As Portland grows, we have an opportunity to choose a path toward a beautiful, equitable city. And to do that, we must recognize the connection between the design of our streets and public spaces, the cost of housing and our quality of life.

Right now, housing is expensive and new housing is hard to build. This has resulted in many people choosing to live in more affordable outlying communities with long commutes and the costs of car ownership. As more people are forced out of the city, Portland faces pressure to provide parking for people who work here but can’t afford to live here. Construction of additional parking spaces directly competes with space for housing, further exacerbating our already-strained housing situation. 

With more people driving, many of the streets in our city feel unpleasant and dangerous, especially for kids, older people and people with disabilities. This means that even local residents, who could walk or bike, choose to drive because it feels like the only safe option. This in turn increases traffic congestion, noise pollution from vehicles and unclean air. These negatives disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people.

If we want Portland to be a city that everyone can afford and enjoy, we must have a laser-like focus on affordable housing and on transit, and also prioritize walking and bicycling so people have a viable and safe way to move around the city that doesn’t require owning a car. We must also create spaces for people to enjoy and to gather, which is a critical part of city life.

This is why we fully support the new Congress Square redesign plan featured in the March 23 Portland Press Herald (“Portland to overhaul busy downtown crossroads starting this summer”).

The redesign will support local businesses by making it easier for people to cross the street, which has been shown to increase the customer base of nearby retailers. The redesign will also make it safer for people who want to or have to walk or bike in Portland by calming one of the peninsula’s more unpleasant street crossings, at High Street. Relatively simple changes like reducing crosswalk distances and creating a more straightforward entrance to Free Street will slow down vehicle speeds significantly, which will improve safety for all people, whether driving, biking, walking or in a wheelchair.

The Congress Square redesign will take away a few parking spaces. As a trade-off, we will benefit from three expanded public plazas that create year-round community spaces with new seating, shade trees, plantings, lighting, a sculpture by artist Sarah Sze

The redesign of Congress Square, one of Portland’s busiest downtown intersections, is expected to begin in July and be mostly finished by November. The first phase includes reconfiguring the intersection of Congress, High and Free streets. Rendering courtesy WRT and Sze Studio

, a natural playscape and splash pad. This will provide places for people to enjoy chance encounters with friends or strangers, enjoy trees and birds and provide yet another reason to live and visit downtown.

As Portland welcomes more people, we need to appropriately balance the needs of humans and cars. This intersection redesign will help us move toward a future that supports all people and makes the heart of our downtown a more vibrant part of our community.

We should continue to work together to make Portland a beautiful and welcoming city.

Already, we have accomplished major wins in the last year to make housing easier to build with new rules for accessory dwelling units and reductions to the amount of required parking for new housing. Our next opportunities include making the redesign of Brighton Avenue greener and safer for walking and biking; pushing for an expanded scope for the ReCode zoning process; supporting city and state initiatives to remove the redundant cloverleaf at Congress Street and Interstate 295; making Congress Street at Exit 5 walkable, and supporting the redesign of Franklin Arterial into a walkable street. We also need to support groups advocating for people experiencing homelessness and find additional proactive strategies to provide more housing at all price points. Together, we can innovate our city for the better.


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