Event Recap: The Path to 2035

As Portland continues to grow, it seems that not a week goes by without some sort of development news or controversy. From questions of density and height to the redevelopment of former industrial neighborhoods on both sides of the river, Portlanders have a lot to say about what they want and even more to say about what they don’t want. As professionals in AEC & related industries, we have a direct impact on the future of Portland.

Last week’s panel discussion, The Path to 2035: A Discussion on Keeping Portland’s Charm Amid Growth & Development, offered attendees insight into how several industry leaders are approaching their work these days. Moderated by Portland Business Journal editor Suzanne Stevens, the five panelists discussed what made some projects successful, offered ideas on what Portland could do better, and posed questions for everyone to think about where Portland is headed.

Panelist Dorothy Faris, a principal and landscape architect at multi-disciplinary firm Mithun, shared her experience working with the Pearl District Neighborhood Association on the recently completed mixed-use project, Heartline. The original concept for the project was housing, but the neighborhood stepped in and requested some office space. Dorothy credits the developer for their willingness to listen to – and incorporate – the neighborhood feedback, ultimately resulting in a mixed-use project embraced by the residents.

Developers traditionally think in a cost-per-square-foot mindset when accounting for the construction costs. But Brad Malsin, principal of Beam Development, encouraged everyone to think about the cost-per-square-inch, emphasizing the need for efficiency to reduce the impact of rising construction costs. When you plan a development that mixes housing, retail, and office space, you can increase density and reduce traffic issues. Beam’s recent development at the Burnside Bridgehead, Slate, does just that. Slate combines ground floor retail with coworking space and apartments, allowing the residents 24/7 access to office amenities. As the remote workforce continues to grow and take advantage of flexible jobs, a tenant has everything they need in one building and no use for a car to facilitate a traffic-jammed commute.

As Portland positions itself to appeal to tech start-ups and innovators, height and density are important factors to consider. As a Senior City Planner for the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability and an architect of the 2035 Central City Plan, Rachael Hoy is very familiar with the pros and cons of changing height restrictions in the City’s downtown district. A recurring challenge, though, is the lack of green space in the downtown core. Incorporating green space and public right of way plans into a development can help offset some of the concerns about vertical height creating a feeling of overwhelm for the neighborhood.

This surge of development brings a lot of positives to the city, such as the development of surface parking lots that the City was eager to build on many years ago. But if you’ve spent any time near SW 10th & Morrison lately, you’ll know why folks may not be as enthusiastic about the development as they once were. The quintessential Portland dining experience – the food truck – has become a beloved foodie destination for both locals and tourists. Iain Mackenzie, architect at TVA Architects and author of NextPortland.com, is hopeful that these tiny institutions will live on in a different way, perhaps re-imagined in a food hall a la Pine Street Market. (As a hungry Portlander, I am hopeful of the same!)

But not all of Portland’s growth is high-rise, downtown towers. The urban infill project aims to find small pockets of opportunity in existing neighborhoods, allowing duplex and triplex homes on lots previously zoned for single family dwellings. These types of units are appealing to those looking for non-traditional housing options such as Dave Otte, principal at Holst, who highlighted the growing need for multigenerational housing. As a family with growing kids and aging parents, the convenience of having three generations in one home is clear; unfortunately, housing options that can accommodate that familial structure (while also remaining affordable and in a convenient location to work) are in short supply.

After an hour-long conversation between our panelists and several questions from the audience, Suzanne posed one final question to the group: what are you most hopeful about? Dave & Dorothy gave voice to what is on the mind of every Portlander – do we see housing as a human right? We pursue environmental resilience in our designs with the ability to withstand natural disaster. But can we achieve social resilience? It is our obligation to not only say we want a solution but to participate in the hard work of finding one.

As Brad reminded us, the book of Portland is not yet written. Seattle’s book has been written, San Francisco’s book has been written, but there is still hope and opportunity for Portland’s book.

SMPS and the Programs Committee would like to thank Suzanne Stevens for moderating the event, as well as the esteemed group of panelists: Dorothy Fairs, Brad Malsin, Rachael Hoy, Iain Mackenzie, and Dave Otte. The committee would also like to thank R&H Construction for sponsoring this event.

All photos courtesy of Cheryl McIntosh Photography | www.greatthingsaredone.com 

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