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Changing Southwest from top to bottom

If you’ve lived somewhere for a long time, it can be hard to imagine it changing significantly. But with a citywide program known as the Portland Comprehensive Plan, Southwest Portland could undergo some reincarnations in the coming years.

What exactly is a comprehensive plan? Oregon state law defines it as “a generalized, coordinated land use map and policy statement of the governing body of a local government that interrelates all functional and natural systems and activities relating to the use of lands, including but not limited to sewer and water systems, transportation systems, educational facilities, recreational facilities, and natural resources and air and water quality management programs.”

The website of the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability states, “Portland’s Comprehensive Plan includes a set of goals, policies, and objectives that apply to the entire city. Similar goals, policies, and objectives in neighborhood and community plans that apply only to parts of the city are also part of the Comprehensive Plan. The plan also includes a list of significant public works projects; and a set of mapped features.”

And according to City Planner Joan Fredericksen, in the Portland Comprehensive Plan, “Areas of potential change are primarily in East and Southwest.”

One primary component of the plan is centers, including Town Centers, which “serve a broad area of the city with some regional function ... have a substantial employment component, a range of commercial and community services ... have some regional transit connections” and “have an important role in accommodating growth, with capacity for about 7,000 households (enough to support business districts) within a half-mile of their core.”

Southwest Portland already has two: the West Portland Town Center and the Hillsdale Town Center. Whether they will continue to be designated as Town Centers in the future remains to be seen. by: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - In the Portland Comprehensive Plan, the Hillsdale Town Center is under consideration.

“The idea with the centers ... is to provide more housing opportunities ... getting more people closer to the services that are there; it’s also a smarter way to invest in terms of investments because you’re investing where more people benefit from it,” Fredericksen said. “These are places that already have some concentration it’s places that are most likely in Southwest given what we have in terms of concentrations of commercial services ... on a variety of scales. It also means like libraries and medical services.”

Of course, she said, “With West Portland and Hillsdale both, we recognize that there’s still more work to be done, so this is setting the groundwork for future planning. We have to come back and have a complete community conversation about what’s this town center going to really look like, what’s it going to feel like.”

That said, “For West Portland ... as well as Hillsdale, some infrastructure constraints have dampened the growth,” she added. “For West Portland Town Center in particular (there has been) also a gap between zoning capacity and a future aspiration of what additional capacity that town center might carry.”

To successfully integrate Southwest Portland into this vision for the city as a whole, Fredericksen said that the Comprehensive Plan policy is proposing two “big, key directional shifts.”

One is the ‘one-size-doesn’t-fit-all.’

“We’ve realized that one size doesn’t fit all in terms of planning and zoning, and we can’t apply the same zone to Outer Southeast to Southwest and expect it to work; just because it’s completely different geography,” explained Eden Dabbs, BPS communications specialist.

The other shift that the plan delineates for Southwest is that of green infrastructure.

“Portland has longstanding policies to protect natural resources like streams and wildlife habitat, but it hasn’t always been easy to do in some areas with development ... so how to do that dance has always been challenging and with all the growth that’s expected, we look at how we’re going to do this over time,” said Roberta Jortner, a senior planner with the BPS’s Environmental Planning Program. “Over the last 20-30 years we’ve learned that simply protecting these remaining resource areas isn’t sufficient to meet our environmental goals (or) neighborhood livability goals.”

Fortunately, she said, “The new Comprehensive Plan offers the opportunity to weave nature into the built environment ... for denser areas as well as low-density; looking at ways to do this in single-family areas, but also multi-family, as well as in commercial and even industrial areas — and how would this work in all types of land uses.”

Jortner cited sustainable stormwater management, building trees into steep hills to prevent landslides and constructing green roofs as some green innovations that would be particularly useful to the Southwest Portland area.

And, she said, the concept of green infrastructure dovetails with town centers.

“If we can focus people where development is already existing ... then we aren’t necessarily having to do build new services, new infrastructure, as many new roads into the more sensitive hills and so forth.”

Fredericksen said that this type of infrastructure is crucial to the resiliency of Southwest Portland in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster.

All in all, said Dabbs, “For me one of the big messages ... is how integrated it is — thinking on a grand scale. ... Each one of these directions, actions, goals is designed ... to solve multiple problems.”

Dabbs, Fredericksen and Jortner were adamant that Southwest Portlanders shouldn’t expect to see big changes right away, but rather, once the Comprehensive Plan has been finalized and put in place, it will transform gradually over time.

“Even though our comment period will be over, there is an opportunity for the community to really get a lot of information, so they can be informed,” Dabbs said. “Even though technically there was a deadline ... it doesn’t mean we have to stop talking about it. Let’s keep talking about it.”

Drew Dakessian can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 108.