Portland State Magazine Fall 2022

A CITY REIMAGINED “The Downtown Plan is an opportunity for the citizens of Portland to say: Let’s first decide how we want to use our downtown, and then determine what tools are necessary to achieve our land-use decisions.” With this guiding statement, the creators of the 1972 plan sought to create a new, more cohesive framework for how the city approached downtown development. Instead of the traditional top-down approach, where city planners rely on existing zoning guidelines to decide what can be built, the plan sought to define what types of uses the people wanted, and then alter zoning and other regulations to fit. For these concerned stakeholders—urban planners and community activists alike— the focus was on design elements that make a city life enjoyable. “It was really a very democratic approach to planning,” says Ethan Seltzer, emeritus professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. The result was a plan focused far less on moving cars efficiently into and out of the city and more on supporting and enriching time spent within the city. Goals included increasing low- and middle-income housing units downtown, favoring public transportation over private vehicles, and prioritizing and facilitating public access to the riverfront. “It was such an important plan for Portland in a lot of things that we take for granted,” says Seltzer. “Having Pioneer [Courthouse] Square, having a Transit Mall, having a park along the river, having active uses on the ground floors of buildings, privileging pedestrian movement over automobile movement. All these things that we now just assume always were true in Portland, were not true back in the 1970s.This plan laid the groundwork for a lot of that to happen.” Perhaps most noticeable was the plan’s focus on public transportation. “The transit in the region was very limited until 1969,” says Sy Adler, interim dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs. “And the transit that was provided was done by private companies.” Portland committed not only to improving the supply of public transit services, but to expanding those services in a way that would provide a real alternative to automobiles. The Portland Transit Mall—spanning nearly 60 blocks along 5th and 6th Avenues—and a limit on downtown parking spaces were both born from this commitment, as well as a desire to improve air quality and limit vehicles’ contribution to pollution. A renewed focus on the pedestrian experience led to rules encouraging windows on the ground level of commercial buildings to “create a more fun, pleasant, engaging experience for people on the street,” Adler says. In the years that followed the plan’s adoption, as ideas and concepts slowly became reality, Seltzer says Portland’s core became an “international icon for central-city recovery.” “All these things that we now just assume always were true in Portland, were not true back in the 1970s. This plan laid the groundwork for a lot of that to happen.” Where Harbor Drive once stood (left), the plan envisioned a thriving, waterfront park easily accessed from downtown (right). CITY OF PORTLAND ARCHIVES 22 // PORTLAND STATE MAGAZINE General Character Open space and compatible commercial-recreation activitie s. The waterfront provides the opportunity to enhance c i ty life, offering contrast and relief from the character of Downtown. It can act as a magnet, or focus , drawing people into the heart of the city.