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Our View: A vision of the future in downtown Beaverton
Drive down Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard these days and what you'll see is a commercial strip that's half-in, half-out of a bygone era.
You'll see the same thing starting to take shape on Southwest Canyon Road, especially in the blocks just west of Highway 217. If you haven't been to downtown Beaverton in a few years, hang a right off Canyon Road onto Southwest Rose Biggi Avenue and you might start to wonder where you are.
It's not a process that happens overnight, but gradually, downtown Beaverton is transforming from an old-style model of shopping centers and strip malls into a new-look, mixed-use town center.
The emergent design and planning philosophy of New Urbanism holds that one of the best ways to make walkable streetscapes is to make attractive streetscapes. In communities like Beaverton that developed in the mid-20th century onward, there was no such focus. It's in evidence everywhere: big gray-black asphalt lots that separate the street (or maybe a sidewalk) from a commercial building, disparate businesses like car repair shops sharing a block with a trendy restaurant or boutique shop, an endless parade of traffic signals that may or may not be particularly well-coordinated stretching down the street.
Beaverton is far from the only place like this. You can see the same sort of utilitarian streetscapes — built for cars and trucks, not for pedestrians or bicyclists — in neighboring Portland, Tigard and Hillsboro, in farther-flung suburbs like Forest Grove, Gresham and Vancouver, Wash., and in countless other urban areas across North America.
But Beaverton is doing something about it. And it's exciting.
On our front page today, you'll read about The Rise Central, a residential development that will change the face of central Beaverton. This complex is going up on a lot that has sat vacant for years, ever since the Westgate Theatre was torn down in 2006. Kitty-corner to it is the Beaverton Building, the new home of City Hall since 2014 (and where, in a modest third-floor suite, you'll find the local office of The Times newspapers).
On the other side of the Beaverton Building, work is ongoing on a formerly vacant lot that will, once improved, host a food cart pod called the BG Food Cartel. With food cart pods such an iconic symbol of Portland proper, the presence of what is planned to be a 33-cart pod next to City Hall will instantly give downtown Beaverton a much more urban look and feel.
Back to the commercial strips of Canyon Road and Cedar Hills Boulevard, for a moment: Aging storefronts are being torn down, and buildings with more modern facades are being built — much closer to the street, with parking hidden away behind them in true New Urbanist style. In areas in front of older buildings that were once drab asphalt, newer buildings have already popped up, housing restaurants and shops that appeal to families and workers on their lunch breaks alike.
For now, those newer developments stand alongside old buildings and ponderous parking lots, giving downtown a decidedly "transitional" look. It's a good reminder of where Beaverton's downtown revitalization started out — and how it could end up.
It's worth noting at this point that one of the major drivers behind the changes we are seeing in Beaverton — the shift toward a better-looking, more functional, friendlier downtown core — is urban renewal. Beaverton was an early adopter of this tool for the improvement of "blighted" areas; an urban renewal plan was passed in 1972, with another plan focusing on central Beaverton approved by voters in 2011.
Urban renewal hinges on a simple but powerful mechanism. When voters approve the formation of an urban renewal district, like the one that covers central Beaverton — including the Cedar Hills Boulevard strip between Walker and Farmington roads, including Canyon and Farmington roads west of Highway 217, including the area around City Hall — the district is empowered to collect what is called the "tax increment." That's the amount of revenue collected in property taxes above the amount that was going to each taxing district at the time the urban renewal area was created. This increment is used to finance projects included in the voter-approved urban renewal plan.
An interactive map on the City of Beaverton's website shows more than 30 projects in the Central Beaverton Urban Renewal Area from November 2011 to present. They include The Rise Central, the BG Food Cartel property, improvements at the Cedar Hills Crossing mall and many more.
Check out the map on Beaverton's website. And the next time you're in downtown Beaverton, take a good look — you won't see what you're seeing for long.