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Portland's Central Eastside: Urban Character and Form

Although the Central Eastside is mostly known as an industrial district, the main street corridors along MLK, Grand Avenue, and Burnside, Morrison and Belmont Streets, as well as much of 12th Avenue, contain more than 85 acres of mixed-use zoning. These areas include a mix of housing, retail, commercial office and other land uses, with zoning entitlements that allow buildings as large and tall as those found in the Pearl District. However, there has been very little development in these areas.

The Central Eastside is experiencing a renaissance in transit service. Already served by bus and streetcar, the district will soon be connected to the greater region by light rail. When this system comes online — especially connections to the south via light rail, and west via light rail and streetcar — the expanded accessibility and exposure to the district will stimulate change that is hard to foresee. With lots of untapped development potential, these areas could provide ample opportunities for supportive retail and mixed-use development to locate in the district, just a short walk from most of the industrially zoned parcels in the district.

Balancing District Character and Function

Though it has been lost in other parts of the Central City, the unique industrial character of the Central Eastside exists largely because the area has been preserved as an industrial sanctuary.

Most buildings remain in use by large and small industrial businesses. However, as the needs and efficiencies of modern industrial users evolve, structures built decades ago for warehousing, manufacturing and industrial services may become obsolete and outlive the purposes for which they were intended. It will be important to examine how such buildings can be repurposed for nontraditional industrial uses, so the district can continue to be a business incubator for the city and regional economy.

This examination will need to consider how a mix of traditional and nontraditional industrial users can occupy the same district — often within the same building — and make it functionally and financially possible for both to coexist in the long run.

This is the tenth installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the urban character and form of the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the district, read the Central Eastside Reader and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar to learn about future events.