To follow up on our posts from the past week, yesterday, the Portland City Council accepted the report from the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, that included several recommendations, including those aimed at the demolition of single family homes in the city. Hopefully now the City will begin to take a hard look and perhaps even some immediate action to address concerns expressed by residents from around Portland. The three members of Council that were present (Commissioners Fish and Saltzman were absent) heard testimony from residents of several Portland neighborhoods, including Eastmoreland and Concordia as well as members from the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources, a group of local preservationists that includes representatives from several historic Portland neighborhoods as well as from the Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center, Restore Oregon, and the Portland AIA chapter’s Historic Resources Committee. The President and Executive Director of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center, Fred Leeson and Cathy Galbraith, reiterated neighborhood concerns and recommendations for possible action, such as creating an actual definition for what is or what is not considered a demolition.

Here is the testimony presented by BMF/AHC President Fred Leeson. It includes some valuable arguments as we continue to raise awareness of the demolition crisis in Portland:

I applaud the Landmarks Commission for its thoughtful and perceptive report.  All its recommendations deserve positive action.

But I want to concentrate on the demolition syndrome, which is chewing its way through our most livable and affordable neighborhoods.  When we talk about livable neighborhoods – that means walkability, sense of place and affordable housing —  we are describing Portland’s wonderful streetcar-era neighborhoods mostly built in the nineteen – teens and 1920s.  Developers are now plundering these neighborhoods for three famous real estate reasons: location, location, location. 

Why do people care so much about these grand old neighborhoods?  A bunch of reasons.  From your perspective, first should be affordable housing.  Those of you who have tried to promote low- or moderate-income housing know how difficult it is to achieve.  So how can we sit idly by while what moderate-income housing we already HAVE is being torn down, one house at a time? 

What we are losing are houses built with old-growth wood and some of the best building materials known to man…and we’re shipping them to the landfill.  For the environment and the carbon footprint, we should be rehabbing and retrofitting instead of demolishing.  The “greenest” building is the one that’s already built.  If density is your concern, accessory dwelling units are a better answer than McMansions. 

Let’s not overlook sense of place.  When you say you grew up in St. Johns or Sellwood or Laurelhurst or Rose City Park, you know what that means even if you don’t have an architectural vocabulary.  It’s about building size and setbacks and yards and neighborhood feel…the things that make each neighborhood great in its own way, and all adding up to the livable city we already love and enjoy. 

One of the scrape-and-build developers had an advertisement recently that claimed he was saving the environment one house at a time.  There is hardly a bigger lie.  In fact, he’s doing irreparable harm, one house at a time. 

There are solutions for you to consider.  Others will speak to them.  I know your hearts are in the right place.  Let’s put our heads together and do the right thing.  Thank you.

Fred Leeson, Jim Heuer, and Cathy Galbraith testifyiing to City Council on the demolition issue.

Fred Leeson, Jim Heuer, and Cathy Galbraith testifying to City Council on the demolition issue.

The council meeting was covered in the local media.

The Oregonian has scheduled an online chat for Monday, 8/4 at 1pm  – where you can “Ask an Infill Developer” about demolitions. The Architectural Heritage Center has been asked to participate in this conversation.

The latest issue of the Southeast Examiner also has a great article on demolitions and the environmental impacts.

We thank you for your continued support as we work to put an end to the “demolition syndrome” in Portland. We will continue to post more information on this subject as it becomes available.