Time travel with me to 1973 Portland. The state legislature has just passed a landmark law establishing “urban growth boundaries,” launching the city toward its future of innovative planning. But if you look around, Portland’s streets are just like those of any American city—a highway builder’s dream.
Most recent development is on the suburban model, designed almost as if to maximize use of the automobile. Streets like Southeast Division are the new normal:
Four to six lanes wide and lacerated with driveways leading to parking lots, often with no planted buffer between sidewalks and the cars racing past. Actually, in a lot of places … scratch the sidewalks. And unless you’re brave or a bit loony, forget about biking.
Fast forward to 2018. A stretch of Division from Southeast 11th Ave to Cesar Chavez Boulevard has transformed into something of a green oasis. Street trees shade sidewalks lined with planted swales where rainwater collects and filters through soil, sand, and gravel. At intersections, once-daunting multilane crossings are now pinched by vegetated extensions that also encourage people in cars to take the turns more slowly. In fact, drivers ease off the gas in general; who wants to rush through such a lovely corridor? And after all, there are all those people walking to the new apartments and street-level businesses.
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