Before Detroit, Portland Makes Investment In “20-Minute Neighborhoods”

Next year, Detroit will invest $1.6 million towards “20-minute neighborhoods”. It’s an attempt to revitalize some of the city’s commercial corridors so that amenities such as groceries and schools are within a 20-minute commute. It’s a strategy already in play in Portland, Oregon.

Eric Engstrom is the project manager of the Portland Plan, the city’s multi-faceted urban blueprint. He tells WDET’s Eli Newman that “20-minute neighborhoods” are a way of implementing many changes through a single tactic.

Interview Highlights

On the motivating factors to develop 20-minute neighborhoods

One was our interest in trying to become a more sustainable city, trying to reduce the amount of traffic congestion and pollution. Also equity; some communities had good access to [amenities] in a vibrant commercial district but other communities had a much sparser array of services.

On the origin of the strategy

​Historically when cities were developed before the automobile, there was more reliance on getting your daily needs met closer to home. We see that a lot in historic neighborhoods, what we call in Portland “street-car neighborhoods.” That’s a historical pattern we see in a lot of American cities that has been lost with more commuting and freeway development.

The resources needed to make 20-minute neighborhoods a reality

We do have to make investments in transit. A lot of it has to do with zoning; many cities have zoning rules that preclude some of those development patterns that used to exist. There’s been a large interest in new development in communities where some of that zoning has been eased.

On gentrification

​That’s one thing Portland has been struggling with. We’ve seen a lot of development in streetcars and sidewalks, reinvesting in urban infrastructure to stimulate growth, but we’re struggling with the displacement of current residents that are communities of color or lower-income. Portland is probably a lot whiter than Detroit, but this has still be a point of friction: how do we get shared success when we do see the revitalization of existing neighborhoods?


Image credit: "Downtown Portland OR" by Michael Silberstein, under CC

Aired on: Morning Edition
About the Author

Eli Newman


Just a small guy with big ideas. Sharing content and culture at WDET 101.9 FM.   Follow @other_eli

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