Foster: seven years later

img_5779Portland Monthly recently released its April issue, which represents the magazine’s yearly look at the city’s neighborhoods. While the magazine offers commentary on neighborhoods’ offerings for young families, food and drink, or best values in relation to housing costs and proximity to amenities, it also breaks down each of the city’s statistical standings based on population, park space, real estate prices, crime, etc.

This year’s addition makes no special mention of Foster-area neighborhoods, in particular, other than to suggest that home prices here still represent a decent value compared to other “close-in” neighborhoods. But, after reading the issue, we were prompted to go back and look at other issues from years past. And then we were reminded of a post we wrote three years ago about the state of the neighborhood. In that post, we took a look back at the 2010 Portland Monthly neighborhood issue, in which Foster-Powell (and the inner Foster-area in general—Mt. Scott-Arleta and Creston-Kenilworth included) was listed as one of three “up-and-coming” neighborhoods in the city to keep an eye on.

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Before our beloved Pieper Cafe set up shop at the corner of SE 65th and Foster, Yo Mama’s Coffee and Tea House was Da Hui’s next door neighbor

Nearly seven years later, we thought we’d take another look. And what we found, despite rising home prices, a few new businesses, proposed mixed-use developments, and the constant  ring of “potential,” is that Foster is still very decidedly Foster.

Our post three years ago referenced a then-four-year-old article that pointed to places like Tango Berretin, Performance Works NW, An Xuyen, the Gun Room and Artistic Taxidermy, Meticon Bikes, Slingshot, and Foster Burger, as evidence the “old west ambiance” of Foster was tapping into an “urban planner’s unrealized Parisian dream.”

And as we pointed out three years ago, not much had changed since that 2010 article (except for the sad passing of Guapo Comics and Coffee—RIP!). Sure, there were some subtle (and not so subtle) shifts—housing prices increased, a few businesses came and went, the Foster Streetscape Plan was approved—but the same ring of “promise” still echoed without the major transformation that some had expected.

And to an extent, that’s still the case today…even seven years later. And, perhaps, it’s totally ok. Sure, the pace of change may not be fast enough for some; for others, it may be too fast. Somewhere in the middle, though, there’s something refreshing about Foster still being Foster.

But while Foster still maintains that rough-and-tumble aesthetic, when we dig a little, the subtle changes may actually not be so subtle. There are three mixed-use housing developments  proposed between SE 51st and SE 72nd, of which could bring more commercial space and nearly 200 units of housing to the corridor in the next couple years; new businesses continue to find homes in the district, some of which could not have survived in this part of Portland seven years ago; the surrounding residential areas have seen home values nearly double in a short amount of time.

So with the “old west ambience” meets “unrealized Parisian dream” as the backdrop, where are we now? In some ways, as we’ve suggested, not too far from where we were in 2010. Many of the same businesses that formed the district’s identity in 2010 continue to do so today; Foster is probably more East Portland than it is Hawthorne; and many are still waiting for all the touted potential to be realized.

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Renderings of a proposed mixed-use development across the street from Portland Mercado 

In others ways, like we implied above, the change has actually been dramatic. You can get Stumptown Coffee at Pieper Cafe, Water Avenue Coffee at Speedboat, and there’s a third coffee shop at Portland Mercado; Foster Row, a former drapery, now houses several artists, crafters and makers, in a commercial-arts collective across the street from Devil’s Point; Portland Mercado has reshaped an entire section of the corridor, bringing visitors from all over the city, and, soon, a mixed-use commercial and housing development will spring up across the street; a bottle shop, game store, yoga studio, kids’ toy shop, and (soon-to-be) vegan burger restaurant no longer seem out of character for Foster; live music is a regular occurrence at multiple Foster bars; we now have four tattoo parlors; several art studios and galleries have opened in the last couple years; we even have a new, state-of-the-art and renowned recording studio operating out of one the neighborhood’s historic buildings.

In reality, a lot has changed on Foster. But not so much that it doesn’t resemble itself anymore. And as refreshing as that may be, it might not be the case in another seven years. We’re in for a wild ride, folks…

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