An ambitious plan for the redevelopment of the Lower Albina district of Portland, Oregon, sets out a holistic and socially conscious vision to repair decades of racist urban policies and rebuild a prosperous, close-knit Black community. Once home to a thriving African American neighbourhood, the downtown riverfront district was decimated in the postwar decades by mass displacement as interstate freeway construction and “urban renewal” transformed it into a sprawling waterfront arena complex. Led by local non-profit organization Albina Vision Trust and integrated design firm and curatorial practice El Dorado, the project seeks to reverse the damage that played out across the site’s 38 hectares on the east bank of the Willamette River.
To shape the vision, the design team started by facilitating several months of engagement events. Taking place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshops were held virtually, which serendipitously allowed for broader participation. Each workshop was conducted across three separate sessions to accommodate different work schedules and allow inclusive input. The consultations gathered 563 attendees and generated over 45 hours of recorded content, more than 160 pieces of visual input and upwards of 30,000 words of text, all graciously shared by the community.
The workshops guided the vision for a neighbourhood of varying densities and housing types that reintegrates the riverfront with the urban street grid to restore connections to the surrounding city (all while maintaining the Moda Center arena). Organized around a network of four hubs (devoted to Education/ Entrepreneurship, Health/Wellness, Food and the Arts), the design concept nourishes a complete community where social and economic opportunities are woven together with dense housing and welcoming public space.
Integrating ample access to nature, the plan is anchored by a central car-free zone that supports local food production and commerce. Meanwhile, the public realm is envisioned as a site of memory, history and tradition, celebrating — and creating — Black heritage and art. In addition, “lease-to-own” housing tenures help support wealth creation within the Black community, while on-site K–12 schools and a business incubation hub foster hyperlocal economic development. The project also engages Black contractors and developers with support from Black-owned lending institutions. By combining established progressive design practices with new economic and cultural frameworks, Lower Albina offers a paradigm for a just future.
Team: Josh Shelton (El Dorado) with Othello Meadows (The Meadows Group); Mike Wilkerson (ECONorthwest); Marc Norman (Ideas and Action); Agency Landscape + Planning and Soapbox Theory
By combining established progressive design practices with new economic and cultural frameworks, Lower Albina offers a paradigm for a just future.