“Urban history as Western history: Pacific Coast cities, redevelopment, and frontier expansion.”
Western History Association, 60th Annual Conference, Oct. 17, 2020
Blight: A History, 2019+
Suspended decay: The architectural sculptures of Robert Overby, 2016+
The Analog Aesthetic: Authenticity, Industrial Nostalgia, and Hipster William Morris, 2015+
The genesis of the Portland Development Commission, 1958-1980
Panorama view of South Auditorium mock up looking northeast from Ross Island Bridge. Portland Archives A2020-003.
Concept and highlights. In 1950, Portland's civic leaders—from public officials to social welfare advocates, labor officials to major industrialists and bankers‐met behind closed doors to plan the city's first redevelopment program. Over the next decade, this diverse coalition suffered populist defeats, churned, and ultimately fractured. Out of this political detritus emerged a new political institution, the Portland Development Commission. Led by allies of the private sector real estate and banking industries, the PDC was the realization of a new approach to the mixture of public and private intervention in the urban landscape, one that jettisoned Depression-era social concerns, and that concentrated power away fro democratic institutions, isolating the commission's work from voters. Endowed with vast power, the PDC embarked on a program of aggressive redevelopment, the purpose of which was not to solve extant urban problems, but rather to "re-found" the city through the construction of ambitious new architectural expressions.
The story of the PDC challenges several long-held assumptions about the history of urban renewal, city planning, and civic politics in the urban American West. It shows how the norms of 21st century "smart growth"—pro-density, pro city center, anti-urban sprawl—are rooted not in populist and progressive 1970s innovations in planning, but rather a generation earlier, in the antidemocratic genesis of urban renewal.
To tell this story, this project relies on several archives, but most especially on the PDC's own records from its early years of existence, now housed at the Portland Archives and Records Center in Portland, Oregon. Notable additional archives include the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, the Truman Presidential Library, and the collection of the Oregon Historical Society.