Growing Portland: Land & People

In this inaugural chapter of Greater Portland 21, we look at how the city of Portland, Oregon has grown in terms of land and people—from its incorporation in 1851 to today—and some of the challenges and opportunities that recent growth has brought to the city as it looks to the future. In upcoming chapters, we will delve more deeply into a wide variety of topics including the dynamics of our changing population, housing, education, and economy.

Portland, like many cities, has grown through annexation. Over time, it brought in adjacent towns and land, expanding in all directions. Today, completely surrounded by incorporated areas, Portland has essentially reached its limit for geographic expansion.

The oldest parts of the city were built for pedestrians and are, therefore, relatively dense. Later, as the city grew (first around streetcar lines and then to the reaches of the automobile), the city became less dense.

With little room for expansion, density is increasing, with new development often changing the character of existing neighborhoods. New construction of multi-family housing in centers and along major corridors and infill single-family residences within neighborhoods is altering the historical feel of some neighborhoods and increasing pressure on the existing infrastructure.

Demographically, throughout most of its history Portland has been overwhelmingly white, but more recent population growth has brought greater diversity. Between 2000 and 2010, Portland’s nonwhite population increased at more than three times the rate of the white population and growth among the nonwhite population under 18 years of age is even greater. Additionally, the 21st century geographies of race, ethnicity, age, and income, where the least advantaged live furthest from central services and amenities, will require new thinking about how to create a livable Portland for everyone.

Photo credit: IMS

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