The robust price premium observed for the Clinton station is very interesting, as this station was highlighted in the preliminary station development planning process to present, by far, the most opportunities for development. The ‘triangle’ of industrial land adjacent to the station is also slated for significant rezoning with the ongoing Comprehensive Plan Update, going from industrial to a central employment designation, with 65 foot height limits and no restrictions on use. Deca Architecture, working for the City, put together a station area development opportunity plan that championed the wholesale transformation of the Clinton station area, employing the ubiquitous language of New Urbanist and Jane Jacobs-inspired developer visions:
This report envisions the Study Area as a live/work village full of activity during working hours and at night. At present, the area is chiefly industrial, so its daytime population is scanty, and it has virtually no eyes on the street at night. Redeveloped as a mixed-use area, the Study Area can realize its potential for desirable density. Reborn as a residential and creative office resource for Portlanders, the area can become a safe, attractive place to live and work, with eyes on the street day and night in a new/old location with its own unique, appealing character.
The rendering of the future station area reveals no trace of the present industrial uses, to be replaced by vaguely European-styled mixed uses, glimmering with affluence.
Overall, my qualitative investigation into planning process and documents of the Orange Line has not yet been quite as extensive as I had hoped, with regression analysis taking far more time than anticipated. Thus, I will have to perform more of this research over break and early on next semester. I’ve read through many of the final reports associated with the line but have yet to peruse through the meeting minutes of the public advisory committee or the public comments on the Draft EIS. From this limited investigation, however, I can conclude that public engagement and considerations of equity were muted, along with a huge focus on the development potential of the stations. The process began with the rail alignment and station locations relatively set and was chiefly concerned with developing the EIS. The public engagement which occurred was largely informational, with TriMet seemingly feeling little pressure to even engage in mitigation. Perhaps some of the most notable public engagement on the station areas came with citizen workshops on the limitations of access to and attractiveness of the locations. These recommendations were used to promote specific capital improvement projects to maximize development potential.
The title of the final report on the Orange Line station areas,”Growing Places,” illustrates the general orientation of planning related to this light rail—the creation of place through the development encouraged by transit investment. In this model, development itself was treated as a benefit, at least as long as it was in line with the planned vision of mixed-use 4-6 story station villages. Reports emphasized projected employment and job growth in the vicinity while sidelining the ridership estimates. Ridership has, indeed, been somewhat disappointing, averaging about 11,000 over 2016—comparable to a relatively well-used bus line, but certainly (not yet at least) reaching the level at which the capacity improvements of rail over buses become necessary. The transportation needs that the Orange Line was to fill were primarily projected induced needs—light rail would only become necessary with the growth planned alongside it. Consideration of the equity impacts of the Orange Line was extremely muted, with no discussion of potential gentrification or displacement from light rail. I had expected to find more acknowledgement of this potential impact, as the connection between transit and gentrification has risen greatly in prominence over the last decade, leading many transit agencies to incorporate some explicit housing equity policies within expansion plans. SoundTransit in the Seattle area, for instance, purposefully acquires excess property around light rail stations in the construction process and proceeds to sell off this land with the requirement to guarantee 80% of the units as affordable. L.A. and Boston transit agencies have similar policies in place. The scant sections where equity was mentioned typically phrased light rail as an unequivocal boost in outcomes for lower-income residents, noting the increases in transportation mobility for transit-dependent riders while sweeping aside the question of who would be able to afford to live close enough to benefit.