A recent online Preservation Magazine article examines the conflict between zoning and historical preservation in Portland.
Trouble in Green City: Zoning Trumps Design Guidelines in Historic Portland, Oregon
The story begins in Irvington, where Lee Montgomery and Tom Byrnes restored their 1893 Victorian house (you can read about their efforts in the January-February 2009 issue of Oregon Home). But they feel their neighborhood’s distinctive look is threatened by real estate developments encouraged by Oregon’s land use laws and Portland’s zoning guidelines.
Irvington residents successfully fought development of the Irvington Squire, a multi-unit condominium project that was variously proposed at six or five stories. But they fear they won’t be able to derail all new development in their neighborhood [at least that’s my take].
Brian Libby wrote a thoughtful piece on the The Case of the Irvington Squire last year on Portland Architecture.
TimberPalace responds to the Preservation Magazine article, in Preservation v. Density and the Death of the Burbs, where an excellent question is posed:
As the ethic of “density at all costs” takes over, will Portland’s suburbs go the way of Lost Oregon? With time, early suburban neighborhoods will offer as much historic (and I would argue aesthetic) value as old, historic Irvington. The future tension between density and preservation in suburban neighborhoods is apt to be amplified. How do you create dense housing that is respectful to its complete antithesis? I really don’t think you can. Does that mean the burbs and all of the historical and cultural information they carry are doomed?
Steve R. says
The oft-repeated myth in Portland is that we must build up to avoid building out; that is, density trumps preservation.
(Of course, we currently have adequate housing stock, and could provide ample stock to accommodate realistic population projections while still preserving the historic character of our neighborhoods.)
This is an age-old urban struggle between commercial property developers and neighborhood preservationists. But in Portland, there’s been a shift of allegiance in environmentalist communities.
Where enviros once sided with preservationists, they’re now (at least in Portland, present company excepted) squarely on the side of developers, who have green-washed their actual mission: maximizing the value of their holdings.
Wealthy neighborhoods like Irvington are able to fight off this kind of development, but “transitional” neighborhoods like Overlook don’t have the clout to resist 6-to-9-story buildings towering over their back yards.
As usual, the poorest citizens of the city (who have virtually no political clout) come out on the short end of the stick, as developers cut deals with the powers-that-be to wiggle out of providing affordable housing units, even as they forever alter the architectural character of our urban landscapes under the guise of a “green” and “sustainable” mission.
One of my favourite topics. Any housing that’s just thrown together to make as much money off as many people as possible in the shortest time and with the least amount of outlay is doomed to be crap. Developers who are interested in sustainability and creating communities and affordable homes and who put some creativity and thought into their structures can create something that blends with “historic” architecture even if it’s a 9 storey structure. And just because something is old, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better or more aethetically pleasing or better for the community. Some of these Victorian monstrosities are no better than old timey McMansions
To Dave: Thanks for the mention.
To XUP: I would assume the residents of Irvington wouldn’t be fans of old “timey McMansions” either. Also, as monstrous as those victorians maybe (I hate Queen Anne too) the reason for protecting them goes beyond their aesthetic qualities.
Buildings are utilitarian shelters, sure but historic buildings are important historical documents. They carry information about their builders that cannot be matched.
I agree though, there are plenty of dense complexes in Irvington that fit well within the neighborhood. I really don’t think building dense units in Irvington should be that controversial.
This is the first time I have been quoted in a another blog. Thanks again Dave