Our Opinion: With growth comes change, but it's not absolute
Two stories in The Times this week tell one much larger story.
It's a story about change. It's a story about why the wooded hills southwest of Beaverton are now neighborhoods and a high school. It's a story about why a quarry on the borderline between Beaverton and Tigard is now a two-level shopping center. It's a story about why pieces of suburban Beaverton and Hillsboro, and perhaps soon Tigard, are now high-rise districts.
Of course, if you've been taking The Times for the past decade or so, you've read these stories already. And there will be more of them in the decade to come. The French have a saying: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Loosely translated: "The more things change, the more they say the same."
Washington County has been changing for a long time, of course.
It changed forever back in the 1840s and 1850s, when settlers arrived on the Oregon Trail, the U.S. government rounded up the Atfalati Native people and marched them to the Grand Ronde, and American-style cities and farms were established along the banks of the Tualatin River.
It changed after World War II, as the shipbuilding industry in Portland dried up — literally — and the high-tech industry found a foothold in places like Beaverton, much of the 20th-century development of which was powered by Tektronix.
It changed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as suburbs like Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville boomed up and down newly built Interstate 5.
And it's changing now, as economic pressure pushes real estate and rental prices in Portland higher — and pushes people out of Portland.
If our story on population estimates this week is any indication, Portland is in fine health, growing strong itself. But Washington County is growing faster than its more populous neighbor, and with Hillsboro already having crossed the century mark earlier this decade, Beaverton has a shot at having a population above 100,000 recorded in the 2020 Census as well.
Further down the freeway corridor, Tigard and Wilsonville are growing as fast or faster. (Speaking of Wilsonville, expect it to expand further north into Washington County in the 2020s, as it begins to annex land in the Basalt Creek area, north of the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.)
King City is exploding, with a double-digit growth rate over the past year and ambitious plans to grow further and further to the west until it's a full-fledged suburb of its own, not just a satellite of neighboring Tigard.
Further to the west, growth is strong in more rural communities, like Forest Grove, Cornelius and North Plains, as well.
So what's happening in downtown Beaverton? An early adopter of urban renewal, Beaverton's continued efforts to reinvent itself are now bearing fruit by the bushel.
City officials made a conscious decision to steer Beaverton away from its 20th-century image — a sprawling patchwork of strip malls and neighborhoods stocked with detached single-family houses — and toward a New Urbanist vision of higher density, more attractive and walkable streetscapes, better transit connections, and enhanced amenities to keep residents spending their dollars "out on the town" in Beaverton, instead of going into Portland for dining and entertainment.
In another story, you'll read about the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts. It's the latest high-profile addition to a burgeoning downtown scene, and construction on some of the other new buildings in the area hasn't even finished yet. It's not exactly the Pearl District or South Waterfront, but Beaverton is building a downtown skyline of its own, and it's a trend you can expect to continue.
One of our most-read stories of the year was about the planned redevelopment of the Cedar Hills Shopping Center, across Highway 26 from the Sunset Transit Center at Beaverton's northern edge. The developer who convinced Beaverton to annex this land has outlined a plan to turn it into something like Orenco Station, the mixed-use district of Hillsboro that sprouted north of another stop on the MAX Blue Line.
All of these changes don't mean you'll see a six-story building in your neighborhood anytime soon. But as the population in our region grows, there are two choices, which aren't necessarily mutually exclusive: out, or up.
Outward expansion is what has brought us mega-developments like River Terrace and South Hillsboro. It's what some property owners in the Stafford area fear is coming for them, as their land has been designated as an urban reserve — in other words, regional planners say it will be developed eventually. It's what is set to happen as King City grows beyond its borders.
Upward expansion is bringing us mid- and high-rise buildings in Orenco Station, Central Beaverton and perhaps Cedar Hills along Highway 26. It's at the heart of New Urbanism, but it's anathema to some who moved out to the suburbs years ago to get away from the bustle of the city, as well as to others who reluctantly accepted the urbanization of what was once farmland and are dismayed to see it becoming more and more city-like.
But the thing about outward expansion is that it is, with a few differences to account for more modern standards for street construction, utility placement and structural architecture, effectively copy-and-pasting the subdivisions and shopping centers of the mid- to late 20th century onto as-yet-undeveloped land. Often criticized as "sprawl," it multiplies the suburbs, along with their shortcomings. Some outward expansion is probably inevitable — there will always be demand for more single-family homes — but it's no longer the preferred model on the Westside, and it's plain to see why.
Upward expansion carries its own set of challenges. In essence, it's a gradual, block-by-block conversion of districts that were originally built for a lower population density into districts that must support a higher population density. The New Urbanists' dream is that many of those new residents will use "multimodal transportation" — i.e., they'll take the bus, take the train, walk, bike, roller skate or unicycle to get where they're going most or all of the time, instead of driving — but there is still likely to be added strain on the roads, to say nothing of stormwater and sewer systems that may need to be upgraded to deal with that new capacity.
But with challenges to overcome, upward expansion leaves room for hope. Many experts believe the 20th-century suburban model is not sustainable, promoting "car culture" and daily driving that will take longer and longer, generating more and more air pollution, as more people move in and more streets are built and more homes and businesses are built further and further apart.
We care for our communities here in Washington County, and as they continue to grow and evolve, we appreciate seeing them do so in a "new" way. The same old problems can't be fixed with the same old solutions.
As people move here, from pricey Portland or elsewhere, they'll bring their own ideas for what the future of Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood should look like. It's a good thing to have leaders — in government, business and neighborhood advocacy — with visions of their own for our communities.
Yes, our region is changing. Beaverton will soon have a ritzy arts center of its own, joining its own business incubator, food cart pod and other symbols of a city coming into its own. Tigard is continuing toward its quixotic goal of becoming the most walkable city in the Pacific Northwest — and by gum, no matter how improbable that goal may seem, it's building trails and overhauling its downtown and pushing for improvements along that Highway 99W corridor over which we've spilled so much ink in the past few months.
But these are changes meant to breathe new life into a suburban framework that's grown stale. Beaverton is still Beaverton. Tigard is still Tigard. It's not the vast gray parking lots or the shabby strip malls that make our towns what they are. It's the can-do culture and that very spirit that is fostering change of a type we haven't seen yet in this region — not last century, not the century before. It's the love of community that makes it want to endure.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Though it may look different, this is still the place we love.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.