Growth is here to stay, get over it

Yesterday the Los Angeles City Council passes an ordinance limiting the size of houses and remodels on residential small lots. These behemoths are also known as mcmansions and pretty much every major city has to deal with them. In the past year or so many cities have placed restrictions on house size in certain neighborhoods in an effort to preserve the character and keep the peace among residents.

Curious to know what Portland is doing or has done about the threat of steroid-sized homes, I started doing some research. While it seems the most threatening building type in Portland proper is the skinny house, which is actually a decent solution to infill, I learned that what is more pervasive and threatening to the common good is the local attitude toward growth of any kind. I read a boatload of venomous comments by residents who seem to think that they have a slice of paradise here and no one else can partake. What’s worse, they blame Californians for all that they consider has gone wrong here. Having been raised here, left for California, then returned, I find this attitude so ridulous and their arguments null, considering California is full of people from everywhere else, including Oregon. Growth in all metropolitan areas is on the rise and will continue to do so in the next century. We are a civilization of city dwellers so rather than spend the energy bemoaning those who want to live in a decent city, among decent folk, I say put the effort into making sure that growth happens in the best way possible. Complaining about newcomers to Oregon is old hat, and really stale.

11 Comments so far

  1. SnJPhoto (socalcpl) on May 7th, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

    Thanks for defending the so cal transplants. As one of those that has been here, there everywhere over the last 30 years, I never really understood the "territorial" aspects of local cultures. Guess it has to do with the fact I never really lived in one place for more than 5 years… So if you all won’t mind I’d like to consider coming to Portland and making it mine.

    In all seriousness, anytime you have something "nice" there will always be those that want part of it. So enjoy it while it is still "nice", somewhere on the horizon is a bunch of strip malls, freeways and completely useless/meaningless corporate influenced waste headed your way.

    BTW – we (orange county folks) used to think we were not part of L.A., then there was a TV show followed by our baseball team/stadium getting hijacked by L.A. Now we have become one with the L.A. personality. So lesson learned…. avoid TV shows named after your home and never ever give up your sports teams.

  2. geeba on May 7th, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

    It’s a bit awkward to be a transplant. I was born in NYC, raised in it’s shadow, moved to Chicago for 18 years, then to Florida for almost three, now am here in Portland – hopefully for a long time. I like the local character and the bungalows on the east side, etc. It would suck if every U.S. city suddenly became indistinguishable. That’s why I was saddened to see Macy’s take over Meyer and Frank as they did Chicago’s Marshall Field’s on State Street. I buy my Christmas gifts here from local craftspeople for relatives back east who like them because they are unique and from here. So, yes growth is inevitable as long as the overall population is increasing and we are a mobile society. But, we can still agree on supporting local producers and businesses wherever we are. I don’t want to see the cookie-cutter McMansions either. Building up versus out will contain sprawl and adding capacity on public transporation will contain traffic. I think Portland is heading that way.

  3. Engine of Thought (engineofthought) on May 8th, 2008 @ 1:29 am

    I think the fear is what happens when growth is done poorly. One only has to look at Beaverton to see what happens when a ton of cheap housing is put in place to capitalize on high land values.

    There are new developments on Stark and Belmont on the east side; big condos that look to hold a lot of people. They look FANTASTIC. They look like good housing, taking advantage of a desirable neighborhood in a positive way. It’s when you get to some developments over in North Portland (nothing against you NoPo folk) that I get scared.

    We can’t keep our Portland Foursquares forever. They’re going to have to go to make room for denser housing. But let’s make sure it still feels like Portland, yeah?

  4. nolando on May 8th, 2008 @ 9:16 am

    Grew up in WA and I remember very clearly the "socal migration." There were addended state motto’s on bumper stickers reading, "Keep Washington green – move back to California." The resistance, I think, was not only to outsiders (and, at the time, I don’t recall being aware that there was any racial bias going on but I could be wrong) but to the strip-mall-ification so identifiable with incorporated areas that I think we associated with socal at the time. Of course, once transplants showed up and started driving up home values by paying more, I think the complaints went down to the occasional cranky muttering after one Oly too many. But, again, I could be wrong since I don’t live in rural WA anymore…

  5. More Hockey Less War (unregistered) on May 8th, 2008 @ 10:50 am

    More on the inevitable growth crowd…

    I’ve written some recently about gentrification and certain candidates’ fixation on the idea that 300,000 new residents will be shortly arriving in Portland. Sam Adams, Chris Smith and Jim Middaugh have all thrown this number around as the …

  6. jranan on May 8th, 2008 @ 11:52 am

    It seems to be a natural human reaction to change of any kind. Some of it’s comfort with the status quo (I think), some of it is territorial (as a couple other comments say — this is mine … and you can’t have it !!) and this develops into a sense of ownership.

    I’m like this too. For instance, I remember when I first discovered Nirvana and they were a little known Seattle band and then they had a bunch of hits and everyone was listening to them and they got more and more popular until everyone was listening to them and then even my little sister was listening to them until I couldn’t take it anymore and finally I hated them.

    Actually that’s not true, I kept listening to them ’til the very end and even still listen to them on occasion. But if it was true, then it would be like your post because instead of being small and special to me they’d become big and un-special though really they were big and still special.

    Like Portland.

  7. chris on May 8th, 2008 @ 11:31 pm

    Everyone says "No sprawl", "UGB!" … but when developers try to change the FAR to make profitable housing in downtown, all of a sudden the NIMBYs scream foul.

    I love Portland, but it seems to be a victim of it’s planning success.

  8. allybird621 on May 9th, 2008 @ 12:12 am

    A couple good points made and it seems like most people would agree that growing up rather than out is the best way to manage sprawl. But that does mean density. The trick is to create as many opportunities as possible for people to stay out of their cars. Obviously, public transportation or leg power is the best way to move mass amounts of people around town. That means a serious commitment of dollars and political will directed toward a continually expanding public transportaiton. I’m a fan of the bus lanes, they’re much less costly than the rail lines and highly efficient. Check out the system in Bogata or Curitiba Brazil. Even L.A. has a line that goes through the San Fernando Valley.

  9. SnJPhoto (socalcpl) on May 9th, 2008 @ 6:02 am

    If you don’t already know of this lecture, it may be of interest to some. It pretty much says what all the comments are trying to say.

    Lots of other great lectures on the TED site.



  10. SnJPhoto (socalcpl) on May 9th, 2008 @ 6:12 am

    Another good lecture on cities and design…

  11. morty on May 10th, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

    The thinking that the locals’ gripe(s) about newcomers around here is somehow comprised of one monolithic thought, incapable of a variety of divergent manifestations- some with merit, others without- is, much like its nativist antithesis, stale and old hat.
    Internet bombast notwithstanding,
    the folks around here have just as widely ranging views on their surroundings, and how those surroundings change over time, as folks just about anywhere else. It is true that many of us, regardless of age, have a lifetime of memories here that contributes to a deep a sense of connection with this locale. That, in my own view – and I’d hazard to guess much of my peerage- by itself does not equate to or justify a dislike for outsiders. Many of us still subscribe to the romanticized western view of the individual, the underlying concept being that, if you can pass through here and make the best of things and build a better life for yourself- without becoming a pain in the ass to others- then, more power to ya. With that paradigm in place it is not too far of a stretch to see how decisive factor in making or breaking one’s feeling of welcome in this place upon arrival is the level of respect afforded to this place, its people and its local lore.
    (At this time I would submit that my view alone at this point doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, at least not until I get my turn to be dictator.
    After that much blathering, I’ll round out the abstract with an example;
    dude moves up here from California, bought a house in the neighborhood and runs the neighborhood coffee shop. Hate on him? No. Why? Frequently when I go in there, dude is wearing any number of T-shirts from a variety of punk bands I grew up listening to, creating a cultural icebreaker at some level. We talk records (vinyl). I regale him of some nostalgia of when the theater up the street, long since an hermetically sealed mystery, was an underground metal/hardcore venue 20+ years prior. He’s interested. He makes good conversation with all who pass through his door, including the bikers from the bar next door.
    By contrast, I’ve worked in proximity to what many have referred to as "the Range Rover drivin’, Barbie and Ken types." Other than what gets mentioned in Portland Monthly, by their own admission, this town holds little to no value to them. Other than the relatively lower cost of real estate here as compared to the locale from whence they came., every thing else about this place, seems unpalatable.It just doesn’t live up to what they were promised in the brochure.
    Complaints abound because the rest of us haven’t done enough to meet their expectations. Result? Acrimony.
    Is there really anything special about this place vs. any place else?
    Who knows. One thing is certain, people are moving here because here has more going for it than there, wherever ‘there’ was. However, it will only remain that way through diligence and effort.
    It ain’t that hard, folks.

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