Posts Tagged ‘portland’

It’s been a bit quiet over here at Build the City lately. I ran into trouble with an open-source GIS program, then got busy at work, and then took a two-week vacation to Europe. I will write some observations about the cities I visited in Europe (eventually), but today I saw an article in the Oregonian that caught my attention.

The census tract with the highest population density in the City of Portland shifted between the 2000 and 2010 censuses from NW 21st to the area around PSU.  What is notable is the population density cited for this census tract.  The article uses the strange metric of people/10,000 square feet, but when I do the math it comes out to around 27,000 people/square mile. 

For comparison, Seattle has two entire neighborhoods (Belltown and Capitol Hill) and five census tracts  that exceed this population density.  Seattle’s densest five census tracts are in Capitol Hill (45,000/sq. mi.), Belltown, the U_District and First Hill. 

This article about Portland is typical, because among the three big cities in the Pacific Northwest, Portland is by far the most spread out.   Below is a table that compares the city size and population density among four neighboring cities.

 Notice how the City of Portland takes up almost four times as much space as the cities of San Francisco or Vancouver, yet has a lower population.  Resulting in an average population density less than many suburbs.

Population density of northwest cities over the past 50 years (people/square mile)

Population density matters for Portland, because more people on a given block lead to more customers, which leads to more variety in local services, which leads to a convenient lifestyle on foot or on transit, which leads to building a city.  Portland has only a few neighborhoods where this dynamic has progressed, and therefore many residents find the need to use bicycles to reach daily destinations (2-mile radius).  Portland has the advantage of a consensus around progressive transportation, but it has a long uphill road to sufficiently populate its city.  The City of Portland could house 2,060,000 people at the City of Vancouver’s current density.


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