by Jonathan Konkol, Eliot Neighborhood 

Portland has struggled to accommodate growth in the decade since the Great Recession, and our conversations about growth and neighborhood change have become oppositional and overheated. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Cities around Oregon have been given until 2022 to come up with plans to implement HB 2001, a bill that will eliminate single-family residential zoning and make four units allowed by-right on all lots. This poses many challenges for communities that want to be intentional about what historic buildings, trees and other features are preserved for future generations. 

What if we could preserve what we love in Portland’s classic neighborhoods while creating opportunity for tens of thousands of new households in the coming decades? What if historic preservation and affordability advocates could find themselves on the same side? Imagine a future where neighborhoods are partners in growth and change, playing a collaborative role in finding room for new homes for our growing population. 

Recently, three friends from diverse backgrounds and professions got together to try to answer these challenges under the name The Re-Urbanist Collaborative. 

Our approach to neighborhood change is called Dynamic Density. It’s a new/old way of looking at urban neighborhoods based on the idea of finding our urban future in our urban past. This proposal uses the existing framework of neighborhood associations to make local decisions on how we allocate new buildings while preserving existing assets. Rather than a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach, it proposes a grass-roots, place-based approach. 

How it works:

Dynamic Density empowers neighborhoods to direct how they would like to grow, and enables them to share in the economic benefits of development in their communities. It recognizes the value of Portland’s classic neighborhoods and empowers citizens to take an inventory and preserve what they love. This includes historic houses, but also trees and other features.

By establishing each neighborhood as a Community Development Corporation, neighborhoods would be able to capture a portion of the System Development Charges (SDC’s, fees charged by the city on new developments) and the new tax revenue generated by that development. 

“What if historic preservation and affordability advocates could find themselves on the same side?”

We know we need to increase housing in all our neighborhoods, and particularly in urban neighborhoods close to employment and transit. We begin by establishing a minimum aggregate density based on data-driven metrics (for example, 22 homes per net acre). 

Regular people who don’t work in the design and planning worlds usually don’t have much exposure to talk about “typologies” and density. We want to show people what these terms look like on the ground and what they already have in their communities with self-guided walking tours, assisted by a mobile app. The app will guide people around examples of higher density development and allow them to get a firsthand impression of traditional building types that already exist in our neighborhoods. 

Re-Urbanist Collaborative will show neighborhoods their current population density and provide a visualization of different ways to meet or exceed the density target. We hope to lead neighbors in a series of public design workshops that will educate neighbors about the reasons for doing the work; show what their neighborhood already contains; help neighbors prioritize what they want to preserve most; show what different forms of density look like; lead a mapping exercise to place denser housing types in neighborhoods, develop a plan to implement the neighborhood’s preferred scenario.

Drawing on what they have learned about growth targets, existing conditions, priorities for preservation, and a knowledge of what higher density housing can look like, neighbors choose the puzzle pieces and arrange them on the board. We provide a pattern book of compatible, historically-derived building types based on examples we’ve documented from months of walking neighborhoods with our cameras and talking to neighbors on the way.

The Re-Urbanist Collective includes the author, Jonathan Konkol, AICP – Planner & Urban Designer; Richard Potestio, AIA, Architect & Troublemaker; and Miles Sisk – Political Consultant & Property Manager.

If you’d like to get involved, you can find out more at our website: or contact the author at: 

Jonathan Konkol is an Eliot Neighborhood Association board member and Vice-Chair of its Land Use and Transportation Committee