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.

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2 Comments

  1. I do have to say – just to be sure folks don’t get the wrong impression or steered away from looking at developing in Lents – Lents Town Center has excellent zoning for Mixed Use. Most of the main retail core area is zoned EX(d). Woostock Blvd, between 82nd and 91st has CM zoning. There’s some odd R1 pockets that could be improved with mixed commercial/use zoning. But, it’s not a barrier to development.

    Reply

    1. I’m planning to dig through and update that zoning observation that I made. I looked back and realized I saw some zoning that was not zoning for the actual Lents area. My mistake in regards to that – it looks like there’s room for improvement for a few areas however, which you also pointed out. I’ll also be commenting on the 2030 Comprehensive Plan specifically for that. Hopefully others can jump in there and propose any fixes too. As that will dictate future development in the area also.

      Reply

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