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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Los Angeles leads the way

At a time when the hearings for the proposed new Comprehensive Plan verge on the farcical—neighbors talk of their desire to see new construction sit back from the street as original homes do, and preservation of open space that allows for mature trees to keep on growing, while city planners nod respectfully and take little of it to heart or the plan itself—it's become clear that the mostly out-of-town developers have the city's ear more than Portland residents do.

Los Angeles is instituting another round of rules on new home
construction after the first "McMansion laws" allowed
developers to go even bigger. Last week the City Council there
voted unanimously for a two-year moratorium on building 
and demo permits in five districts. Portland should look south
for inspiration.
Photo from www.beverlygrove.org.
Proof: The recent push to add "bonuses" in building height if developers do something right by the neighborhood (this approach backfired in Los Angeles, where the first round of so-called "McMansion laws" failed because those bonuses led to even bigger homes, the opposite of what the new rules had intended). It's almost as if developers working over Portland can't be counted to make good buildings anymore, ones that contribute to their environs instead of merely exploiting them. Let's raise expectations for those building here.

More proof: City planners stage meetings in already great neighborhoods with the stated purpose of engaging neighbors in "capacity building"—trying for some kind of Stockholm syndrome, I guess. These meetings aren't about "improving" a neighborhood; it's about squeezing as many people in as possible, providing more profit for trash-and-build developers, and fueling the record-breaking number of home demolitions to make way. On this block alone in Northeast Portland, I've seen what "capacity building" does—it turns a leafy narrow street into a parking lot for an out-of-code project that externalizes costs (i.e., parking) to the detriment of a neighborhood's earliest investors. Seniors and families on this street no longer are assured easy access to transportation, spots for caregivers to park, and other services.

An in-depth study of three cities (Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.) by the National Trust for Historic Preservation proves the many benefits of keeping original "first-growth" construction.

From the summary:
"Based upon statistical analysis of the built fabric of three major American cities, this research finds that established neighborhoods with a mix of older, smaller buildings perform better than districts with larger, newer structures when tested against a range of economic, social, and environmental outcome measures."
"Neighborhoods containing a mix of older, smaller buildings of diverse age support greater levels of positive economic and social activity than areas dominated by newer, larger buildings."
The study mentions particular benefits of neighborhoods with older, small buildings:

nightlife is most alive
increased number of entrepreneurs
a creative economy
businesses with two times women and minority ownership
more non-chain establishments
more jobs in small businesses

Before Portland turns into Anytown, USA, let's hope city planners look at the wide range of research available, even their own studies; the one excerpted below points out that Portland has enough available vacant land to meet its projected housing needs twice over without demolishing a thing. So please no more blaming demos on the urban growth boundary.

Thanks to Amber Leonard/Stop Demolishing Portland Facebook group for the research.

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