How the Pearl District Became the Pearl

THE NEIGHBORHOOD: The Pearl District

THE PLACE: In the early ‘90s, the Pearl District (then known as the River District) was a sparsely populated neighborhood “as rugged as any in the Pacific Northwest.”

There were warehouses and railroad yards and other symbols of the area’s industrial roots, but the industries themselves — lumber and manufacturing — were mostly gone.

That created an economic void in the neighborhood, and while some buildings found new life as low-rent art spaces or wildly successful book shops, many others sat vacant.

It wasn’t until the late ‘90s that the Pearl District as we know it started coming to life. City officials laid plans for constructing a streetcar network and three new parks in the neighborhood, and a group of local developers agreed to build thousands of new apartments and make at least 35 percent of them affordable.

What came next was a decade of dizzying change that turned the Pearl District into one of the glitziest neighborhoods in the city.

FUN FACT: Although the developers didn’t live up to their affordability promises, they came closer than you might think. About 28 percent of the 2,000 units developed under the plan qualified as affordable housing, meaning that someone making 80 percent of the region’s median income (or about $45,000/year as an individual renter) could afford to live there.

QUOTABLE: “It’s really a story about the evolution of a human habitat,” said Vernon “V” Vinciguerra, a documentary filmmaker who made A Visual History of the Pearl . “There were virtually no rules in the neighborhood before the ‘90s, and artists really flourished here. It’s now a vibrant but completely different neighborhood.”

CHECK IT OUT: Check out one of the Pearl’s renowned art galleries, attend a First Thursday celebration, or try a bit of Portland foodie culture.