Portland, Ore., Then and Now (1890-2012)

It's easy to see the results of Oregon's urban growth boundary laws in this side-by-side map comparison

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Settled by a man from Massachusetts and a man from Maine, they decided in 1845, by coin toss, which one would get to name the land after his hometown. Winning two out of three tosses, Portland, Maine's Francis Pettygrove claimed naming rights of what would become Oregon's largest city.

Officially incorporated in 1851, Portland grew steadily, forming an identity as an industrial trading town. Up into the 1890s, Portland hosted the Pacific Northwest's largest port, only to be surpassed later by Seattle after that city connected new railways to their harbor, allowing goods to bypass the Columbia River. To this day Portland is still home to one of the West Coast's largest ports and is the largest wheat shipment point in America.

Oregon implemented urban growth boundaries for its metropolitan areas and the consequences of that policy can be seen clearly in the Portland's physical evolution. So many cities we've previously examined show a preference for large-scale projects that impede on the existing street grid and provide bountiful surface parking for suburban commuters. Most of those large-scale projects occurred after World War II. Oregon's UGB was enacted early enough to avoid some of the follies of American real estate trends that many industrial regions embraced in the 1970s and '80s. 

To see how Portland has physically evolved, we pulled sections from this 1890 map of the city, courtesy the Library of Congress.

Maintaining its organized and verdant look, this section of downtown Portland has seen its 19th century buildings replaced by office buildings from the later half of the 20th century. On the top right is Portland Building, an icon of 1980s postmodernist architecture.

Pioneer Square, another icon of postmodern urbanism, sits where the Portland Hotel (pictured left) once stood. The gates of the hotel were incorporated into the square's design and the structure's foundation remains under the public space.

Larger and relatively new commercial buildings now occupy much of this section of downtown, but a former brewery remains. The original brewery (pictured left) was built in 1864 and was expanded in 1908 to the portion of the block it occupies today. It has since been renovated into a LEED certified office building with a tavern on the first floor.

Portland's gritty industrial heritage, although still active, has made way for new types of development. This northwest section of downtown has seen a recent sprouting of residential developments that all carry similar style and scale. 

This train station was completed in 1896, designed by Henry Van Brunt. Since his design was accepted in 1885 and this map was completed in 1890, it's likely that the map drawing is based on the rendering for what currently stands.

On the other side of the river is the northeast section of Portland. Close to the water sits the current and former homes of the NBA's Trailblazers, the Rose Garden and Memorial Coliseum. This side of the Willamette River remains the more low key, industrial side of the city.

Not to be forgotten among the bountiful micro-breweries, independent coffee shops and charmingly bizarre boutiques that give Portland its contemporary identity is the city's heavy industry. Although residential development and new green spaces are starting to transform Portland's waterfront on the western side of the Willamette, the east side of the river, as pictured here, is fully developed as an expansive industrial area.

Looking at how Portland has evolved, we see a city that has maintained its economic specialties through many tumultuous economic cycles. Time and thoughtful land use has only added to the city's ability to attract businesses and people since its early days.

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