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Case Studies 

Pearl District




Contributed by 
Jon Winslow
Project for Public Spaces
November 11, 2003
December 14, 2017

New Urban Neighborhood incorporating many New Urbanist ideas.

What makes it Great?

Why it doesn't work?

This is the model for urban neighborhoods throughout North America. It is a former industrial area now a hip loft area with galleries and upscale shops and restaurants. The streetcar plays an important role in the success of this area. Many old brick buildings such as warehouses have been converted to housing plus a lot of new construction. This is the place to live, shop, work, play, etc.

Access & Linkages

Pearl is connected seamlessly to the upscale residential area known as Northwest Portland (NW 23rd and NW 21st), and also with the vibrant downtown area primarily because of the Portland Streetcar but also due to the pedestrian-friendly nature of the streets and neighborhood. There is no real center for the area; however, since the streetcar opened in 2001, it has centered on the area around NW 10th and 11th Avenues. The place is so accessible that many people have gotten rid of their cars or use them very rarely. The sidewalks are very inviting with storefronts lining them. The streets are narrow and include Portland's famous 200 foot grid block system.

Comfort & Image

The Pearl is attracting people from all over the country, both to visit and to live in. It is very clean and friendly. Streets and parks are maintained daily. The neighborhood constantly has people walking around from early in the morning to late at night; I have gone outside at 1:00 am and have not thought once about my safety. Vehicles have their place here: in garages or traveling at slow speeds, respectful of pedestrians. Plus there is a sign on one of the new buildings saying "GO BY STREETCAR" and the "GO BY TRAIN" sign is also visible in the area from the nearby train station.

Uses & Activities

The space is constantly in use by residents, shoppers, diners, people relaxing in the park, dog walkers, delivery people, construction workers, art gallery browsers, college students from the art college, people waiting for the streetcar and people working in the industrial buildings. The residents are primarily young singles or couples without children or empty nesters, but there is a growing number of young children in the area and a few teens. There are lots of galleries, shops and restaurants. The park is especially popular; it is not uncommon to see over 100 people in the small one-block park known as Jamison Park. Children and their parents come from all over the metro area to this park. I can honestly say that everything in the area is well used at almost all hours. The largest bookstore in the country is here, bringing in tens of thousands of people a day. However, this place does not give the feeling of being overcrowded or too populated. There is a great diversity here of different kinds of buildings, from townhouses to lofts to condos to apartments, from affordable housing to high income; from residential to commercial to industrial to office.


Everyone is very social and gets along very well. There is a real friendly and close-knit feeling here. The park and streetcar as well as the sidewalks make this place successful. Mostly locals but on the First Thursday of the month people congregate here for the galleries and stores which stay open late. Jane Jacobs would be happy here.

How Light?

How Quick?

How Cheap?

History & Background

City Planners from all over the country are coming to the Pearl to study it. Transportation planners are traveling from all over the country to study the success of the streetcar. There is nothing like it in the country.

Related Links & Sources

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*Please note that these Hall of Shame nominations were written in a moment in time (most over a decade ago) and likely have since changed or even been transformed. If the above entry is now great, or still not so great, go ahead and comment below on how it has evolved or nominate it as a great place.


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