By Midge Pierce


Equity issues such as affordable housing rose as a key theme along with design standards at the April 24 meeting of the newly-formed Division Design Committee Initiative.

The group, established by the Richmond Neighborhood Association to address concerns about the rapid transformation of Division St. between SE 30th and 39th, is making steady progress toward identifying guidelines that can positively influence the surging growth throughout inner SE.

Initiative organizer Heather Flint Chatto said the group will address both growth and preservation. The vision for Division is to develop a toolbox of designs developers will voluntarily follow that break up massing, add visual interest, preserve solar corridors and provide incentives for affordable housing.

Richmond’s Cyd Manro, an advocate for reducing involuntary displacement, called the process, “saving the world one neighborhood at a time.”

How to expand community involvement in permit processes  is a major challenge. Currently citizens have limited ability for input on development.

Often, neighbors get no warning. Their first notice is a building demolition and by then, it’s too late. Flint Chatto supplied a list of concerns she’s heard about: bulk, scale and poor design of new infill as well as insensitivity to the character of existing buildings and residents.

During the meeting’s brainstorm break-outs, rumblings of costly rents for cheaply constructed living units could be heard. “It’s not exactly what we had in mind,” said one participant.

To develop the toolbox, Division Vision will consider everything from pedestrian safety to privacy to outdoor art. An environmental piece designed by Seattle artist John Grade was recently installed in a new Division St. bioswale.

By drawing from earlier Division St./Main St. and other SE neighborhood guidelines, Flint Chatto believes buildings along urban corridors can be fun, hip and yet respectful of  existing structures. The process begins with identifying what works and what doesn’t.

Portland State University graduate and undergrad students will conduct research and contribute planning resources as part of PSU’s capstone urban design course. The class will present a full report on findings at the end of its 10-week semester.

The backgrounds of committee participants selected from surrounding neighborhood include  artists, architects, business and shop owners, an investment advisor, urban planners and educators. The tools they develop are intended to be used all along Division and by neighborhoods throughout the City.

The Division Design Initiative hopes to share preliminary progress at a workshop this summer or fall.

The next meeting is May 22, 6:30 pm  in Southeast Uplift’s Fireside Room, 3534 SE Main St.