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Chapter 3: Place—Highlights the ways in which Portland’s neighborhoods have changed

This section highlights some of the changing characteristics of Portland’s neighborhoods and environment and Portlander’s attitudes about livability.
Housing Affordability
Between 1990 and 2000, median home prices for the Portland/Vancouver area increased by 114% compared to 46% nationally (OCPP). In the Portland metropolitan area, the affordability gap is growing, with the biggest increases happening in the past two years (PMAR). (Most sources consider housing affordable if rent or mortgage, plus associated costs such as utilities, costs 30% or less of household income.)
Between 1990 and 2000 an increasing proportion of Oregon homeowners were paying more than 30% of their income for housing (OCPP) and an even greater percentage of Multnomah County home owners struggle with affordability (PMPB).
In 2000, 42% of renting Oregonians paid more than 30% of their income for housing (OCPP), while over 50% of Multnomah County renters pay more than 30% of their income for housing and utilities (PMPB).
Development Activity
Over the last 10 years, activity has clustered in the city’s core and in its outer areas. Areas with significant development activity include Central City’s west side, Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill, Martin Luther King Boulevard, Forest Heights, St. Johns, in southern neighborhoods and areas east of 82nd Avenue.
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From the late 1980s until 1995, most residential units being permitted in Multnomah County were for single-family homes. Since then, most permitted units are multifamily (PMAR).
Since 1990, nonresidential activity has been relatively dispersed with the most concentrated development in the Central City and in the Columbia industrial area east of I-205. Some cluster of activity can also be seen along Barbur Boulevard, 82nd Avenue and 122nd Avenue.
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Recreation and Open Space
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System Changes
The 1980s saw a number of Parks facilities transferred to or run by nonprofits, including the Children’s Museum, Japanese Garden and Leach Garden. The decade also saw an increase in the number of community schools. East County parks were added to the system from annexed areas. Oaks Bottom became the City’s first designated urban wildlife refuge.
During the 1990s, large multiuse centers, like the Southwest and Mt. Scott Community Centers, were developed. The Springwater Corridor and additional East County parks were added, along with a number of mini-parks. During this time, Parks made its first acquisition using System Development Charges.
Since 2000, programs have been added for teens and seniors. Major additions to the system include the East Bank Esplanade, River District Parks and South Waterfront Neighborhood Park. Planning was done for the South Waterfront greenway.
Trends in Parks Use
Since the 1980s, people increasingly use parks to connect with nature and to pursue health and fitness. Locally and nationally, trail use for cycling and walking has increased and is now the most popular park activity. While trail miles in Portland are increasing, so is usage, leading to increased conflicts between users. Since the early 1990s, parks have also become more popular with dog owners. (33% of Portland households now have dogs.) This has impacts on natural resource areas and can create conflicts between dog owners and other park users.
The exact chronology of how and when Portland streams changed is not known; however, it is clear that what exists now is just of portion of the free-running streams that once existed. Today most open stream channels are in the west hills, along the Columbia Slough and on Johnson Creek. Where streams run open, they are often connected to the Willamette River by culverts and pipes.
In 1982, the City adopted a map of local streams and water features and created the first standards in the Zoning Code to set back land uses from water features. Substantial natural resource protections were put in place during the 1990s. In 2001, the Healthy Portland Stream discussion drafts were released for public comment.
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The past several decades have seen a decline in salmon and steelhead runs, leading to the listing in the late 1990s of steelhead trout and Chinook salmon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the City’s ESA program. The charts below show the changes in salmon and steelhead counts for both wild and hatchery fish through the late 1990s.
The Progress Board notes that the winter steelhead count in 1997 was 47% below the ten year average from 1987 through 1996.
Watershed Councils
The awareness of watersheds as an organizing geography for planning has emerged over the past 25 years. In the 1990s, watershed councils began being formed around the state, and in 1995, the Oregon Legislature unanimously passed House Bill 3441, which provides guidance in establishing watershed councils. About 60 watershed councils statewide bring a variety of stakeholders together to tackle environmental and related economic and social issues. The Johnson Creek Watershed and Columbia Slough Watershed Councils formed in the mid-1990s. Tryon Creek also has a watershed council. Friends groups, like the Fans of Fanno, also conduct restoration activities.
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Watershed Planning
The City of Portland’s watershed management approach emerged out of planning for the Columbia Slough in 1989 and grew when the City Council adopted the Clean River Plan in the early 1990s. The City’s current watershed management programs focus on protecting natural resources, restoring areas with natural resource potential, and promoting low impact development techniques. The 2005 Watershed Management Plan guides the program.
Willamette River Planning
The Willamette Greenway Plan, adopted in 1988, established Comp Plan policies and land use regulations for river frontage. The plan recognized the importance of the river’s scenic, natural, historic, economic and recreation assets.
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The River Plan will update the Willamette Greenway Plan, based in part on guidance from the River Renaissance Initiative, established in 2001. It differs from the earlier plan in the degree to which it seeks to integrate work for river-related environment, economy, recreation, urban form and community systems.
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Quality of Life
Measures of livability give a sense of how changes to Portland neighborhoods are perceived by residents. The majority of neighborhood residents rank overall livability as good or very good. Generally people living on the west side and in closer-in eastside neighborhoods are most satisfied with the city’s overall livability. East Portland residents rank overall city livability the lowest.
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When asked to rank neighborhood livability, ratings drop a bit lower, with the range of those saying it is good or very good going from 42% of respondents up to 98%. Again, westside residents consider neighborhood livability good or very good. Outer southeast neighborhoods and the Cully neighborhood in northeast Portland rank neighborhood livability the lowest.
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  • How are increased housing prices affecting neighborhoods and neighborhood character? What role could the Comp Plan play in addressing these issues?
  • How can the Comp Plan best guide the provision of public services, like parks and recreation? How can it accommodate changing community expectations and priorities?
  • How can planning practice respond to changed thinking about the natural environment and emerging environmental challenges?
  • U.S. Census
  • American Community Survey
  • Portland Metropolitan Area Realtors (PMAR)
  • Oregon Center for Public Policy
  • Portland Multnomah Progress Board (PMPB)
  • Portland Parks and Recreation
  • Bureau of Planning
  • Portland City Auditor