Ed McMahon of Urban Land Institute: “Density does not demand high rises”

Speaking at the University of Oregon, the ULI Senior Resident Fellow took Oregon leaders to task for characterizing historic preservation as the enemy of affordability: “Portland can grow without losing the things you love.”

Ed McMahon of the ULI speaking at the University of Oregon

The University of Oregon, Restore Oregon, Preservation Resource Center and the Northwest Examiner hosted a talk on October 3 by Ed McMahon, ULI Senior Resident Fellow for Sustainable Development, on “Density, Design and Preservation: Working Together to Promote Livability and Affordability”.  The full talk is now available on YouTube:

The event was also later covered by the Daily Journal of Commerce.  Excerpts:

New towers often come with higher prices and lower density, McMahon said.

A study by the Preservation Green Lab in Seattle, he added, found that such buildings fall short in comparison to many smaller, refurbished buildings for housing people per unit. That same comparison held true for office buildings as well.

“Smaller, older buildings had more jobs per square foot,” he said. “They also had more locally owned businesses, more non-chain stores and more women- and minority-owned businesses. These are places that are worth preserving because they do outperform, on a square-foot basis, some of these larger, newer buildings.”

Nevertheless, across the country more affordable units are being torn down than built new. A National Housing Trust study, McMahon said, found that for every affordable housing unit built, two are lost due to abandonment, deterioration or conversion to more expensive housing.

“Preserving rather than building new has proven to be the most financially sustainable method of reversing the trend of one step forward and two steps back,” he said.

“Good design makes you forget about the whole concept of density,” McMahon said. “You just like being in that place.”

“Increasing housing supplies does not ensure affordability if developers build oversized and overpriced luxury homes,” said Laurence Qamar, owner of Qamar Architecture + Town Planning and another speaker at the event.

“Our tiny blocks increasingly yield massive buildings that rise straight up from sidewalks with little of subtlety and form,” he said.

Marshall Runkel, chief of staff for Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, encouraged event attendees to stay involved as proposals such as the 2035 Comprehensive Plan and the Residential Infill Project come before the City Council.

“Over the course of the next year, there should be dramatic regulatory changes that will have influences on all of the subjects discussed tonight,” he said.

Full article:

Urban planning experts advocate for smaller, smarter development


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