Portland’s South Waterfront has become an alternative to the Pearl District but it is a bit of an enigma. It is not completely built out yet, but it is close to halfway and the area seems a bit devoid of services and things to do. The South Waterfront is home to some of Portland’s tallest residential towers several of which are much taller than Vancouver’s tallest planned structures. Some of these units no doubt offer excellent views of the city and surrounding area.
The South Waterfront as its name implies lies on the shores of the Willamette River south of Downtown Portland. The Willamette is no where near as majestic as the Mighty Columbia, but it is none-the-less a waterfront feature. The park trail that is featured on the South Waterfront is really just adequate at best, it is vastly inferior to the amazing waterfront park in Vancouver. The only restaurant that really takes advantage of the waterfront locale is the Old Spaghetti Factory that has been there for years.
Take a look at this comparison chart below (stats from 8/13/2022) :
The South waterfront is ideal for people working at the OHSU complex or VA hospital up the hill. The tram is an easy ride to work. But if you work anywhere else it is a bloody nightmare getting out of that South Waterfront area. It is a bit isolated and the access to the bridges and such is a maze. Traffic is horrendous the minute you leave the area. However traffic in the actual neighborhood is very light at nearly any hour. The Portland Street Car serves as a public transit way out, but the Street Car is a bit slow and you would need to transfer to MAX to really go anywhere outside the Downtown Center. Public Transit is great until you start switching trains, then it goes sideways crazy fast.
The South Waterfront is not very walk-able for an urban area. Its 61 is good compared to suburbia but for an urban neighborhood it is pretty crummy and is not able to compete with Esther Short. Although the South Waterfront is less dense than the Pearl it is still more dense than Esther Short and at build-out it will almost certainly become Portland’s most dense residential area.
Aside from people working up the hill at OHSU, the South Waterfront is really inferior to the Pearl in nearly every way. And it is inferior in many ways to Vancouver’s Downtown. But it does have one interesting feature, the South Waterfront is much more quiet than either the Pearl or Esther Short. Having a 73 sound score in a dense urban area is pretty darn good. There are some suburban neighborhoods that are noisier than that. Furthermore, the South Waterfront seems to be a bit better shielded from Portland’s homeless camps and the associated litter and trouble.
One thing about Downtown Vancouver that the South waterfront share is the close proximity to a single family home neighborhoods. Just up the hill between I-5 and Barbur Blvd. there are nice single family homes. So one can live in an urban environment and still have a proper house. This is not really doable in the Pearl. But again Vancouver has the edge because Arnada and Hough are much more walk-able and bike-able than just about anywhere in South Portland.
Although rents in Vancouver have gotten as high or even higher than Portland, the Condo market is more affordable.