Real Estate Blog

Overview of Portland’s Physical Evolution

Taylor Rhodes - Wednesday, October 21, 2020

2035 Portland Comprehensive Plan - Overview of Portland’s Physical Evolution
Coagulated by Taylor Rhodes

The vision for Portland - "Portland is a prosperous, healthy, equitable and resilient city where
everyone has access to opportunity and is engaged in shaping decisions that affect their lives."
Portland’s physical evolution includes six categorical eras, and we are in the midst of the sixth right now.

They are:
- The Portland Basin era (pre 1843)
- The 19 th Century Western City era (1843-1880)
- The Streetcar era (late 1800s-1930)
- The Post World War II era (1945-1973)
- The 1st Comprehensive Plan era (1973-1980)
- now, The 2035 Comprehensive Plan era.

The Portland Basin era was home to many groups of Chinookan-speaking peoples for thousands of
years prior to Euro-American settlement in the nineteenth century. Plentiful natural resources, such as
salmon and small game, supported one of the densest populations of Native Americans with numerous
villages of large, multi-family plank houses.

The 19 th Century Western City era saw Portland’s founding (founded in 1843). It was founded on the
Donation Land Claim owned by William Overton and Asa Lovejoy, on a spot known as “The Clearing,”
where Native Americans and traders rested along the Willamette River en route between Oregon City
and Fort Vancouver. Portland grew rapidly to almost 20,000 residents by 1880 and was the largest city in
the Pacific Northwest, driven by a maritime trade economy that supplied a large hinterland and linked
the region’s agricultural and natural resources to markets around the globe. Portland was anchored by a
dense central business district with multi-story cast-iron commercial buildings and an active waterfront,
closely surrounded by low-scale, wood frame residences.

The Streetcar era led to the expansion of Portland with the development of a tight grid of streets and
small single-family lots laid out along streetcar lines that extended from downtown. Mixed use, multi-
story buildings with ground floor storefronts and housing or offices above lined streetcar streets.
Portland’s first city plans (Olmstead 1903, Bennett 1912, and Cheney 1921) imposed a more formal
order on the organically growing cityscape. Civic spaces and parks, lush parkways and grand boulevards,
and land use regulations became standard.

The Post World War II era guided Portland to experience the euphoria of transportation independence
enabled by the private automobile. Residential suburbs grew and demand for space in the central city
declined. Numerous historic buildings in the city’s core were demolished, in part to create parking lots.
Freeway and arterial street construction served suburban growth. Thousands of Portlanders were
displaced by urban renewal programs aimed at revitalizing the central city.

The Comprehensive Plan era began in 1973. The impetus for the first Comprehensive Plan initiated with
the Oregon Senate when they passed Bill 100, requiring all jurisdictions in Oregon to develop
Comprehensive Plans to guide growth. Portland’s first Comprehensive Plan in 1980 was developed
around a concept of “Nodes and Noodles”. Nodes are places of concentrated urban activity, including
higher density housing and employment. Noodles are the primary corridors or streets that connect the
nodes. In 1980, Portland’s geography was roughly 25% smaller than it is today. During the 1980s and
1990s Portland grew through annexation of lands in East and Southwest Portland. Development of these
areas followed a typically suburban pattern, characterized by expressways and state highways, larger
blocks, fewer local street connections and single-use commercial buildings with large surface parking

Today, we are in the midst of the 2035 Portland Comprehensive Plan. The plan includes significant
projects in the following segments: transportation systems, sanitary sewer and stormwater
management, and water.
The need for transportation systems comes from the vast costs and impacts of constructing significant
amounts of new automobile capacity. The goals of the transportation systems plan are:
- to reduce transportation fatalities and injuries
- Improve access to jobs, schools, grocery stores, and health care
- Improve health by increasing walking and bicycling
- Increase economic benefits by decreasing access friction to family wage jobs and freight access
- Ensure disadvantaged communities benefit as much or more than non-disadvantaged
- Reduce global warming pollution from transportation
- Prioritize the most cost-effective projects.

Sanitary sewer and stormwater management projects are based on existing systems and the need to
upgrade the capacity of these systems. This will increase the capacity allowance for future planned
population influx.

Water projects are based on projects and programs to address supply, storage, transmission and
distribution needs to ensure short and long-term provision of clean water and compliance with drinking
water regulations.