Dense Canadian suburb gives Tigard an anti-sprawl antidote
New downtown - Elected officials and business owners like how Port Moody, B.C., used the community's ideas
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
TIGARD -- As Portland has looked to Vancouver, B.C., and Beaverton to Bellevue, Wash., Tigard's search for inspiration to revitalize its downtown recently led a group of citizens and city staffers north to Port Moody, B.C.
The suburb of about 30,000 people is known for its vibrant, dense urban center 16 miles east of Vancouver. Over several years, the town's City Council managed to work with developers to build that compact downtown while preserving the surrounding open space residents called a priority. Now, urban planners hold up the result as a progressive antidote to sprawl.
In Tigard, where the sleepy downtown is a 146-acre area bounded by Fanno Creek, Hall Boulevard and Oregon 99W, the city has put together a similarly ambitious plan. The goal, backed by voters' move to create a downtown urban renewal district in May 2006: transform a smattering of old storefronts and vacant buildings into the bustling hub of a suburban city.
Although participants agreed that Port Moody-style midrise towers aren't necessarily appropriate in Tigard, they were inspired by the city center and the approach that got it built.
"What astounded me about Port Moody was the process and their attitude toward community involvement," said Lisa Olson, a marketing strategist serving on several citizen groups planning the new Tigard downtown who has lived in the area for 17 years.
"Port Moody's downtown was a conscious decision by the council and the residents, it didn't just come about by luck," Olson said. "I was impressed by how the city worked with the developers and by how much more flexibility they had because their laws are different. But it was a very community-driven project with city government providing the guidance."
Tigard is not the first local city to look north. Portland has looked at the Vancouver, B.C., area's solutions to density for good reason, said Carl Hosticka, the Metro councilor for District 3, which includes the southern half of Washington County.
"If you add in Clark County," he said, "the Portland metropolitan area has about the same population as the Vancouver, B.C., metropolitan area, yet they do it on half the land base that we have."
That understanding is part of what drives Metro's Get Centered program, a multiyear effort to encourage local cities to build lively, mixed-use urban centers that create a sense of place and community. Such centers are the key to maintaining livable communities and the region's natural beauty, and Metro's Plan 2040 designates nearly 40 centers throughout the region and calls for growth concentrated in these centers, as well as along transit corridors.
As part of that program, Metro has sent two groups of officials and citizens to the Vancouver area in the past year, and the Tigard trip to Port Moody was a direct offshoot of those.
"It's very impressive how they deal with transportation and population density," said Sydney Sherwood, Tigard City Council president. "We're dealing with the same issues, and seeing examples of how to do it helps us visualize solutions -- not that we can or want to copy everything."
She and city council member Nick Wilson were part of an earlier Metro-sponsored trip to the area and came away so impressed by Port Moody that they urged the city to send a group of its own.
"Port Moody has relatively high density in its urban center, but it doesn't feel that way thanks to all the open space," said Phil Nachbar, Tigard redevelopment director. Because the downtown includes midrise towers and mixed-use development, Port Moody concentrates its population and has an average of 125 acres of open space per 1,000 residents compared with Tigard's eight acres per 1,000 people, he said.
Nachbar was among the 15 city staffers, city councilors, advisory committee and planning commission members who took a chartered bus to Port Moody late last month for the city-paid, day-and-a-half trip.
"It was really a worthwhile trip, even though not everything we saw is applicable," City Manager Craig Prosser said. "I liked their approach to urban spaces, how they created walkable areas and vibrant streetscapes. But the best advice we got was to know exactly what you want and to be strong in moving toward that goal."
"One of the lessons we learned," Nachbar said, "was that if we're trying to establish a strong residential component to the new downtown, we have to create a strong ambience and quality of life -- we have to make it a place where people want to live."
John Foyston: 503-294-5976; firstname.lastname@example.org