Although construction season never officially ends in Portland, the recent, and welcome, warmer spring weather of the past week marks the end of the winter lull in building projects. For Inner SE Division it marks the beginning of the final push of massive construction undertakings that have drastically changed the streetscape. By this fall, the vast majority of the 14 new apartment buildings along with the City’s traffic-calming street redesign will be finished, which will give the nearby residents and storefront businesses a welcome sigh of relief that things will begin to calm down.
Even though some of the biggest projects are yet to be completed, one can now get a sense of how the urban fabric has been altered by the increase in density. What was once a rundown, commuter route through an already gentrified streetcar neighborhood is now a thriving retail corridor with an urban, almost European feel to its built environment. The additional massing of mostly four-story buildings creates a linear density and walkable character that previously had only existed on the west side of town. The last 50 years of sprawling parking lots and auto-oriented businesses have given way to a widely diverse collection of storefronts and urban living. What started with Stack Architects and Urban Development Partners’ Reliable Parts and Move-the-House buildings, has now cascaded into a flurry of varying forms and material choices that are vastly different than any of the other popular Southeast retail streets.
The biggest improvement has been the removal of the last remnants of the Mt. Hood Freeway (pdf) from the neighborhood: the State DOT’s land grab and razing of hundreds of homes and historic storefronts that once littered Division. Now, the hidden gem which is Piccolo Park is all that remains of that ill-conceived plan to tear apart Southeast Portland, for the last of those previously cleared plots has now been redeveloped.
Further east on Division, between the 42nd Avenue curve and 50th, several new projects are also nearing completion. The Division Live/Work building at 48th is nearing completion after several years of post-recession mothballing, and the old Fox Fence warehouse has been replaced by another four-story residential-over-retail building designed by Works Partnership (above construction photo, below rendering). Works, Stack, and THA Architecture have all added their unique design flares to the street, and each firm appears to be experimenting with more courtyard and open building forms rather than the ‘shotgun’ style apartments we have seen around most of the city. Not all of the projects along Division are architecturally stunning buildings, but even those fabric buildings add form and diversity to the new urban character of the neighborhood.