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Infilling: What Is It?

Infilling: What is it?

Here are two facts: one, people are moving to Portland at a record-rate. Two, people want to live close within the city, as opposed to within a neighboring suburb and needing to commute.

Now, there’s one major variable. Portland made history in urban development by being the first city to implement an urban growth boundary. Meaning, development must exist within a certain area, and cannot ‘sprawl’ into surrounding areas, as most cities have done.

The city of Portland has been tasked with a fine balance – how do you accommodate for a rapidly increasing population, while not displacing your long-time residents?

One possible solution is infilling, a process being implemented by city planners all over the US. Essentially, it’s defined as building something new on land that’s underused or undeveloped and within an existing community.

Many people think that means packing and stacking as many units as possible, which is not true. A successful urban infill development project would have to maintain the neighborhood aesthetic. In Portland, it would also have minimal vertical development (we Portlanders love our view of Mt. Hood, after all).

Here are some of the benefits:

Increase Amount of Affordable Housing

Portland’s housing crisis—which is reaching dire levels—is largely due to the low supply of housing. A central benefit to infill development is converting unused or underused land into housing units, thus increasing the supply.

Increase of Amenities

Aerial view of Central park in New york city, USA.

Central Park, New York City

Population density has its perks, one of which is the investment in more amenities. The more people you have, the more money becomes available for public use. This is why large urban projects like Central Park, Prospect Park, the Toronto Islands have all been built – the large surrounding population justified the need to build and maintain them. Besides parks, other things are possible like more transportation, retail establishments, community and recreational spaces, to name a few.

Reducing Amount of “Eyesore” Properties

How many neighborhoods do you see with run-down properties, or lots that are vacant or undeveloped altogether? In some neighborhoods, these lots have been untouched for 20 years! See, city planners didn’t foresee this population boom, so neighborhoods were designed with mostly single-family lots and large lawns. Infill development would maximize this available space.


Restrictions and barriers do apply, though. For one, the approval process can be lengthy, as Portland’s many land-use and zoning laws need to be accounted for. Some developers balk at the upfront costs too, like demolition and new construction. There’s also risk for investors, like financing, as mixed-use projects bring their own complications.

Another key challenge comes from neighborhood buy-in. Infill development must fit the existing design and neighborhood aesthetic. Portland is characterized by its range of architectural designs—from Queen Anne to Craftsmen to Colonial Revivals—and it’s very important that whatever is built in will match what’s already there.

For infill development projects, you need a company that knows how to design in a way that gains neighborhood acceptance. Portland Development Group has a team of designers able to incorporate any existing aesthetic.

Infill development has its share of complications, mostly in terms of regulations. Give us a call if you’re considering this type of construction, and we’ll let you know how to go about your next steps.