Portland: city of hub and spoke centrality

Thank you to all the people that kindly hosted me in Portland over the past three days: Portland Bright Lights, the City of Portland, Portland State University, Ankrom Moisan and Portland TriMet. Thank you to everyone that came to hear me speak – five talks in three days was a challenge that I was happy to accept. To those of you who came more than once, I salute your interest as well as your patience.  

My first presentation, “From highways to handshakes” is now online.

I enjoyed all the questions and all the discussions. Thank you to those people whose questions either reminded me that I’d missed key points in my argument or gave me new food for thought. Good questions are like the last pieces of the jigsaw puzzle!

Thank you to my sponsors, Ankrom Moisan Architects for making the trip possible. Our lunchtime session, “The architecture of space”, was most enjoyable. 

Thank you to Gil Kelley for prepping me before I arrived and to United Airlines for going the extra distance to get me there on time. Likewise, to Mark Raggett for showing me Portland outside the core and beyond the street car suburbs. The challenge is great. The urbanism at the edge isn’t the same as it is towards the centre. Planning solutions will need to reflect this difference.

The creation and nurturing of “centrality” was the headline theme of the visit – how can economic development be encouraged through the planning process? How can this be done in a way that creates convivial, safe neighbourhoods and not more aprons of parking and under-let “developments”. How many centres are needed? What shape(s) should they be? What would be their hierarchy?

Centrality kept coming up in all our discussions. I hope my observation that centres are more often linear than lumpy is helpful – more “spoke” than “hub”. Likewise that a local, walkable grid is not just a “nice to have” but a fundamental prerequisite. Less substantially, when I described the shape of Portland’s historic streetcar centres as being like a “fat sausage”, I knew I’d live to regret it.    

To the Loeb legends with whom I shared a table on Wednesday evening – Ed McNamara, Bob Stacey, Mike Houck & Kevin Cavenaugh – thank you for your gentle provocation and kind support. And thanks for picking up the tab too. Reciprocation in Cambridge or London is on me!

Thanks especially to Randy Gragg for conceiving the trip, giving me first sight of the city and introducing me to so many new people. And for exposing me to the ceremony of ordering coffee in Portland. Everything I’ve read is true! It’s truly a serious gig.

I look forward to coming back!

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