In Portland, Oregon, as the density of the region’s population grows, the City’s long-term commitment to growth management yields both rewards and challenges. While the delineation of a regional Urban Growth Boundary protects outlying open spaces and agricultural lands, this visionary approach to regional planning requires advocacy for in-fill housing development in the urban core and existing neighborhoods. As a result, the City has seen significant redevelopment and growth in the downtown area and can boast about an efficient light rail system and truly walkable neighborhoods. Successful growth management that ensures a high quality of life in urban areas is not just a local or regional problem, but a worldwide concern.
Recently the City has witnessed tremendous growth in the popularity of affordable homes built on the small in-fill lots. In a number of neighborhoods, where the typical development occurred on 5,000 square foot lots, the underlying historic plat and zoning regulations allowed in-fill development on 25-foot wide by 100-foot deep parcels. Built on these narrow lots, 15-foot wide houses have become important in meeting the City’s need for entry-level single-family homes.
The Living Smart Project arose from growing neighborhood opposition to in-fill development that appeared out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood and triggered the demolition of existing houses. In 2003, after careful consideration of public opposition, the Portland City Council reaffirmed its commitment to the region’s urban growth boundary by supporting narrow-lot, in-fill development. The final decision kept the narrow lot housing option in the main detached single-family zone, restricting them to currently vacant lots, and adding new design requirements. The City Council also expanded the provisions to allow detached houses on small lots in two higher-density zones.
To help address the concerns about the design aspects of these narrow houses, Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard committed to undertake a design competition that would result in a catalogue of plans suitable for Portland neighborhoods. To that end, the City’s Bureau of Development Services conducted a competition for single-family detached housing designs on narrow lots. The City sees this as an opportunity to collaborate with international designers, builders and neighborhood interests alike to generate a large pool of creative design options that promote “living smart.”
The Living Smart Project began as a competition for the design of affordable single-family detached housing on very narrow lots. The goal of this project was to create a catalogue of house designs to be built on 25-foot wide lots. Designs that meet the needs of first-time homebuyers, provide design compatibility with a variety of neighborhoods, and respond to a range of market demands are all desired outcomes.
The results of this design competition were two publications: "Design Excellence Monograph" and the "Portland Catalogue of House Designs for Narrow Lots". To assure that the design options were actually used, the City of Portland continues to identify and implement process incentives or other mechanisms to make the designs desirable and functional for builders.