The Pearl District

Pearl District Landscape


The Pearl District is a world-renowned icon of urban renaissance, straddling gentrification and revitalization with delicate balance via the incorporation of New Urbanism in its evolution. The Pearl is a young neighborhood, its most recent incarnation established in the early 1990s. Its modern persona is heavily influenced by the tenets of New Urbanism, which prizes mixed-use, walkability, diversity, human scale and conservation. Well-designed urban neighborhoods should operate as networks that increase social capital for their residents. The influence of these ideas on the development of the Pearl is apparent in nearly every block. At the street-level, buildings display visual variety, the neighborhood boasts small parks and small schools, several buildings have LEED status (meaning they are designed to use fewer resources) and residents benefit from a variety of food, entertainment, civic involvement, transportation, employment and home options.


The Pearl is a small, downtown neighborhood. It is located in the northwest quadrant of Portland, OR nestled between Downtown, the Willamette River and the Northwest neighborhood, encompassing approximately 100 city blocks and covering 245 acres. Its boundaries are formed by W Burnside Street on the south and NW Broadway to the east. The Fremont Bridge frames the north end of the Pearl, becoming the Interstate 405 Freeway that cradles its western boundary. The softer boundaries of the neighborhood are NW 9th Ave to the east and Northrup to the north. Development is not as dense beyond those streets, therefore few people venture any further east or north.


The Pearl is an industrial neighborhood that has evolved into an urban neighborhood. Originally part of the 1869 Couch Addition, the neighborhood housed rail yards, warehouses, breweries and a residential development around the North Park Blocks. As transportation patterns increasingly shifted away from rail and toward automobiles and highways, the district emptied. Around the mid-20th century, its low rents attracted artists and business start-ups. By the end of the same century, the Pearl was the focus of multiple urban design studies, committees and commissions intent on creating a dense, walkable, multi-use neighborhood that would epitomize the concept of urban renewal.


Several people and organizations have been involved in the Pearl’s successful evolution. The foremost leader of the Pearl’s planning is the award-winning Hoyt Street Properties. In 1994, Hoyt, in cooperation with the City of Portland, began development of 34 acres with the primary goal of bringing high density housing to the neighborhood. As of 2012, Hoyt has developed 11 multi-level residential communities and coordinated the retail space on the ground floors of their buildings as well as the Pearl’s park development, making the company responsible for overseeing one of the largest urban developments in the country.


Another factor contributing to the Pearl’s unique development strategy is its inclusion in the River District Urban Renewal Area (RDURA). The RDURA was created by the Portland Development Commission (PDC) in 1998 with the intention of developing high-density, mixed-use urban residential neighborhoods. The RDURA oversaw the re-development of the Brewery Blocks, the development of the Pearl’s three parks, the addition of the 10th and 11th Street Portland Streetcar routes and the financing of over 1,000 low income housing units.