Dr. Michael Wilkerson’s Vision for Downtown Portland’s Recovery

January 23, 2024


The Oregonian / OregonLive.com recently interviewed Michael Wilkerson, Ph.D about downtown Portland’s recovery.

Although downtown Portland saw its busiest holiday shopping season since the start of the pandemic, “visitor activity remained down 38% from 2019, and the pace of recovery is slowing,” according to the Oregonian.

The article continues: “As downtown’s comeback plateaus, some are talking about a different vision for the city’s core. They want a long-term plan that would accept that workers won’t return to their offices in large numbers and that planning for downtown’s future needs to take that into account.

“’The hybrid work is stabilized, and any meaningful recovery in return to work is likely to be very slow from here,’ said economist Michael Wilkerson, Ph.D of the Portland research firm ECOnorthwest. ‘There’s going to be no big step-ups anymore. People have all settled on their policies.’

“Ongoing efforts to reduce crime, trash, homelessness and drug use are necessary, in Wilkerson’s view, but won’t be sufficient to restore downtown unless Portland can attract more people to the city’s core — for more reasons.

“To Wilkerson, the slowing recovery shows Portland must look beyond attracting office workers…. That means making downtown more like the Pearl District, the South Waterfront or close-in neighborhoods around North Mississippi Avenue or Southeast Division Street, where full-time residents live among shops, restaurants and offices.

“’The neighborhoods in our central city that are most vibrant, most resilient and showing the most growth aren’t single-use places,” Wilkerson said. “They are more balanced in their use.’

“It’s unlikely that more than 5% of downtown Portland’s office space could become homes, according to Wilkerson. But even so, that could add up to thousands of new apartments whose residents would meaningfully change the feel of downtown.

“’We’re not trying to take all of downtown and turn it into housing,” Wilkerson said… ‘Just wrapping our heads around the fact that this is the new normal,’ he said, ‘is really helpful.'”