Outside Ideas: Transitory Land Uses in Portland


A recent conversation that I had with local architects Robert Humble and Joel Egan triggered a renewed interest in transitory land uses -- developments that are relatively temporary and can be established with very limited investment. In my own experience as an urban planner, self-storage facilities and private parking lots have long since been the traditional transitory land uses, acting as placeholders for more intense development. True, some of these projects could be credited with cleaning up vacant yards full of weeds. But I always found them disappointing, as they add very little value to the community.

Needless to say, I was delighted to see that at least one city in the Pacific Northwest is redefining what it means to foster creative uses for transitory land. While in Portland over the weekend, I paid close attention to the modular businesses that have cropped up on vacant lots all over the Mississippi and Alberta neighborhood districts. These uses, albeit still placeholders, clearly add a bit of vibrancy to the community and are great places to grab a maple pecan ice cream cone, veggie burrito, or mum plant! Hopefully these little establishments mark a new trend in transitory land use toward modular style development and community enrichment.

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A vacant residential lot serves as the perfect home for a homemade frozen treat stand


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A vacant corner lot in the Mississippi District plays host to a mobile Mexican Food Stand



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An underutilized corner lot in the Alberta District is transformed into a gardener’s green oasis



Ashley DeForest is a Community Developer who lives in Seattle, but is involved in urban and regional planning projects throughout the Northwest. Feel free to email her at ashleyd [at] zenbe [dot] com … she's always excited to hear about an innovation in community engagement or urban development!

All photos by author.

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