3a. Urban Form
Variations in street and block configurations, natural features, building types and architecture across Portland contribute to the distinct character of Portland’s neighborhoods and districts. Whether a neighborhood’s streets are straight and lined by porches, or curve through forested hills, for example, their physical characteristics are fundamental to their sense of place.
Portland includes three fundamentally distinct types of neighborhoods: the Inner Neighborhoods, with their main street commercial districts and compact street grid; the Western Neighborhoods, whose urban form is shaped by hilly terrain, streams and other natural features; and the Eastern Neighborhoods, whose diverse mix of urban and more rural forms is set against a backdrop of Douglas firs and buttes. Beyond these three neighborhood urban forms are two other Portland patterns: those of the Central City neighborhoods, Portland’s most intensely urbanized area; and the industrial districts, with their own distinct urban form characteristics.
Portland's Five Urban Geographies
- Development patterns shaped by the area’s hilly terrain and other natural features.
- Small number of major streets or highways, which wind through the area following topography.
- Only a few commercial areas, mostly located on multi-lane highways.
- Residential streets are often curvilinear, following hill contours, with poor connectivity in many areas.
- Most residential streets lack sidewalks, and a relatively large number of streets are not paved.
- Trees and lush vegetation are often more prominent than buildings in residential areas.
- Large amount of natural area park land.
- Parks, streams and preserved natural areas provide a network of green that courses through the pattern area.
- Urban form shaped during the Streetcar Era.
- Consistent pattern of rectilinear blocks.
- Highly interconnected street system with mostly fully-improved streets and sidewalks.
- Extensive system of main street commercial districts.
- Fine-grain pattern of development on small lots, with buildings oriented to the street.
- Dispersed system of neighborhood parks, typically intensely landscaped, located on major streets and rectilinear in form to fit into the area’s urban grid.
- Occasional areas and streets break from the grid pattern, creating distinctive places.
- Diverse range of urban patterns, reflecting incremental development.
- Poor street connectivity in many areas, with vehicles dependent on a small number of major streets for through connections.
- Commercial areas are in the form of automobile-oriented strip commercial areas located on multi-lane streets.
- Most residential streets, and some major streets, lack sidewalks.
- Large, deep lots common in many areas, subject to much recent infill development.
- Trees and other vegetation, rather than consistency in built patterns, serve as character giving aspects of many residential areas.
- Neighborhood parks are usually located in the middle of superblock areas surrounded by single-family houses.
- Buttes and Douglas Firs a distinctive characteristic of the area’s skyline.
- Portland’s most intensely urbanized area with its largest concentration of tall buildings and high-density residential development.
- Building types reflect its role as the region’s center for finance, commerce, government and culture.
- 200' by 200' block structure and highly interconnected street system.
- Predominance of full-block building coverage contrasts with the fine-grain pattern of detached structures in surrounding residential neighborhoods.
- Extensive system of urban parks.
- Downtown’s location between the Willamette River and West Hills provides a strong sense of orientation, boundaries and transition.
- Concentrated in low-lying riverfront areas.
- Variety of industrial districts with distinct urban forms.
- Inner areas share Central City’s pattern of small blocks.
- Large-block industrial districts shaped by industrial needs and functions.
- Block structure and building forms in some areas shaped by railroads, rail spurs and harbor facilities.
- Columbia Slough, levee and greenery course through the Columbia Corridor districts.
Buildings Constructed Before 1990
Buildings are a major part of the physical environment of neighborhoods. Street layouts and the architectural characteristics of buildings reflect the building and design approaches of the time they were built, but also contribute to the distinct character of neighborhoods. Portland’s older buildings and its historic landmarks are concentrated within the Inner Neighborhoods.