The future of Eliot was hotly debated during the NE Quadrant (NEQ) plan process with most of the NE neighborhood representatives opposing widening I-5, replacement of the overpasses with “lids,” and the Hancock overcrossing. The NEQ increased allowed building height and density along Broadway and in the area across Broadway from the Rose Quarter. City Planners believe the new lid and Hancock extension will “reconnect” Eliot to a new “Pearl District East” development across Broadway from the Rose Quarter and along Broadway on Eliot’s southern edge.
During the NEQ process, Eliot maintained that historically there was no “connection” at this location because of the gulch where I-5 is located, so no “reconnection” was needed or desired. We maintained that residents in any new development would have little or no attachment to Eliot’s history due to their choice to live in a modern, high-rise building, as has been evident from new residents in these buildings along Williams. Instead, this “connection” would be used as an alternative to Broadway and stimulate demand for higher density development of southern Eliot, jeopardizing the existing historic properties.
Preservation of Eliot’s historic buildings and character as an original “streetcar” neighborhood is embedded in Eliot’s charter. I personally have been fighting for it for over 30 years. However, the tide of opposition, primarily from the City, County, and State, is currently overwhelming it. The NEQ allows increased density on Eliot’s southern edge. Both the City and County plan new mid-rise (4-6 story) low-income housing projects for MLK and Williams/Vancouver as well as institutionalizing homeless camps.This is in addition to the continued location of social service outlets in the neighborhood, including an office to facilitate reentry of recently released convicts.
Pending plans will allow more in-fill, despite Eliot’s recent efforts to preserve historic residential density. These actions reflect a government view of Eliot as a site for concentrating subsidized housing, a relief valve for affordable housing (not subsidized, but small units in mid-rise buildings), infill and Air B and B units, and social service outlets. This a far cry from the Neighborhood Association’s vision.
On the one hand, the City needs more housing and more housing options for all income levels. Undeveloped property by the freeway is available for camping here that isn’t in other areas. On the other, destroying our heritage also erases Portland’s history, including the role the City of Albina played as Portland’s manufacturing, shipping, and railroad hub; development of the eastside as a streetcar neighborhood prior to the automobile; and the legacies left by the original Volga German and European immigrants, the later southern black shipyard workers, and even the artist and activist “urban pioneers” of the 1960s and 70s that saw Eliot and its heritage as worthy of preservation and who worked with long time residents to reverse its conversion into a warehouse district serving the new freeway and growing hospital.
While I remain committed to Eliot’s preservation, I am conflicted about the ongoing changes, as I sense many neighbors are, including some of those living in subsidized housing and newer residents that relocated specifically to be in Eliot. Change is hard, but it is coming regardless and I expect there will be a great deal more in the next two years as developers try to beat the requirements in the new Comp Plan.