believe that RIP will address the issue of scale of new construction, especially because planners said it would, but they may not be able to wade through the pages of technical proposal language to find that it isn't so. Hopefully planners will familiarize themselves with the proposal specifications and stop telling people about how new construction will be smaller.

(Also in that same City Council session, at 3:03, neighborhood endorsements of developer- and AirBnB-funded Portland for Everyone are called into question by Cully activist Chris Browne. It's not the first time.)

Hopefully all this will be moot soon if those funding the so-called "affordable housing" effort see the writing on the wall with the new City Council makeup and public awareness of who the RIP proposal is for, and what it is meant to do for the building industry. Given all the saber rattling over the recently adopted inclusionary zoning, developers and the Home Builders Association may have their hands full anyway.

Planners still want to say that measures such as the deconstruction mandate (which only applies to a small percentage of homes being demolished) should assuage anti-demo activists, but we've already seen developers game their way out of that requirement—look out for the "dangerous building" exemption, already applied to save a few thousand bucks and to keep on dusting neighbors and neighborhoods with hazmat the old-fashioned way.

Portland has many creative, caring people who work in construction; it's worth wondering why these folks aren't getting a crack at the playing field. Surely we don't have to settle for the gamers, the polluters, and the people making short-term investments that have long-term impacts on everyone else.

We can do better, and now with new leadership in place, we will.