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Who is involved in PDX Main Streets?

How did PDX Main Streets get started?


Is this a NIMBY effort trying to stop development?

NO. PDX Main streets is a data-driven design and education focused organization. We are a local community project dedicated to 


- Sustainable Design

- Livability

- Affordability




ABOUT PDX MAIN STREETS | The PDX Main Streets Design Initiative is a collaborative grassroots project to support communities through education, creative outreach and engagement, community visioning, research, design tools and policy innovation and advocacy. We provide these volunteer led services pro-bono so that all communities can have access to tools to shape their vision and priorities for planning and design of their places. We focus on positive, proactive, creative, solution-oriented and artistic approaches to raise design and planning knowledge and to build bridges between stakeholders. This involves helping navigate language barriers between policymakers, developers, designers, local associations, and community members who use very different terminology that is either complex or easily misunderstood when many lay people do not have the expertise or background. It is not an easy path, but an important one that helps build community capacity, empowerment, understanding and tools for greater involvement. Our research has identified commonalities that unite us and we have focused there. A commonly heard concern across all our years of engagement is that many communities feel unheard, and unempowered in part because they lack a voice in the reshaping of our city and lack the tools they need to clarify their goals and be effectively engaged in new development processes. We work to bring education, and planning processes that can help. Our focus is on the undesignated vintage areas along commercial main streets that are rapidly redeveloping with small lots, narrow streets, and few tools to guide their growth with respect to local context. 

Since 2013, PDX Main Streets (formerly the Division Design Initiative) professionals and design volunteers have researched many of these patterns and helped create draft tools that could be leveraged as a starting place for work identified as a priority by the Design Commission in their November 15, 2019 Memo to the PSC and in the Future Work section of the Staff Report. Because these are style-neutral approaches, and promote human-scale design in any height, this leaves plenty of room for diverse and creative design to flourish, supporting these valued districts to evolve with care and respect for people and place. 

These tools are guides for making better context-sensitive infill and new development that relates to (not replicates) the context of main street districts.



Do the Guidelines change what is allowed by zoning code?

They are intended to work without change to existing zoning and FAR. They are not intended to reduce density, nor has there ever been any intent to stop or slow development. 

These main street design goals reflect priorities, goals and design concerns overwhelming heard by communities over years of 20+ inter-neighborhood Design Committee meetings, 5 visioning workshops, 300 online surveys, 450 “Your Voice Matters” Vision Boxes at 9 installations over 9 months, 6 walking tours, 5 street fairs, outreach at farmers markets and grocery stores, countless neighborhood meetings around the City, many business association meetings, and ~150 DOZA policy comment forms.

How were the guidelines developed? 


These guidelines are informed by policy precedents and technical experts, community surveys and approximately 150 participants at community workshops and events and more than 80 vision surveys received. (see page 27 of the guidelines to learn more). These guidelines were published publicly in mid-February, and widely distributed to the community through SMILE and partner mailing lists, sent to all participants who attended project workshops, posted via Nextdoor, and shared in the the local paper. The SMILE Neighborhood Association Land Use Committee Meeting reviewed these on March 4th as well with strong support. 


Thank you to the many community members for their involvement in the process!





Why Should Communities Use Design Guidelines? Recent development has more frequently created significant contrasts in compatibility and context. A long-standing neighborhood identity can be easily overwhelmed and erased in these small areas when new development is both larger and a sharp contrast to local design patterns. Large and small development can fit together when they relate. Working with these local design patterns and helping communities and developers use these tools can create better development and help engender greater support for density when done well.

Is this trying to making all new buildings look old? Or only about preservation? NO. The guidelines are style neutral. It's not about style. Its about relating to form and local design patterns. The guidelines may help with preservation efforts if desired but also work well when encouraging creative new design that fits local goals.


Having the List of Special Buildings in the appendix can help teach local architects your local patterns and also may help inform future efforts to update the City of Portland's long out-of-date 1980's Historic Resource Inventory (HRI)  as only a few of the local buildings on our historic main streets are included, yet are certainly deserving.

Image from "Building Blocks for Outer Southeast Neighborhoods"

How are these guidelines different from what the City is doing with the current DOZA Design Standards & Guidelines Process (currently under review by the Planning Commission)? 

The Sellwood-Moreland Design Guidelines were initiated at the grassroots level to empower communities with a greater voice in how we grow to better fit local identity. These are different from the standards and guidelines being created by the City through the "DOZA" Design Overlay Zoning Amendments policy process. The PDX Main Street Guidelines are more community based and specific to main street areas of special character. 

The Main Street Design Guidelines are Voluntary, how can they have more teeth? 


Most development will go through development standards so we need Main Street Design Standards as part of new DOZA citywide design policy underway. Learn more below and on our Policy Page.

Why is this is important locally and citywide? 


Main street-specific design standards are missing for many of Portland's narrow, street-car era historic commercial areas and very few have historic district status e.g. Sellwood-Moreland, Hawthorne, Alberta, Montavilla, etc.


Notably, these are absent from the proposed DOZA citywide design standards policy updates in progress now (a first major update in 30 years) despite many community-wide concerns about incompatibility and design.


Recent discussions at the Planning Commission on DOZA Standards are considering no Design Commission Review unless above 75 feet, overlooking impacts to these vulnerable un-designated historic areas.

Without a set of common Main Street design standards in DOZA to help guide growth with sensitivity for these older historic areas, these guidelines  can somewhat help fill this gap in policy and serve as a proactive, voluntary local tool for communities to have a local voice and to encourage better compatibility as we add needed housing and infill. 

What can the community do to be involved in making a difference on the larger scale? 


Advocate for Main St. Standards | Donate | Volunteer | Contact Us to Learn More.

What should community members do next on the Guidelines? 

  1. Review the Draft Design Guidelines and share feedback. Not sure how?
    Ideas: write a testimonial in support if you like them. Tell us to change something if you don't, and ideally in what way if you have ideas.


  2. Save the date for the adoption meeting on May 20th - details posted soon. We'll email you if you're on the notice list. If you're not on the list, email us.

  3. Learn how to use the guidelines and how to advocate for what you want to encourage (see pages 5-7 as a quick reference). It's your neighborhood - you love it, and so do we. Find out how these guidelines can be a starting point to make your vision happen.


Reminder to submit your comments and feedback by May 15, 2020 to 

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