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Meet the Makers: Urban Designers Turn Movie Moguls

“Centers and Corridors are awesome!” That’s the mantra of Urban Designer Lora Lillard. Now a self-taught video director, Lora leads the team that is creating the video series about Portland’s Centers and Corridors growth management strategy as part of the Comprehensive Plan Update.

But how did a group of urban designers – admittedly a creative bunch – go from drawing maps, rendering streetscapes and building volumes, and discussing urban form … to making movies?

To answer that question, we have to go back to the Portland Plan, which focuses on creating Healthy Connected Neighborhoods. But what does one of those actually look like?

Meet the makers

“At the time,” reflects Urban Design Studio Lead Mark Raggett, “the economy was slowly coming out of a long slump, and places like Division and Belmont were just starting to pop. We wanted to show people the benefits of higher density places, where more people could be closer to the things that we like to do and that create a strong sense of community. We wanted to use our visualization skills in a new way to show people how exciting these places can be.”

Urban designers Courtney Ferris, Marc Asnis, Lora Lillard, Graphic Designer Leslie Wilson and Urban Design Studio Lead Mark Raggett collaborated on the Centers & Corridors videos.

People on the Street

Turns out Portland actually has a lot of good examples, which Lillard & crew began filming. At night and on the weekends, riding in their cars, on public transit or on bikes, pulling ivy in Forest Park, taking their kids to the playground, and staffing the Mixed Use Zones “walkabouts” all over the city.

“The community walks were the perfect opportunity to film people on the street,” says Lillard. “We wanted to get Portlanders in their own neighborhoods talking about what they liked about it and what they wanted to see changed.” People like Yu Te of Hollywood in Episode 1, or PCC Cascade student Eddie and Portsmouth’s Karen Ward in Episode 3. “A lot of people put their stamp on this video,” Lillard notes.

“Now we shoot video wherever we go,” says her fellow urban designer Marc Asnis. “But when we first started out, we really didn’t know what we were doing. At one of the first neighborhood walks, the camera fell off the tripod. The last video will be the out takes,” he jokes.

Graphic designer and newly minted video editor Leslie Wilson concurs. “I had to coach these guys: Rest your iPhone on a stable surface like a car or a newsstand! Otherwise the footage is so wobbly I can’t use it.”

Mastering a New Craft

The urban designers weren’t the only ones who had to come up to speed fast with new technology and communications tools. When Wilson’s supervisor asked her if she was up for learning Premiere Pro (movie editing software), “I said I’d try, and three days later I had an assignment,” she recalls.  

Many concept maps, story boards, scripts, computer-generated renderings and interviews later, the team has hit its stride. They all agree they’ve gotten better at the craft of video production – and more efficient.

“I think we’re getting a handle on our approach, and we have a huge library of footage,” says Lillard. “Video gives us a better tool to reach a broader swath of people more quickly. We wanted to find new ways to communicate dense and complex topics in a matter of minutes. So we’ve added it to our toolbox.”

15 Minutes of Fame

So for those who can’t or don’t want to take the time to read the entire 300+-page Comprehensive Plan Proposed Draft, pore over the land use map or ponder a list of infrastructure or transportation projects, “At least maybe they’ll watch a three-minute video about why Centers and Corridors are such great places,” says Lillard.

And the next time you see an intrepid planner on the street shooting video with their phone, “Come up and talk to us!” the team encourages. It just might be a shot at your 15 minutes of fame.