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BPS commissions report on updating the citywide Historic Resource Inventory

News Article
Consultant report provides background and actionable recommendations for updating Portland’s 34-year-old HRI

In the early 1980s, the City of Portland advanced an ambitious project to survey thousands of potential historic resources across the city. After four years of professional and volunteer effort, in 1984 approximately 5,000 documented properties were adopted onto the resulting Historic Resource Inventory (HRI), a catalog of Portland’s most important architectural, cultural, and historic places. Listing on the HRI honored the significance of certain historic resources and prioritized them for possible future landmark designation.

At the time of its completion in 1984, the HRI was celebrated as a forward-thinking planning tool that documented the places that were most historically significant to Portlanders at the time. However, with the passing of time the inventory has become less geographically comprehensive and representative of the city’s different communities than it once was. Specifically, the annexation of East Portland (little of which was within the city boundary in the early 1980s), advances in national best practice, and a lack of regular additions to the inventory have diminished the HRI’s utility for research and planning. A newly released report provides the City with direction for how to overcome these shortcomings and expand the HRI in the years ahead.

State policy changes and report recommendations provide framework for future inventory work

In response to requests from the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission to update the HRI, BPS recently engaged in several State policy initiatives to pave the way for future inventory work. Among them, in 2016 the Oregon Supreme Court clarified the role of owner consent in landmark designation, and, in 2017, the Land Conservation and Development Commission amended administrative rules to clarify processes for updating historic resource inventories. In light of these changes, BPS engaged a consultant team to study local, regional, and national best practices in survey and inventory and make recommendations for updating Portland’s HRI.

The 1984 HRI documented 5,000 resources, including this 1890 charmer in the Woodlawn Conservation District. A new report provides recommendations for how the City can advance an update to the HRI in the years ahead.

The consultant team’s report offers 14 distinct recommendations for arriving at a more comprehensive, equitable, and useful citywide inventory of significant historic resources. The report, which is available for download as a PDF, will be presented to the Historic Landmarks Commission on March 12, 2018. BPS staff have begun early implementation of several of the report’s recommendations.

Early implementation of recommendations focuses on digital webmap, social media, zoning code

In 2017, student interns Caity Ewers and Lauren Everett digitized the City’s paper historic resource records, reconciled changes that have occurred since the 1984 survey was conducted, and integrated the resultant data into a historic resources webmap. Following the digitization effort, BPS created the Instagram account @Portland1984 to share stories behind some of the more interesting HRI resources. These efforts improved the utility of the City’s previously-outdated historic resources database and strengthened the foundation for future survey, inventory, and webmap projects.

One of the report’s 14 recommendations is to develop an enhanced database and mapping application for historic resources. A historic resources webmap was developed in 2017 to provide access to existing records while a more functional mapping application is being developed by BPS.

In addition to digitizing existing records, in late 2017 BPS launched the Historic Resources Code Project (HRCP) to improve the City’s inventory, designation, and protection programs for historic resources. Most relevant to Portland’s aging HRI, the project will incorporate recent changes in State administrative rules and codify a process for adopting newly-surveyed properties onto the HRI, changes which are recommended by report authors.

Although BPS has begun implementation of several report recommendations, advancing on-the-ground survey of historic resources will require the City to secure new sources of funding. Towards that end, BPS has applied for a State Historic Preservation Office grant and is requesting that City Council support a one-time budget add package to conduct pilot survey and inventory work in 2018 and 2019.

BPS looks forward to working with the Historic Landmarks Commission, City Council, and the broader community to advance the recommendations provided by report authors to create a more inclusive, diverse, and accessible HRI in the years ahead.