Exploring Lake Oswego's distinct neighborhoods
Lake Oswego is home to more than two dozen neighborhoods, each with its own distinct characteristics.
Some are more recently developed, while others date back to some of the earliest days of a city once known simply as Oswego. But all of them tend to be well organized and politically active, thanks to a series of neighborhood associations that play an ever-increasing role in how the City interacts with its residents.
The first associations were established in 1974 in order to provide local advice to governing bodies dealing with land use issues; they now represent 24 of the city's neighborhoods, along with one business district.
In recent years, as multiple neighborhoods have grappled with issues such as infill development and tree preservation, the City has begun working with neighborhood associations to develop neighborhood plans to help chart a clear path forward for each area. The result: At a time when neighborhoods are increasingly called upon to exercise their political voices and define themselves, residents and newcomers alike face questions about what really defines a neighborhood.
What is the character of Lake Oswego's neighborhoods? What are their histories? What do residents have to say about them? What challenges will they face in the future?
To answer some of these questions, The Review is embarking on a project in 2018 that will profile each of Lake Oswego's distinct neighborhoods. Today, we start with Blue Heron and Westridge, a pair of adjacent neighborhoods at the southwest corner of Oswego Lake.
Watch for additional stories in the coming months, each one taking a closer look at the neighborhoods that make Lake Oswego such a unique place.
The Blue Heron neighborhood is consistently described as quiet, outgoing and outdoor-oriented. Kelok Road runs through the center of the neighborhood and is just under a mile long, which residents say makes it a favorite route for dog walkers.
"It's a very warm, friendly, local and walkable neighborhood," says resident Linda Brown.
The Blue Heron neighborhood is geographically defined by Blue Heron Bay, which extends outward from Oswego Lake and down the center of the neighborhood, and by Oswego Canal, which runs along the neighborhood's western edge and connects the lake to the Tualatin River.
The canal also passes through Bryant Woods Nature Park, which is adjacent to Blue Heron at its western edge.
There are no schools inside Blue Heron itself, but its narrow profile puts nearly the entire neighborhood within walking distance of both Westridge Elementary School and Lakeridge Junior High.
"So you have the first nine years covered," Brown says.
That school access has not gone unnoticed by newcomers to the area. Though many of the residents of Blue Heron are longtime Lake Oswegans, several report a recent uptick in the number of new families moving into the neighborhood.
Blue Heron lacks a neighborhood plan with the City, but according to Neighborhood Association Co-chair Dave Beckett, that's intentional. Past efforts to create a plan have tended to stall out due to a lack of a perceived need, he says. The neighborhood has no schools or parks, and no apparent need for zoning changes.
"By and large, the majority of residents are content with their neighborhood and don't plan to leave and are not looking for change," says resident Bob Brown.
Beckett led one recent effort to create a plan, but he says he and other planners felt that the neighborhood had enough oversight in the form of its Neighborhood Association, its Homeowners Association and the Lake Oswego Corporation, which regulates the 44 percent of Blue Heron properties that are on the waterfront.
"After a few days of work I realized we don't need a neighborhood plan," he says. "Do we need another layer of regulation on top of that? We said no."
However, residents say in recent years the neighborhood has seen an increased focus on emergency preparedness, with an eye toward the potential Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. Recent efforts have focused on getting the neighborhood more closely involved with the citywide group PrepLO. Beckett has been involved in that effort as well, and he says it presents a similar challenge.
"To organize a neighborhood is a whole different task (than a neighborhood association)," he says.
"If you want it to be, it's a very friendly and close community," says 24-year Westridge resident LeAnne Barrett.
Most of her neighbors seem to agree.
Westridge is one of Lake Oswego's smallest neighborhoods, with only 197 homes in total. Tucked between the Blue Heron and Palisades neighborhoods, Westridge is geographically defined by a large hill at the neighborhood's southeast corner, which adds a slope to most of its streets.
The neighborhood's relatively small size and remote location means it lacks any business areas or municipal buildings, with one exception: Westridge Elementary School. Neighborhood Association Chair Taylor Finley, who grew up in Westridge, says the school often ends up becoming a neighborhood focal point.
The school tends to be one of the biggest draws for new arrivals to the neighborhood, according to Finley and other residents. The neighborhood has seen some turnover in homes recently, and most of the neighbors moving in have been families with kids.
"There are quite a few young people who grew up here," says resident Bill Bregor. "Some of the new families have really injected some energy."
Bregor also points to the neighborhood's location as a draw, being not far from shopping areas and highly walkable. The neighborhood has also had its share of social events in recent years, having participated in the National Night Out for the past three years and hosted solar eclipse viewing parties earlier this year.
"It's social — people aren't hidden in their houses," says Phyllis McCanna, a 30-year resident.
The park next to the school includes two playgrounds — one owned by the school, and the other by the City. The City playground was upgraded last year, replacing some of the oldest equipment in Lake Oswego with a brand new playground expected to last up to 20 years.
Westridge Drive, Hillshire Drive and Buckingham Terrace form a loop around the neighborhood, and Finley says that's where many residents can often be found walking their dogs.
"That's how I know most of the neighbors who aren't directly on my street," he says.
In recent years, the neighborhood has developed an increased focus on disaster preparedness as a group, with meetings held every couple of months at the elementary school. The trend mirrors a growing number of efforts throughout the city to begin preparing not just as individual households, but as neighborhoods.
With most of its power lines underground, Westridge doesn't often have to worry about outages during storms, although Finley says downed trees can still occasionally be a problem, and the neighborhood's hillside geography can become a bit difficult to navigate in snowy and icy conditions.
One of the neighborhood's features is a time capsule of sorts, located inside Westridge Elementary. According to Blue Heron resident Lori Friedman, a quilt that hangs on one of the walls near the library was originally made in the year 2000 by the school's students, who were asked to describe what they hoped they would be doing in the year 2023.
The quilt was lost at some point, she says, until one parent found it at an auction and bought it back to donate to the school. Another parent constructed a case for it, and it's remained there ever since.
Size: 205 acres
Dwelling Units*: 509
Neighborhood Association recognized: 1990
Neighborhood plan: None
City Parks: None
Public schools: None
Tree coverage: 50 percent
Size: 95 acres
Dwelling Units*: 197
Neighborhood Association recognized: 1980
Neighborhood plan: None
City Parks: Westridge Park
Public schools: Westridge Elementary School
Tree coverage: 50 percent
* Most recent numbers available from the City of Lake Oswego