Last October the Portland City Council adopted a new blueprint for the Lloyd District in their 2035 NE Quadrant Plan. Similar to the South Portland neighborhood, the Lloyd District was wiped clean in the name of 1960’s progress to build parking lots, indoor malls, parking garages, office towers, and more parking lots. Over the last 20 years a lot has changed as far as infill developments and alternative transportation, but little has been done to fix the utopian sterility left over from the golden age of automobiles. The area boasts some of the city’s best transportation infrastructure, yet becomes a ghost town shortly after night fall. The lack of residents and street level activity are mostly to blame, but the desire exists to change the whole district and create a more vibrant place out the the currently stale space. After several years of community meetings, the city, and the major Lloyd District landowners, are ready to move forward on a new vision for the area, a new identity.
The plan is a guide for future development, and the city and stakeholders in the district want to see the area become a citywide destination and a ’24-hour’ urban neighborhood. There are a few changes in zoning, mostly to allow for more flexibility (mixed-use and residential) and for the preservation of certain street characteristics (Broadway and Russel). The real change is in allowing higher density and height into the district’s core. The urban form proposed in the plan is that of a small independent city, introducing Portland’s maximum allowable height for the geographical center of the district and then stepping down in height radially in all directions. Previously, the 460′ height limit was reserved for downtown’s main axis along the transit mall (a relatively low height limit compared to almost any other American city), but the demand for Portland housing and the desire for livable cities has forced the city to reconsider how the cityscape should look. The city has long regretted some of the most prominent developments of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, including the two tallest 550′ towers downtown, and has ever since tried to refocus on building smaller, more human scale forms. Now, it appears the city is comfortable enough with its active use policies that it is willing to go bigger.
The plan also calls to add parks to the existing sea of surface parking lots. As part of the proposed Green Loop, NE 7th Avenue and Clackamas Street will have part of their ROW repurposed for non-automotive use, creating a linear park that will eventually join other segments to circle around the central city. In order to do this two new pedestrian/ bicycle bridges will need to cross over I-84 and I-5 at 7th and Clackamas respectively. These new access points will provide a much desired connection to and from the district, and help focus attention to the area as well. Following the success of Pioneer Square downtown and Jamison Square in the Pearl, the city would also like to see a vibrant plaza or open park built in the vicinity of NE Multnomah and 6th or 7th, approximately where the Green Loop or Streetcar lines intersect the bicycle friendly street. Currently the only public park is the grass and tree-covered Holladay Park at the front steps of the Lloyd Center Mall, far removed from the dense center the city envisions.
Changing code and building new park infrastructure are small potatoes compared to what the Department of Transportation envisions building. Back in the 1940’s Portland asked Robert Moses to draft a new freeway system for their city, the plan then was to have the entire city crisscrossed with new highways. That basic formwork paved the way for city and state planners to raze low-income neighborhoods to allow for the mass suburbanization of our surrounding hinterlands. Objections, of course, came from those who lived in those red-lined areas, which in turn lead to the freeway revolt of the 1970’s and the end of the infamous Mt. Hood Freeway. This, along with the cancellation of the NE dissecting Rose City Freeway, created a rather difficult conundrum as to what to do with a half-built highway system. History tells us that the Banfield Freeway was widened and MAX light rail was instituted, but the state prescribed ghost ramps to these unbuilt freeways went nowhere and have created traffic issues ever since. Working with the city, the state now wants to remedy one of those bottlenecks by widening I-5 through the district and realigning the interchange to I-84 in a more intentional way than their 1960’s predecessors. The city used the 2035 Plan meetings to address the state’s proposal, and a unified vision has been drafted. The city will allow the highway to be reconfigured if they fix the urban scar created by the freeway in the first place. To accomplish this the latest vision is to cap the freeway for several blocks with park space, recreate the original street grid, and provide better access for pedestrians and bicycles.
All of this information has been available for several months now, but momentum appears to be building on these concepts as the overarching Central City Plan is nearing completion. The last Central City Plan was the blueprint for all of the advances the city has made in the last three decades, and this 20-year plan should be equally as influential. As Portland has become a more livable city, more and more people want to move here, and thus higher densities are needed. We simply do not have the land available to expand if we want to maintain the very farms and forests that make the region great. The challenge now is to maintain and improve that urban livability with the projected growth in population. The last plan focused on the city’s traditional core, and that boundary has now been blurred due to the desire to blend the urban fabric instead of outline it. The Lloyd District is part of Portland, and the challenge today is to make it our own and not just the suburban, auto-oriented office blocks left over from the age of International Modernism.