Food Carts and Condos

Today the news really broke that the Good Food Here cart pod in my neighborhood is going to close at the end of 2015 to make way for a senior co-housing condo pod called PDX Commons.

I’ll miss the cart pod and I suspect we’ll see another one spring up nearby soon enough. And that one will close too. Surface parking lots in urban areas aren’t parks, they’re an anachronism from a car centric nightmare that I hope we’re waking up from.

Open public spaces are essential, too. But a food cart pod isn’t a truly public space, it’s not a park, it’s not a plaza, it’s a food court. There is actually a lot of open public space in our neighborhoods. It’s between the curbs. Before I lie down in front of a bulldozer to prevent a cart pod from being redeveloped, I want to see neighborhood streets transformed into plazas where neighbors gather and children play. If you don’t live on a corridor or an arterial street, there’s a park right outside your front door… if you’re willing to claim it.

But it’s CONDOS! This is true. the mid-2000s brought a scourge of condo conversions to Portland. Old apartment complexes were turned into pricy, but small, condominiums. This was a true harbinger to the skyrocketing cost of an apartment in Portland, but it generated far less protest than the building of new apartments 5 years later, buildings which are regularly, derisively, and incorrectly, called condos.

So why aren’t I upset? Because I’m glad that there are boomers out there who see value in moving to a neigborhood where they can walk to the store, the pharmacy, the bar, and the movies. I’m excited to see a model for community living that provides a path for retired folks to downsize and free up family size housing stock in the neighborhoods for growing families. I also like that the building has open space, a fairly nice design, and incorporates retail on the ground floor.

Is it perfect? No. I am puzzled at the number of parking spaces. This is one of the most walkable neighborhoods anywhere and the condos could be significantly cheaper without so much parking. I have a suspicion that in 5–10 years we may see the parking in this building converted to paid public parking for businesses on this stretch of Belmont (at least I hope it can be put to some good use after google starts driving everyone around). It’s also gray and white, like everything else.

They’re not cheap either. These units will go for 350–600K I hear. This is a another common complaint about new development. It would be nice if they had a few micro-units thrown in so they could get a mix of incomes in their community. But without inclusionary zoning, we’re unlikely to see much affordable housing voluntarily mixed into new developments. A co-housing model like this, but with smaller units and less parking would be great to replicate, not just for seniors, but for younger folks as well.