If you have lived in the Portland metro area for the last 5 years or so you have seen first hand how much our population is growing. I know I have mentioned in previous blog posts the United Van Lines survey that comes out each year showing where in the United States people are moving to and from. Oregon for 2 years in a row has now been the #1 in-migration state in the country. So what you sense as you drive around is very, very real. I think about this a lot because it has a big impact on my job, and so I pay attention to others with thoughtful observations on the topic. This past week I had the pleasure of discovering an article in Portland Monthly on this very subject. Written by Randy Gragg, it layed out some really good observations and thoughts.
The first factor that is supporting our growth is our strong economy. With large employers like Nike, Intel, Adidas, and Columbia Sportswear, good jobs are available. Randy Gragg believes that this is going to continue and even expand. He attributes it to a new tech boom that is spurred on by the growing connectivity of our personal devices to the Internet. Think Fitbits, phones, even refrigerators and our cars, this is the economy of the “Internet of Things”.
Then there is the reality that 14,000 new apartments have been built since 2012, and 60 buildings at least 100′ tall are in the planning process, 15 of them are over 200′. I remember learning that the zoning for high rise buildings like exist in downtown Portland goes all the way South to about the Sellwood bridge. We are going to see more and more of the small, obsolete buildings in Portland being torn down and replaced with tall office, apartment, and condominium buildings.
The third factor is that we actually have the land to allow this development to take place. This land exists now within our urban growth boundary. Both San Francisco and Seattle are geopgraphically contained by water and therefore the opportunity for growth is limited. Not so in Portland. Portland is 3 times the size of San Francisce and 2 times the size of Seattle. Here’s a fun fact: SE 82nd Ave is the geographic center of Portland. This means that all of the land in the out East side is ripe for eventual development. The population of Portland is expected to exceed that of Seattle (the city, not the entire metro area) by 2025.
The fourth factor is climate change. The drought in the Southwest is a very significant factor right now. Suddenly all of our rain looks pretty attractive when the alternative is water rationing and the hardships of living in a drastically dry environment.
So what to do? Randy Gragg shares these ideas:
1) The metro area needs to concentrate on building affordable family housing. This means that instead of tearing down one old house and building one huge new house, we need to tear down one old house and build a tri or fourplex. This needs to be encouraged by offering incentives to builders and also by loosing up zoning restrictions.
2) The traffic is hear to stay, don’t fret about it. Randy used a pretty funny phrase. He says that if you complain about traffic it makes you a GBB, a Grumpy Baby Boomer. He points out that younger people increasingly don’t rely on cars but instead use car sharing, uber, bikes, and mass transit. I can attest to this. I see it in my younger clients. Think Copenhagen, Madrid, and the great cities of Europe. They are already doing this.
3) Let growth be our friend and realize that with growth will come opportunities. Development fees can encourage community improvements.
4) Do value historic preservation but let it be focused on buildings that have genuine value. Old does not necessarily mean valuable.
5) Encourage good urban design with emphasis put onto vibrant streets and public plazas. People need places to enjoy the community that they get out into. A great example of this is Millenium Plaza Park right here in LO.
6) Recognize that a lot of the growth that is going to happen is going to be on Portland’s East side. It is no longer the boonies, it is prime.
I realize that you are probably thinking “So, what does this have to do with Lake Oswego?”. It has a lot to do with Lake Oswego. All of this growth is going to press in upon our community. We too are growing and are going to continue to grow. I don’t see high rise buildings happening here, but I do see much larger buildings than have been built in the past. Look at the mixed use building currently under construction on the Wizer block. It is taller than any other building in our town. We are going to see more of this, not less. I will predict in this post that I do believe the Foothills Development will happen within the next 20 years. It is too well located near downtown LO and has easy access to what will likely become a commuting line into Portland on the current Trolly route. We are going to see lots of changes as we grow. I am not going to complain about it. I am instead going to pay attention to it and give imput when possible.
I’d love to know your thoughts,