Gentrification has become a routinized process and impulse in cities, restructuring the geography of rents, class, and function. The revalorization of the center has progressively displaced the image and reality of the dilapidated “inner city.” This sea change in urban affairs has not been a spontaneous happenstance; it is rather the result of the interaction of policy with capital. In the U.S. context, the antecedents of gentrification lie in policies of the capital-switching moment of the early 1970s. The model of Keynesian public housing policies and suburbanization discursively shifted to a neoliberal model that emphasized the revitalization of the city by facilitating private real estate investments in the core. Municipalities lie at the center of this process of often played a key role in supporting large scale gentrification via a variety of strategies, including local modes of financing redevelopment with diverted property taxes, public capital investments in areas, zoning changes, and symbolic support.
Transit forms a significant piece of this gentrification puzzle, interacting with gentrification, land value, and development in several manners. First, it has the potential to directly shape the geography of land rents within a market—according to locational indifference theory, any accessibility benefits it provides should be priced into land. Transit is theorized to act as a centripetal force for economic development, enabling mobility in denser areas. Perhaps more importantly, transit is often employed as part of Transit-Oriented Development plans, permitting and encouraging intensified uses and raised land values. Similarly, transit investments are a major way for municipalities to illustrate commitment to an area. The transit-development nexus is championed with win-win language positing greater equity, improved environmental outcomes, improved public finances, and private profit, the relationship between prices and transit access troubling a potential contradiction in equity—those who benefit from transit those most may be displaced by its provision within a hot housing market.
In terms of urban planning, Portland must be understood as both emblematic of broader trends in urban development and exhibiting an anomalously high commitment to and identification with “sustainability” as an urban design concept. Portland’s history of tying development to transit through planning began with the 1978 “Nodes and Noodles,” formalized later as the Centers and Corridors around which the city would concentrate development. This connection between transit, planning, and development forms the landscape on which Portland has grown in the neoliberal era. The concept of transit-oriented development and center/corridor plans are far from unique to Portland, however, lying at the center of “smart growth” plans in general and deployed worldwide. Portland has experienced a high degree of gentrification, with rapid price appreciation seen since 1990 across the city, particularly in the historic streetcar suburbs to the west of 82nd Ave. The Orange Line also runs through Milwaukie, an inner suburb just to the south of Portland, and adjoining unincorporated areas of Clackamas county. Downtown Milwaukie dates to the interurban era, with a core town area that has been the locus of recent revitalization measures; the rest of the city is predominately post-war suburban. The planning of the Orange Line was pervaded by the language of real estate investment, with its station area plans chiefly concerned with orientation so as to maximize redevelopment potential. The raison d’etre of the Orange Line was to create transit demand, not follow it.