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Portland's urban design issues, explained

This fall, the Urban Design Studio worked closely with BPS’s Central City team to release Design Central City, Volume I. Prepared as part of a trio of documents for phase one of the Central City 2035 Plan, this report is a starting point to discuss some of the key urban design issues facing Portland’s central city today.  Highlights include connections to the Willamette River, opportunities for places on the east and west sides of the river, and more diversity within streets and public spaces.

The vibrancy and financial success of Portland’s Central City can be attributed to coordinated and intentional urban design, land use and transportation planning. Future urban design efforts in the central city must be built on the solid structure of this past work while embracing new approaches to address a series of new challenges and pportunities, like climate change and an aging population.

Design Central City is intended to:

  • Frame and assess the existing urban design context of the central city.
  • Identify current urban design issues, tools, challenges and opportunities.
  • Suggest three guiding themes — reclaim the river, elevate the east side, and transform the public realm — to stimulate public discussion on the development of a new urban design concept for the central city.

Key findings from Design Central City:

  • One size does not fit all. The central city’s current urban design strategies are no longer adequate to address the complexity of today‘s urban design challenges.
  • There are opportunities for ‘intervention’ and ‘invention.’ Within the central city’s existing built fabric there are numerous infill sites ready for new interventions as well as larger unbuilt areas where new paradigms — inventions — should be encouraged and tested.
  • Urban design implementation tools should be recrafted. Currently, the public sector’s set of urban design implementation tools have become out of date, overly complicated, redundant, or ineffective.

To learn more about the report, visit the Urban Design Studio’s website. You can weigh in on these and other urban design issues for Portland’s Central City in March, 2011 as part of the CC2035 Symposium Series (see article in this issue of e-news). For event updates, visit