The Curbside Commons: Parking and Property in Portland, Oregon

By: Solomon Rotstein

21st April, 2015

Long-heralded as a “green” city1 with an almost-mythical quality of life,2 Portland, Oregon, unsurprisingly, is inscribing concerns over climate change into the very fabric of its land use planning. By 2035, city planners hope that eighty percent of Portlanders will live within a “complete neighborhood,” defined as one in which all essential goods and services are available within a twenty minute walk from a resident’s home. Planning documents expressly cite concerns over GHG emissions as a rationale for this vision. Parking is the “terminal”7 of the very car-based transportation system whose negative environmental effects the complete neighborhood attempts to mitigate.

An examination of Portland’s minimum off-street parking requirements and on-street parking allocation regimes leads to the following conclusions: (1) although reducing or eliminating minimum off-street parking requirements has had little measurable effect on car ownership and use, the long-term effects of these policies remain promising; (2) the 2002 amendments, and, to a lesser extent, the policies in place after their subsequent rollback, demonstrate Portland’s movement from managing the curbside as a “subsidized commons” to a true commons; and (3) city planners should consider demand- side regulation of curbside parking space.

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