Growing into Our Future
Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.
— Jane Jacobs

As we watch apartments and in-fill housing spring up throughout Portland, many wonder if the expected growth of the next 20 years spells the end of it all. It’s impossible to believe we will add 123,000 new households, about 260,000 new residents, without diluting Portland’s “secret sauce.” We fear the bland, the banal, the price tag that comes with being popular. We’re accustomed to our zest, the quirk and charm that got us noticed in the first place, much to our own peril. 

Rendering of new apartment building at NE 21st and Multnomah

To manage growth, the city adopted the 2035 Comprehensive Plan in 2015. It aims to balance the increased population with the vision to create a low carbon economy, weaving nature into the city, and protections of our air, water, and land. The plan also tries to address affordable housing and increased density to preserve the urban growth boundary. It’s unsettling and dynamic at the same time.  

Discussions center on urbanity, density, and equity. Factor in jobs, transit, parks, and schools, and tensions continue to rise. While growing into our future has spurred many arguments of how we get there, at the heart of the matter all sides agree: in character and spirit, Portland must remain Portland. 

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Sullivan’s Gulch is already one of our densest neighborhoods. Here we may learn what it means to accommodate growth while preserving the essence that defines a community. The Gulch offers a wide variety of architectural styles and housing types, accommodating both owners and renters. It’s a diverse and age-friendly community, close to downtown, offering public transportation, and convenient to Broadway shops. 

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For all that, the neighborhood would like to gain more community and park space. Its southern border abuts the Banfield Freeway and railroad tracks, creating noise and accessed by the homeless. Continued development along NE Broadway will include more mixed-use projects like Grant Park Village. Property values are climbing, and issues of equity and social justice are top of mind. It’s a tight-knit community diligently working to get everybody involved in shaping its future. 

In the face of all the unknowns, with many fraught plans in the works, it’s hopeful to talk with residents and community leaders who understand what’s at stake, hold strong and differing opinions among themselves, and shoulder the task of future-making. It’s everybody’s city—a key ingredient of our “secret sauce.” Planners, developers, and politicians may grab the headlines, but Sullivan’s Gulch is a historic, urban neighborhood whose residents can show us that our future doesn't have to look like a dystopian sci-fi film. It can look, well, just like Portland. 


Jenelle Isaacson, Publisher
Davia Larson, contributing writer