(Printed in the Oregonian as “Portland should increase residential density around parks” on 9/14/14)
When Portland makes major public investments in transit corridors, we update zoning to allow more people to live nearby. With neighborhood parks? Apparently not.
Portland’s Comprehensive Plan update gives us a rare chance to consider boosting allowable residential densities along our park perimeters. This could be achieved through a simple bump-up from single dwelling zones to low-density multi-dwelling zones. Logical exceptions could be made for very small parks, situations where park fences block direct access from adjoining parcels, and sensitive natural areas.
In addition to letting more people to live next to parks, this change could increase park safety by having more peoples’ eyes on them. It could help meet equity goals by creating the opportunity for smaller and less expensive homes near parks. And parks offer adjoining property owners supplemental open space and visual expanse, even if personal yards are modest in size.
When parks and residential developments are designed concurrently, increasing residential densities along their edges is common practice. McCoy Park at the heart of New Columbia in North Portland is one local example. There, higher density multifamily buildings surround the park, dropping down to less dense detached homes one-half to a full block from the park edge.
But with older parks, the story is quite different. Using the recently released comprehensive plan’s Map App, I did a quick review of zoning along the perimeters of all 24 parks with playgrounds in NE Portland and found that the average park in this group is a little over 70% surrounded by single dwelling zoning. Half of these parks are entirely surrounded by single dwelling zones (including Grant, King School, Knott, Merrifield, Rose City, Wellington, and Wilshire). Three quarters are at least 70% surrounded (including Alberta, Argay, Fernhill, Irving and Woodlawn). Just four parks are entirely surrounded by non-single dwelling zoning (Buckman Field, Mallory Meadows, Montavilla and Oregon). And when brand new parks are created (such as Khunamokwst Park in Cully, now under construction), abutting properties are rarely re-zoned. All of this seems like a missed opportunity to increase the public value of our park system.
This idea hasn’t (yet) made its way into the comprehensive plan map, despite being suggested by the Residential Development and Compatibility Policy Expert Group well over a year ago and studied in-house by bureau planners. Since city-wide reviews of zoning maps are exceedingly rare, the only practical chance to address this issue for the next couple decades is probably through the comprehensive planning process now underway. To weigh in, go to http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/497622.
Draft Comprehensive Plan Goal 8.H calls for “All Portlanders [to] have safe, convenient, and equitable access to high-quality parks, natural areas, and recreational opportunities in their daily lives…” Two complimentary ways of achieving this goal are to:
- Create and maintain a wonderful system of parks and natural areas; and
- Create opportunities for people to live near them.
We already do a pretty good job at the first. Now, let’s work on the second.
Here are a few examples of parks largely surrounded by single dwelling zones (yellow):