Portland, Gateway to Copenhagen, Amsterdam…

…Gronningen, Greifswald, Lund, Assen, Münster, Utrecht, Västerås, Ferrara, Malmö, Linköping, Odense, Basel, Osaka, Bremen, Bologna, Oulu, Munich, Florence, Rotterdam, Berne, Tübingen, Aarhus, Tokyo, Salzburg, Venice, Pardubice, York, Dresden, Basel, Ghent, Parma, Bern, Cambridge, Graz, Berlin, Strasbourg, Turku, Stockholm.

Stockholm

Stockholm

All cities that have 10%-55% biking mode share and it’s growing. They all have vibrant music scenes, from heavy metal to jazz to classical. They all have extensive art, museums and places of learning. They all have exceptional standards of living, and livability that’s off the charts.

Getting around in Copenhagen. Not many cars stuck in traffic, but lots of people getting to where they need to and enjoying the heck out of life doing so.

Getting around in Copenhagen. Not many cars stuck in traffic, but lots of people getting to where they need to and enjoying the heck out of life doing so.

All of these places are destination cities for expats that regularly go through Portland first. People in the United States that are sick of the absurd auto-dependency often have a very familiar and growing pattern of travel. They leave whatever place they were born in the United States and head to Portland, Oregon. It is after all one of the most travelled to and moved to cities in the United States. It’s the only city in the United States that has managed a net gain of immigrating American resident versus San Francisco (which means more people immigrate from San Francisco to Portland than from Portland to San Francisco, every other city loses residents to San Francisco nationally).

A recurring theme. Cities with high livability and exceptionally high happiness scores all are rooted in active populations. Making scenes like this small parking lot of bikes (several hundred are here) a common site.

A recurring theme. Cities with high livability and exceptionally high happiness scores all are rooted in active populations. Making scenes like this small parking lot of bikes (several hundred are here) a common site.

The flow, at this point in history, then stops for the most part. However there is a steady trickle of people turning into expats in the aforementioned cities. Because of biking. Because of art. Because of belonging. Because of lifestyle and access to amenities. Because of standard of life and actually living a full life. Because of not being stuck in a lifeless American suburb. That all leads me to the next point…

Stand up Portland, Competitive Yes?

That’s nice that we, as a city of neighborhoods and communities with a huge community involvement over the US in general, have created a better than normal standard of life than the rest of the US. But we pale in comparison to the cities mentioned above. Copenhagen is world class in every regard, so is Amsterdam, neither are exponentially bigger or have any reason – other than they’ve worked together to create what they have as a people, as a city – than Portland does. Any city in the US for that matter.

But we need to look at what spiral we’re in as a city. We need to keep pushing not just for biking. We need to build focus on art, music and more. We need to allow these things to expand with arbitrary invisible brick walls stopping people from enjoying them. Is there any reason a 15 year old shouldn’t have reasonable performance options for their music? Should we actually be stymied by absurd lack of art and music funding in schools? Why do we hold on to our auto-dependency like the crutch that it is toward better lives?

Portland has a lot of room to improve, it has a lot of things on the plate. I made a decision a few months back after visiting Scandinavia that I’d give Portland a few years – and I’d bust my ass trying to organize, advocate, activate, and otherwise build this city to something more. We need to work as a city to prevent it from merely being a gateway to places that truly are so far ahead of our dear city in so many ways. We can have leadership in design, excel in opportunities, enjoy and create music and art, and get around without killing each other too, but we’ve really got to step up.

Simply, I’d love to live in Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but I was born in the US and I’d like to give it my all to make Portland a worldwide leader, not just a US leader in livability and lifestyle options. That’s not enough for me, and shouldn’t be for any American.

Things that drag this city down... we're still paying for the sprawling mess of yesteryear's plan of highway development. Desecrated business, clumps of car lots and dependency on a completely unsustainable system

Things that drag this city down… we’re still paying for the sprawling mess of yesteryear’s plan of highway development. Desecrated business, clumps of car lots and dependency on a completely unsustainable system

…all that said, I’m off to do some advocating and activism organizing. Keep up the fight Portland, we’ve got a long way to go and a lot of things to get done to get there. I’d love to say one day, see the immigration in and out of the city of Portland and not see a single expat to one of those wonderful cities, knowing their happily staying here in Portland helping to build the city into something more. Being able to know that we share much with those cities, but stand as a peer with respect then merely as a follower of the grand cities.

With that, I’m off to do some of that advocating now… cheers!

Town Centers, Lents, Division Street and Portland Chaos Machine, Nobody’s Happy (Which Isn’t True)

Today I dove into the middle of a conversation on twitter. Twitter, it seems to be the conversation machine of short blurbs and broken context. So this blog entry is actually dedicated to the conversation that started off, at least for me, with this tweet.

The Mount Hood Freeway Gave Us Modern Day Division

That tweet was actually a response to Tony’s @twjpdx23 tweet of “The Mt. Hood Freeway did the whammy on that street and what we’re seeing now is repair, IMO.” which was in reference to Division Street. Which is interesting as Division Street and the entire neighborhood was supposed to be replaced to put in an Interstate from south downtown Portland that then would run out to I-205. I-205 of course is there, the Interstate that was supposed to replace Division Street was stopped. Then thousands of people lived there, and would have their houses taken and been forced to move, and today thousands plus thousands more live on this street in this corridor in one of the most sought after neighborhoods in the metro region.

Division Street however has had declarations that it is gentrifying to the simple hipster moniker of “it’s so over”. It’s important to note how little has actually been lost that was residences on Division, almost all new apartment buildings and retail on the base of those buildings replaced something Tony pointed out with this tweet.

Division was a pseudo wasteland. Sure some people lived along the street but it contained a lot of junk yards with dead automobiles, lots with empty businesses that had been boarded up and several buildings that were used as really cheap storage for junk. These were buildings that did nothing for the surrounding community. There were also several auto shops that were shuttered, and if I recall a gas station or two that were also shuttered. Arguable, this was all shut down or lost business because of the Mount Hood Interstate threat, but whatever the case, Division was a cost center and not a contributor to the overall city as a whole. That however has already changed very quickly.

In many ways, Division Street has become another Portland street that has the standard popular Portland establishments at retail level amid a number of brand new 3-4 story apartment complexes that line the street. These apartment complexes are all without automobile parking. There have been a number of complaints about these apartments, from their outwardly plain and disgusting appearance to people being horrified that people might move in with cars and park them in the free on street parking. Which the later fear is coming true, they are indeed parking some of their cars in the free, publicly funded, publicly accessible on street parking.

The neighborhood of course feels entitled to their parking, which of course is publicly funded, publicly accessible street space that is allocated by the city for on street parking. No individual owns these parking spaces, they belong to the city and thus the people. Anybody can technically park there and they absolutely have the right to do so.

One of the other twists is that most of the houses that exist in the neighborhood were built when the neighborhood was originally built as a streetcar suburb. Which means the sidewalks, roadways, the now removed tracks, the initial public spaces like parks, sewer, and other items were paid for by that generation of residents and the streetcar companies and developers. Along with that, being they had easy access to a streetcar and little need for purchasing power to buy up a bunch of cars, nobody had garages. So this only adds to the current residents feeling entitled to on street parking. The city of course has exacerbated this feeling and ideal among the citizenry because they took over street maintenance, sidewalk maintenance and other amenities in light of the streetcar systems and developers being – in effect – destroyed generations ago.

Summary:

The Mount Hood Freeway project and others were stopped by the community with the help of anybody and everybody that would aid them. This was done during a period of mass protests against the destruction of neighborhoods in cities displacing thousands upon thousands of people, drawing lines and segregating people throughout cities and condemning the poorest of the population. Portland was one of the cities that stopped this perverse march forward that the United States was undertaking at the time.

By doing so, just the declaration of an Interstate going in on Division set in motion actions that would snuff out Division for decades to come. Division, after all those years of being devalued, is now being rebuilt. This is how it is turning out, and it is turning out this way from tons of input from citizens over there years. But of course, those not involved are now complaining the loudest, albeit we’re not even sure exactly what the result of these developments will bring us.

Conclusion: 

  1. The Mount Hood Freeway being gone is a damn good thing. I’ve not met a single person that says the project would have been a good thing, and I’ve met many hundreds and hundreds of people that I have discussed this with since I moved to Portland in 2001. Before that on visits I’d even heard about the mythic Mount Hood Freeway, always talked about with disdain. Safe to say, good riddance.
  2. The current development, my conclusion is that I’m going to hold my vote on whether it’s the catastrophe some are making it out to be. I know for a fact there is an increase of car-free individuals living in those car-free apartments. There are many people that have moved here from as far as Australia, North Carolina and as close as Hawthorne on over to Division. Many people love the retail along the street, and many love Pok-Pok, Whiskey Soda Lounge and the other extremely local establishments along the street. It’s still very much an amazing and awesome neighborhood.
  3. My opinion on how the apartments look and how they hang over the street however is that they’re disgusting. Someone did a really bad job of their design and it does look like shit. They’re just too close to the street, overshadow and cut out too much light at street level for such a small street as Division.

Taxes Maintaining the Status Quo

So now we have an entitled population that demands all of these services, has no insight to their actual cost and screams loudly that they must have these amenities. Fortunately for Division Street residents they have already made changes and started the process of getting what’s theirs! Because we all know, as Hart Noecker pointed out during the conversation,

Which in large part it’s pretty hard to disagree, if we look at the data, the tax money generally stays or moves in two ways.

  1. It eventually ends up back where it started, but usually devalued as it sat in float in Government hands for weeks, months or years in some cases. You can bet, whatever it is you pay to Government, by the time it actually gets used in the economy to have something happen, it’s a good 5-30% less valuable then when you handed it over (had it taken) in taxes.
  2. It floats up. This is the other very likely occurrence. An absurd amount of taxes goes to keep an unsustainable military afloat and a massive corporate welfare check that needs cut every month. Sometimes, in some weird perverse way this ends up going into the economy, unfortunately also usually when it has been devalued to some degree and buys less than what we’d have hoped to get for it.

This tweet also pointed out how money stays in Cora’s @bungalowranch region via Metro, which alludes to the previously stated observations of tax revenue flow.

So in the end, yeah, taxes generally act as a maintainer of classist society the way the United States has them setup – keeping people in their particular stratus in the whole hierarchy of things.

Summary:

Current tax structure sucks at providing upwards mobility to citizens in the United States. It doesn’t server the poor to lift them up effectively nor does it serve the middle class except to devalue and redirect funds in ways that usually don’t follow back around to actually lifting up the middle class.

Conclusion:

Taxes, specifically the way they’re setup in the US and in some part Oregon/Portland are kind of just crappy.

So thus, I digress, it’s an important point in the conversation but back to Division Street and on to Lents…

Division to Lents Neighborhood

Division Street has since stopped almost entirely any new apartment buildings being added that will have no parking. They’ve re-added parking minimums increasing the cost of construction for any new buildings. They’ve already started to limit various new projects and the comprehensive plan which would or will allow rezoning of areas is currently being discussed (as I mentioned in a previous entry). Overall we all get to see now how Division will continue to develop and if it will be an example to mimic or learn what not to do in the future.

But that leads me to the next comment that was made that I had to disagree with. Love the Division Street development or not, this one threw me a curve ball, as it seemed to conflate things in ways that happens somewhat frequently.

Now, being Twitter, I’m not declaring that I know 100% Cora’s full context here. Based on our conversation she’s an intelligent individual, so I don’t want to front load context here but…

Division has primarily been built up by private developers. There has been some public money funneled into repaving the street, sewer, street clean up, fixing bus stops and other amenities. Just like Lents got, to the tune of about $96 million dollars per Willamette Week’s article Razed & Confused. Now that $96 million was primarily public money, which is nowhere near what is being spent on Division. However the private money, if Lents was deemed worth investing in and the red tape wasn’t too thick, would gladly follow to the area. In many ways, it is very possible that it does, however…

Lents still has zoning issues and related concerns that Cora points out. But it all points back to what I tweeted and attempted however poorly to explain (again, I blame the inability forming cohesive thoughts on the weakness of twitter and the annoyance of conversing with 104 characters per statement). I had stated that the private money, which is the primary force developing the Division Street retail, residential and other establishments right now is not something that isn’t available to Lents. If there is an area worth investing then private money will become available, it’s how the American economic system of banking and capital investment works for the private sector.

It seems there is a notion that the city, which the city leaders are somewhat mistaken in this regard too, can somehow direct private funds to specific jobs to city build or town center build. These however are things that are built not by some far removed city core, but by the community of neighbors that live around that particular town center. Not by the metropolitan core which is embodied in Metro. So…

Summary:

The city of Portland, through Trimet, Metro and other entities can’t whimsically turn a designated area into the next Hawthorne District of help Lents magically recover after the Federal Government and Portland wrecked the city when they shoved I-205 directly on top of the town and annexed it (re: Lent History). Especially when the zoning has been left all out of whack, car focused and otherwise broken to actually rebuild a town and respective modern town center in the area. People that live in Lents however should comment on the 2030 Comprehensive Plan thoroughly to provide as much planning detail on the problems they see and on how to fix them as they possibly can at the http://www.portlandmaps.com/bps/cpmapp2/!

Conclusion:

The Division Street build out has likely displaced many people because of rising rents. However the development that has gone on there has in no way been removed from development money that went into Lents. Lents simply needs zoning fixes and has a fight before it to truly redevelop well in the face of current issues.

To learn more about Lents and dive into this battle and help the area become a great neighborhood (not that it isn’t) that is based on a great town center ideal that provide people greater livability, check out these resources:

Action Item: Now I’m hellbent in getting up to speed on the Lents area, I’ve still got a bit to read.

Halloween Time in Portland’s (The World’s?) Smallest Park

Use Instagram? Follow me for more oddball photos of all sorts of things. You can bet your keister they’ll be transportation related! …ya know, and miscellaneous other surprises.

Trimet is Taking Your Input & Preparing for Bus Route Changes… Have You Weighed In?

Bus on Route 70 Heads North from Milwaukie

Bus on Route 70 Heads North from Milwaukie

Here’s some of the suggestions that are in the lead to actually be implemented. People have pushed for more weekend service on the 19 route, they want the 31 and 33 to create one new line that will increase service and frequency on Harrison Street and King Road, which would then serve to connect Clackamas Town Center. You too can weigh in easily by going to the http://trimet.org/alerts/pmlrbuschanges/index.htm page and just click any of the “Weigh In” bubbles to the right of each route description and an email with a pre-populated subject line will appear. Add your comment (and likely your name, address and where you do or plan to live in that area and how it would affect or effect your daily travel).

I’m of the mindset, since I’m planning a move to the area (see previous article), that the 19 is in serious need of increased service (provide input email, just click here). Currently the route between downtown, across the Ross Island Bridge, then down to Sellwood and out to Woodstock (and points beyond) is important for many. I imagine with the light rail, the travel patterns will change between Woodstock and Sellwood, and Woodstock or Sellwood and downtown Portland. The main reason being, the transfer will alter the flow of travel options. Providing a new way to get to Milwaukie or downtown Portland in a dramatically more timely fashion for many in Sellwood. Also the Woodstock to downtown and any other line that connects to the light rail will have a faster trip in many ways. Simply put, there is a great potential to increase ridership in this area in pretty dramatic ways.

I myself in moving forward with my sleuth hat on, to see what I can do to help organize riders groups for transit usage advocacy and also, one may safely assume, bicycle advocacy. Also to note, where other input is being gathered includes future suggestions for the entire southeastern area of the city.

This site about southeastern improvements also includes a small section about the Powell-Division Transit Project. This project, in my opinion is extremely overdue. The #4 and #9 already are packed everyday, run long hours and provide a ton of service to two of the higher ridership lines. In the morning these buses are packed tight with people getting into and out of downtown. There is not really an easy way to increase ridership without some real changes. Trimet & Metro have more information about this proposed project on this site.

…stay tuned, I’ll definitely have more on this Powell-Division Transit Project in the very near future, as I know many others along with myself use this corridor a lot!

Only 24% of Portlanders Want Suburbs, But 48% are Stuck Living There From Lack of Options!

Recently another article came out via OregonLive, “Most metro-area residents live in suburbs, but wish they didn’t: study“, that actually reflects something interesting about our living style here in Portland. The key measurement I’ve noted is that this article differentiates between town center neighborhood living versus suburban living. This is one of the biggest differentiators that often doesn’t come up between suburban and urban living. You see, town center living is dramatically more comparable to urban living versus suburban living.

In the poll, only 24% of respondents actually wanted to live in suburbia, but sadly 48% live in suburbia for a host of reasons. The number one reason is because we’ve funneled an absurd amount of resources into building an untenable road system that perpetuates (through subsidies and other related hand outs) suburban lifestyles – regardless of the fact that many people don’t actually want that type of lifestyle.

This study should be a key indicator to developers and the city politicians, the two areas of growth that are in demand include urban, town center development, and rural styles of life. Which means simply, there should be an all-hands stop of any new suburban style development and we should focus on urban and town center style developments. By doing so we support the option of rural lifestyle by doing so!

So many other tenants for the future of development in Portland can be derived from this data. Fortunately, the city continues to move in the right directions. The real question is will Washington and Clackamas County move in the same direction to protect rural life styles and not allow their suburban development to destroy the rural life style that remains? Will Portland be able to build appropriate town centers and urban areas up enough to handle the influx of new residents?

As always, it seems we’ll get a chance to see!

5 Reasons the Portland Milwaukie Light Rail Project already Rocks!

Crossing the Hawthorne on the #4 looking south toward the Marquam, Tilikum, and Ross Island Bridges.

Crossing the Hawthorne on the #4 looking south toward the Marquam, Tilikum, and Ross Island Bridges. (click the image for full size image, or the respective bridge names for their Wikipedia entry)

I left about 11:30am today to get some lunch and take care of some coding, video taking, and some exploration. I’d been meaning to get into Milwaukie to check out how the work has been going on the Portland Milwaukie Light Rail (PMLR) line. I also wanted to snap some photos and video of the area. It turned out, I was in luck. I was able to get a lot of this done along with getting a few shots and commentary put together for numerous different parts of the Portland Milwaukie Light Rail line.

So here are a few of my discoveries…

Continue reading

Clinton Street @ 28th : Commenting on the 2035 Comprehensive Plan

28th & Clinton (click for full size image)

28th & Clinton (click for full size image)

Another comment I left on the Comprehensive plan went like this,

“This is another node that is great now. However it is another reason I left the neighborhood because the commute through this area on bike just got to be too frustrating. Traffic would pile up coming from Powell and from Division, sometimes diverted or just people cutting from 39th/Cesar Chavez through Clinton as a bypass from Division. In the process adding traffic that isn’t stopping at the businesses and decreasing the safety and calmness of the street as a regular residential street. It made commuting and actually enjoying a cup of coffee out on some of the sidewalk tables less than enjoyable some days. On a calm Sunday with low traffic the ideal condition of the street with cyclists calmly riding up for coffee, a movie showing or such at Clinton St Theater or other activity is great. But the last 2 years has been annoying (and that’s putting it kindly) to be able to enjoy the area with the rush hour traffic dragging on throughout the week.

Summary: A diverter here is need desperately to make this NOT a cut through street for Powell to Division AND to prevent the through traffic using Clinton as an arterial instead of Division (or Powell).”