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The Charms of 'Illegal Neighborhoods'

A longtime resident of an old, eclectic neighborhood reflects on what makes the area so desirable and why new places like it are effectively outlawed today.
October 2, 2015, 6am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Rosewoman

For decades, Robert Liberty has called Northwest Portland home. Blessed by an eclectic mix of housing types and uses, his neighborhood plays host to diverse residents, young and old, and a collection of small businesses including restaurants, grocers, dry cleaners, small warehouses, and a sheet metal company.

Liberty laments that despite the obvious character his neighborhood exhibits - and the high premiums residents pay to live there - the area is "illegal" in most modern zoning schemes. He writes, "residential zoning today has carried class separation to great extremes, which you can see if you travel by air: Over here, big single-family homes on big lots. Over there a mobile home park."

The desire to preserve parking, to segregate immigrants and the poor, and to guard land value and "neighborhood character" has led, ironically, to a shortage of adaptable urban environments. Liberty concludes, "Does that mean do away with all regulations? No. But it does mean that we need to stop assuming that everyone wants to, or can afford to, live in a big-house on a big lot in a residential-only neighborhood."

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Published on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 in City Observatory City Commentary
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