It may be too early, but I have to call the re-envisioning of Division Street a success. Even amongst the continuing chaos of construction, Division is alive and re-energized with lots of smiles and streetside conversations. There is a wonderful mix of new restaurants and bars along the 30th-35th strip, and this new energy has trickled into the older storefronts up through 50th. The street form has arisen to a scale reminiscent of Rotterdam or Copenhagen, with four-story balconies overlooking the slower moving car, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic down on the neighborhood street below. As noted previously, the long era of construction is almost at an end, and the sidewalks are already teaming with people. I should mention that there have been a few casualties of new competition and changing economics, as rents appear to be skyrocketing along the stretch, and several long standing bars and retail shops have unfortunately closed or moved on.
As time goes by and the city changes, it is important to take some of the lessons that can be learned from this stretch and apply it elsewhere on the Eastside where streetcar suburb single-family home neighborhoods reign supreme. The idea is simple: concentrate the retail with residential, have proper bike access (Clinton Street is a great example off of Division, so is Ankeny off Burnside), slow down commuter traffic, and reuse and incorporate old with the new. The same kind of successful infill development can be found along other main streets like Mississippi, Williams/ Vancouver, and Alberta up in Northeast, but for the most part Southeast has been relatively piecemeal except on Division. The piecemeal approach has lead to some strong neighborhood backlash on contemporary designs and a greater show of NIMBYism, which recently has helped push for the reinstatement of parking minimums, a much criticized step backwards in urban planning. I fall into the Donald Shoup category when it comes to automobile parking, as I find the public policy changes that occurred 60 years ago, which made free parking an entitlement, to be one of the worst good-ideas-at-the-time in American history. The sheer loss of so much public open space has not just been bad on our health and psychology, but also for socializing and community. The Division Street redesign, with its rainwater catching greenery and ample crosswalks, is a step in the right direction, and so is the current conversation on metering neighborhood streets.
The parking minimum reinstating monster is the building pictured above. A throwback, faux-historic apartment complex that got the neighborhood all riled up for nothing (as it still got built without any additional parking being required, and the accrued legal costs will be passed on to residents). The design is lackluster at best, but it is by far not the worst apartment building to grace Portland’s streets. Consider the two new apartment buildings a dozen blocks away on Hawthorne pictured below. As far as faux-historic goes, the Division one has far more going for it: a brick veneer with some soldier detailing, a contemporary light-colored ‘warehouse retrofit’ top floor with a bold parapet, a clear and distinct retail front and residential back, and concentrations of color and texture to break up the bulk of its mass. Regarding the Hawthorne buildings my criticism is with the details: they both are ignorant to topography changes, both have serious scale issues, both have a mishmash of kitsch features, and both treat their gutters and utilities as afterthoughts. The bigger one, Hawthorne 26, has a retail storefront somewhere (its a coffee shop, can you see it? It’s in clear view in the image below), but as its indistinguishable from the residential facade any business that locates there is going to have a hard time being noticed.
These developers, after hearing neighborhood complaints during earlier projects (especially on the super-NIMBY, anti-investment Hawthorne (another story…)), chose designs that would “blend in” with the existing neighborhood, but instead of blending in they have created giant eyesores that disregard contemporary style, the human scale, and urban design. The developer behind the Hawthorne and 30th apartments is the same as Richmond Flats, and the same developer of the Hawthorne 26 apartments also built the 20 on Hawthorne pictured below. The 20 on Hawthorne was a welcome addition to the busy retail corner, bringing a contemporary update to the eccentric mix of existing storefronts, yet somehow blends seamlessly with the sight lines of the white and brick facade of the 100 year-old apartments next door. It is strange for a developer to have two projects, only eight blocks apart, that are polar opposites as far as contemporary apartment building. There is a definite exterior similarity between the Abernathy and the Richmond Flats apartments, but the attention to detail is far higher on Division. Regardless, every building listed on this post is built for economic gain, there is a feeling, however, that the developments over on Division are looking to the future and the long run, whereas the piecemeal infills on Hawthorne are obviously designed for a quicker return.