connecting the dots

The new light rail project is helping make the old Harbor Drive parcels more visible, making it only a matter of time before private interests look into redeveloping them.

The new light rail project is helping make the old Harbor Drive parcels more visible, making it only a matter of time before private interests look into redeveloping them.

As the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project continues to take shape along SW Lincoln it becomes more and more apparent that the long-forgotten Harbor Drive parcels are due to be redeveloped. About a decade ago the Portland Development Corporation put forth a plan to get private interest into these blocks, but the city was focusing on what is now the South Waterfront at the time. Since then SW Harrison has been extended with the Streetcar down to Moody Avenue (blue line above) and the PMLR project is connecting Lincoln to Naito Parkway (orange line above). With these new connections, and the planned slowing down of Harbor Drive, the area is highly visible and right in between the new OHSU Schnitzer Campus and Portland State University. With all of the new university expansions and need for student housing I’m surprised it will take long before these blocks are repurposed.

The Naito blocks are highlighted in red, they are mostly owned by ODOT and the City of Portland and are currently underutilized as highwayside landscaping and parking lots.

The blocks along Naito are the most interesting to me. Many of the other blocks (highlighted in purple crosshatch above) are already on the radar to be redeveloped or are too awkward to be a catalyst development, but the smaller parcels may become infill potential or parkland in the future. The Naito blocks are all approximately 100′ wide and stretch North-South along a hillside where the old Harbor Drive Freeway and its on and off ramps used to be. These blocks have sat dormant for almost four decades, and have added to the highway-like feel of the area with their lack of sidewalks, connections to side-streets, and absence of storefronts. The area, the old South Portland neighborhood that mostly got cleared for 1960’s urban renewal and got divided by Naito Parkway and Interstate 5, is now being evaluated for potential improvements including separating regional traffic from local streets and effects of removing some of these unnecessary on and off ramps to the Ross Island Bridge. If these blocks could be redeveloped and Naito Parkway tamed (especially if buildings could be built over I-405 to help soften the freeway noise, see image below), there would be a better urban connection from downtown to the National College of Natural Medicine. Currently the International School is also disconnected and SW Water, SW Sherman and SW Caruthers dead end a block short of Naito with only unofficial trails leading to and from the main street. If these streets were reconnected, as pedestrian-only or traditional streets, the whole area would change (see image below). The area is already surrounded by off-street pathways (green lines in above image), and new development could pay for the missing connections (see below). Some of this land could also be used for a new park or plaza, which would allow for some interesting design work with terraces or fountains that play with the topography. It’s too bad the PMLR project didn’t place its Lincoln Street station in between 1st and Naito instead of 3rd and 4th, as the placement would have allowed for better transit access to these blocks and to RiverPlace.

A potential development pattern for the area (yellow: street improvements. red: new stop lights. green: pathways, pedestrian streets and parks. dashed-green: wayfinding connections. blue: existing Streetcar stops)

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