A Question of Character

Last night, the Portland City-Wide Land Use Group, a group predominately made up of land-use representatives from Portland’s 95 neighborhood associations, met to discuss the issue of Neighborhood Character and how it might be better defined in the Portland Plan. This is certainly a great issue to have on the table and it is our hope that many people will contribute to the discussion in the coming months.

For its part, the City has a definition for “desired character” already written into the thick volume of zoning code language also known as Title 33.

Here’s that definition:  “The preferred and envisioned character (usually of an area) based on the purpose statement or character statement of the base zone, overlay zone, or plan district. It also includes the preferred and envisioned character based upon any adopted area plans or design guidelines for an area.”

The first thing one might notice is that there does not appear to be any consideration of existing conditions in a given area. Instead, the emphasis is on “preferred and envisioned” or what folks at the City might want an area to be, whether it has any of those characteristics to begin with or not.

So here’s where you can help us help the City. If you have a personal take on what neighborhood character means to you or how you would define it, please post your comment to this blog post or email it to me: Valb@visitahc.org .

There’s no need to share your name if you don’t want to, but please do let us know what neighborhood you live in, so we have some point of reference when we relay your comments.

Thanks and have a Happy Thanksgiving!




Filed under Historic Preservation, Infill Development, Local History, Modernism + The Recent Past, Sacred Spaces, Schools, Sustainability

3 responses to “A Question of Character

  1. Regarding character in my neighborhood (Overlook), as density and economic factors have encouraged developers to plan large multifamily structures here, I have a concern that existing scale is considered for development in existing residential neighborhoods, even those that are transit-oriented.

    I also have a concern that the existing tree canopy is preserved and enhanced, first, by encouraging (perhaps by financial incentive?) preservation of existing trees and secondly, by requiring larger developments to plan for and include large-caliper trees when re-landscaping.

  2. The group met again last evening, with the discussion revolving around what attracted people to their individual neighborhoods and what keeps them there. In many cases people moved to their specific neighborhood for economic reasons but what keeps them there ranges from access to nature and transit, to intact original architecture and landscapes.

    Clearly the subject of neighborhood character is difficult to put a specific finger on and the variety of neighborhoods in the city only makes the discussion even more challenging. Still, I think that one way for the City to get a handle on the Neighborhood Character issue, would be for them to ask the individual neighborhoods what matters most to them. In this way, neighborhoods could be empowered to identify landmarks, gateways, landscapes, buildings, or whatever else they see as important to their identity.

  3. I have to second Jane’s points –

    I think trees are a large part of neighborhood character and wouldn’t mind if street trees were required to be replaced, especially in front of commercial properties (like the dentist down the street from me.

    Building height is another large part of the neighborhood character. A tall building was just constructed nearby and if it were just a little closer to our house, I would be really annoyed by it. Sunshine is such a commodity here.

    It seems to me that there are pockets where we already have somewhat larger commercial buildings, many of which are unoccupied. These are the areas where we have opportunity for more density with apartments over retail/office. Instead of wedging oversized buildings into old residential neighborhoods, let’s maintain the integrity and scale of the existing neighborhoods where there are larger numbers of older homes.

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