Comprehensive look at the system

By Paul Leistner, Mt. Tabor resident, SE Uplift Board President 2007-08 and area activist.

Many of us who are neighborhood activists today wonder about why and how Portland’s neighborhood system was created. PSU Professor Carl Abbott presents a very informative and readable description of the origins of Portland’s neighborhood system in Chapter 9 of his excellent history of planning in Portland: Portland: Planning, Politics, and Growth in a Twentieth-Century, published in 1983.

The chapter describes “Portland’s political revolution” in the 1960s and early 1970s in which community members first organized to stop destruction of their older neighborhoods as part of urban renewal plans of the time and then to champion revitalization of these neighborhoods. Southeast Uplift was created in 1968 as part of this community empowerment movement. Understanding these origins helps us all understand some of the underlying tensions in the system today and the often very different organizational cultures in different parts of the city.

Neighborhood activists may find that the descriptions of struggles between city government, development interests and community members still ring true today. The current struggle by community members to ensure a strong community voice in the development of the Portland Plan (the review and updating of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan) echoes many similar struggles and controversies around the creation of the original Comprehensive Plan in the late 1970s.

Some terms Abbott uses for different types of neighborhoods may be unfamiliar. He defines and maps these neighborhoods types in Chapter 1:

  • “stopover neighborhoods”: the inner neighborhoods around the central downtown that offered cheap housing for transient workers, European immigrants, and different minority populations; these were Portland’s highest density neighborhoods (parts of NW, neighborhoods south of downtown, inner SE neighborhoods by the river, neighborhoods in NE along MLK)
  • “everyday neighborhoods”: many of the neighborhoods in North Portland and SE Portland west of 82nd.
  • “highlands”: the West Hills, Laurelhurst, Eastmoreland.
  • “automobile suburbs”: much of SW Portland, and outer East Portland

To read chapter 9 of Carl Abbot’s book click here to download the pdf.