For the last several months, Portlands Broadway Bridge has been covered in scaffolding while undergoing a new paint job.
However, on both sides of the bridge, which connects downtown and the Pearl District to the west with Northeast Portland and the Lloyd District to the east, the paint job is just the beginning of a multi-year metamorphosis involving several key parcels and landmarks on either side.
More than anywhere else in the city, where the Broadway Bridge touches down is where we need big-picture thinking.
Just a block southwest of the bridge lies one of Portlands largest US Postal Service facilities, which the city recently purchased for $88 million in order to spur job-friendly redevelopment.
To the northwest is Centennial Mills, which the city and its Portland Development Commission have flubbed over the past decade with stagnating redevelopment plans (admittedly thwarted by the Great Recession) and bad stewardship (allowing the historic buildings there to deteriorate). But the Mills, which once processed millions of tons of Oregons biggest cash crop, wheat, could ultimately be one of our most important and popular riverfront open spaces.
As the Broadway Bridge touches down on the east side, a new streetcar line is poised to bring new investment. Streetcars, unlike MAX light rail, are primarily development tools rather than transportation.
But the property immediately south of the bridgehead, Veterans Memorial Coliseum (which, in full disclosure, a group I lead has been lobbying to save), has been awaiting necessary and available funds for renovation from City Council for years, even though the Citys own study indicates such investment will turn a profit.
There are plans for widening and capping Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter, bringing new development opportunity. Practically next door, a headquarters hotel is about to finally be built.
Northeast of the bridge is a massive Portland Public Schools facility that the agency plans to vacate, bringing the opportunity for high-density residential construction that can ease our housing and affordability crisis.
But how will all these pieces, as well as the numerous surface parking lots and parking garages on the east side of the bridge, come together? Mayor Hales (or his successor next year) and his fellow City Councilors ought to think not just as these projects as individual silos, but as part of a collective vision. So far thats been lacking.
The challenge is reminiscent of one the city faced four decades ago, when 70s Portland began transforming its downtown with a host of transit, business and green-space efforts: TriMets Transit Mall, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, and Pioneer Courthouse Square.
These projects helped set in motion the addition of retail and cultural landmarks like Nordstroms flagship store, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and the Portland Center for the Performing Arts not to mention the addition of some 30,000 jobs in the downtown core. But the key was that each map-move reinforced the other, and that was by design.
Are we thinking that way today, or just leaping from one silo to another? After all, bridges are supposed to be about connections not just watching paint dry.
Brian Libby is a Portland freelance journalist, critic and photographer who has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic and Dwell, among others. His column, Portland Architecture, can be read monthly in the Business Tribune or online at: portlandarchitecture.com