India Street neighborhood seen as turning point for Portland planning

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PORTLAND — Plans for redesigning the city’s India Street neighborhood got a shot in the arm Monday, when planners from the University of California presented their recommendations for making the city’s most historic area more environmentally and economically sustainable.

More than a dozen people turned out to hear professor Stephen Wheeler and a team of design students discuss their suggestions, based on a week-long survey of the neighborhood, in a forum at the Public Library.

With support from the city, the Portland Society for Architecture, and Portland (Ore.) State University, the team recommended strategies for developing “green” buildings, increasing pedestrian and bicyclist access through the neighborhood, creating open spaces, and improving storm-water drainage.

The California team also suggested the use of environmentally themed public art to create a more visible identity for India Street. The addition of mixed-income housing, in buildings up to five stories tall, was recommended, too.

The recommendations come as other planning projects focus on the neighborhood.

Earlier this year, Sustain Southern Maine, a $1.6 million federal study, began looking at ways to attract residential and commercial growth to the area while preserving its character and livability. The neighborhood has also been selected for a historic preservation survey by the city Planning & Urban Development Department.

Wheeler, a Portland native who teaches landscape architecture at UC Davis, said there is a need a for better planning in the city.

“Portland has not been at the forefront of progressive planning,” he said. He criticized the mid-1960s overhaul of Franklin Street and the “over-scaled” proportions of some city buildings, but also praised their historical forms.

The India Street neighborhood, adjacent to downtown, can lead the city to becoming more aesthetically appealing, he said, and also more sustainable.

“Portland is poised on the cutting edge of being a more livable, exciting and sustainable city, and India Street is poised on the edge of that,” Wheeler said.

The design team’s recommendations will be folded into a master plan for the neighborhood, which is expected to be complete by next June.

“What we have before us is a tremendous opportunity to enhance (the India Street neighborhood’s) historic charm and to develop strategies to ensure it becomes an inclusive and sustainable neighborhood for our city,” said City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who co-chairs the neighborhood advisory committee developing the plan.

“Broad local participation, as well as the invaluable outside eye offered by the team from UC Davis, is helping us make a great start,” Donoghue said.

At the end of the forum, Hugh Nazor, of the India Street Neighborhood Association, was optimistic about the recommendations.

“A number of the things you’ve said I like quite a bit,” he told Wheeler. “The challenge is, how do we put some teeth in their implementation?”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.