Preservation Gets Its Turn

By Midge Pierce

Preservationists, thwarted by Portland’s perceived pro-growth demolition practices, finally have a turn at the mike.

To launch its Historic Resources code process that calls for identifying, protecting and even exploring ways to rehabilitate historic and cultural resources, the City held the first of a series of preservation roundtables last month.

In break-out sessions, attendees said historic assets provide a sense of place, community connectivity and even economic benefit through tourism. They emphasized that preservation is not just about beautiful buildings, but stories and cherished spaces.

Referencing displacement of people in urban renewal areas like the Albina neighborhood, presenters said preservation can be a way to keep people in their homes. Retaining old, historic buildings can help keep rents low. One speaker said rehabilitating and repurposing homes is a way more people can afford to live in the “new Portland.”

Recognizing competing priorities of growth and preservation, Brandon Spencer-Hartle, Portland Senior Planner and Historic Program Manager, cited the need to connect preservationists with effective tools. A supporter of conversion, he sees potential to add invisible density to inner ring neighborhoods.

Repurposed buildings provide an alternative to demolition, according to attendees who advocated for tax credits and incentives to turn large, older single families homes into multiple residences. Bonus incentives should be available for property owners who provide affordable housing, added several voices.

“Diverse communities can sustain diverse sites,” urged a speaker explaining that groups like African Americans and Native Americans have been disproportionately impacted by development. To the list, someone added artists like those who used to live in the Pearl and are now being pushed out of SE.

New requirements for Unreinforced Masonry were mentioned as motivating more demolition. Bulldozing historic buildings is regrettable, said participants, because they were often built with higher quality materials and period details.

They offer human scale and deliver a sense of warmth and well-being and contain the embedded energy of old growth forests making older structures a green alternative to new construction.

Preservation can range from saving historic buildings, view corridors and open spaces to safeguarding urban canopies and garden sunlight; in short, protecting aspects of Portland that are unique, special and rapidly vanishing.

Public roundtables will continue throughout the month. For information, see

Preservation Gets Its Turn

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