New kid on the block: The urban gated community

Q21 offers a private courtyard, where it hosts barbecues and other community events

Portland’s newest crop of luxury apartment buildings reshape relationship between public and private space.

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Be careful about entering RivageRivage, a $60 million apartment complex perched along the Willamette River just north of the Fremont Bridge. You might never leave. 

You can work in the coworking space, have a drink in the communal living room and take a Tuesday yoga class with fellow residents.

“You could literally not leave the building,” says Christian Haggarty, a 48-year-old sales manager who lives at Rivage with his wife and their dog. “Sometimes it feels like living in a resort. You have to grocery shop, but you could spend the rest of your time there.” 

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The communal gathering space at Rivage features beer on tap. 

In 2017, 4,718 apartments came on line in greater Portland, according to CoStar, a commercial real estate firm. Many of the new residential developments, especially those in high end neighborhoods like the Pearl and Slabtown, resemble the Rivage, with services that rival hotels.

The new units, which rent for an average of $1,582, raise questions about affordability in a city scrambling to find reasonably priced housing.

The latest riff on co-living trends sweeping the country, these amenity rich developments are also reshaping the relationship between public and private space.  It’s lonely in the big city, and developers are enticing residents with the promise of human connection — with  likeminded people in similar income brackets and 24-hour security to boot.

“We wanted to create a community,” says Joel Andersen, the developer behind the $46 million Q21 apartments in Slabtown, where the 166 units rent from $1,199 to $4,500. “It’s really hard if you just have endless apartments, for people to feel a part of something.”

All inclusive living

In Q21’s communal lounge and coworking space, Andersen says, “you can get pumped in the gym next door, then step over here and bang out a sick article.” Afterward you unwind in the spacious outdoor courtyard, “your own private park.”  

Need to walk your dog or wash your car?  No point in wandering around the neighborhood. Contracted services are available at the Q21 and Rivage. The Modera Pearl even has its own dog park, a postage stamp bit of turf on one of the upper floors.

Located in Slabtown, the $46 million Q21 offers 166 luxury apartment units

At the Rivage, the 260 rentals range from $1,250 studios to $4,488 for 2-bedrooms. Residents mingle with neighbors and dogs at a “yappy hour,” or a rooftop solar eclipse party. There are themed parties and outdoor movie nights in the private park.

RivageThe rooftop deck at Rivage

“I’ve never seen another apartment building that offers so many community events,” says Colleen Kerns, a 31-year-old Nike product manager who recently moved to Rivage. “It’s insane. The community is just so involved.”

At Q21, the staff budgets $2,200 a month for events like scavenger hunts, a cornhole tournament, food cart barbeques and brunches catered by the nearby New Seasons.

Andersen says he gets paid back many times over due to reduced turnover.

Who lives in these new developments?

It’s a mix of young and old, single and coupled. Retirees mingle with millennial tech workers. The Dianne, a brand-new $44 million Pearl District development, is “not an old folks home, and it’s not a hipster environment,” says developer John Carroll.

One common denominator is income: The cheapest apartments start at $1,200 for a 350- to 500- square-foot unit.

And you won’t find many families with children, who “still want bedrooms and backyards,” Carroll says.

Kerns describes the Rivage crowd as “young, working professionals who are social and active in the sense that we like being downtown. It’s that young couple with a dog kind of thing.”

Amenity Wars

High end residences coupled with residential services have long been a staple of suburban gated communities and condominium developments.

Fierce competition among builders brought these features to the inner city Portland rental market. 

The inclusionary zoning ordinance passed last year resulted in a landslide of development proposals from builders hoping to get their projects approved before the new zoning went into effect. The regulation required developers to include affordable units in new projects.


IMG 1136At Rivage, the 260 rentals range from $1,250 studios to $4,488 for a two-bedroom

Today as hundreds of people sit on waitlists for affordable housing, high priced dwellings clamor for tenants. Rivage is only 60% full after being on the market for over a year. Q21, Rivage and Dianne are offering four to six weeks free rent to entice prospects.

“Trying to separate yourself from a luxury standpoint is getting harder,” Andersen says. “The cost of everything has escalated so high.”

The oversupply issue is expected to go away soon.

A booming economy and strong in-migration from affluent professionals drive demand for amenity-driven urban apartments, as does a new vogue for communal living among young people reared on the sharing economy.

On top of steadily rising demand, the number of apartment projects under construction is declining. Only 12 private developments large enough to fall under the inclusionary zoning policy have sought permits since it took effect. 

Back in the day, most apartment buildings featured a lone communal space; a laundry facility in the basement with washers and dryers. This is where friendships were forged and romantic attachments cemented. Today, apartments come with their own washers and dryers, and the amenities are all about entertainment, comfort and convenience.

“We provide them a space to get out of their apartment and interact with other people,” Rivage developer Lee Novak says. “That’s so different from four years ago. There are more amenities, bigger amenities, nicer amenities.”

“You could literally not leave the building. Sometimes it feels like living in a resort.” — Christian Haggarty.

In New York and San Francisco companies like  We Live are catering to the millennial desire for shared housing, with plenty of perks.

In Portland, the Aura Burnside, with 157 apartments ranging from 425 to 1,207 square feet, features a “cyclist garage and lounge” with a game loft, fix-it station and showers. Modera Pearl touts a clubroom, loaner bike program and infinity spa.

Carroll recalled touring NV, another Pearl District apartment building in the portfolio of Greystar Development, which manages Dianne and Rivage. “Talk about amenity space,” he says. “It’s almost a full square block on the ground floor. It’s like walking into a colosseum.”

A Private Public Space

Despite the abundance of in house amenities, many of the new developments tout the urban amenities Portland is famous for: the restaurants, the coffee shops, the lively walkable neighborhoods.

Most residents say the proximity to parks, coffee shops and other third places away from work and home are the reason they moved into the apartments in the first place. 

Yet as new apartment buildings bring food and entertainment services in house, the way people use public space is changing.  

“I work out more in the gym instead of going for a run in the neighborhood,” Rosengarten says. “I’ll hang out on the terrace instead of hanging out in the park. I still use public amenities, but I spend more time around the apartment than I did at my previous building.”

“In a luxury apartment you’re hanging out with a lot of people in your same income bracket,” Adiv says. “It’s important to get out and see people who aren’t like you.”

RJ Granchelli, a retail marketing consultant who moved into Q21 last April, describes himself as a true New York native—carless, born and bred for city life. Yet he gravitates to the apartment to save time and money.

The apartment coworking space, at least sometimes, beats the coffee shop. “If I go there I’m going to spend a bunch of money and spend more time than I want to,” he says. “It gives me the amenities of public spaces without having to get there.”

This kind of attitude alarms some urban studies experts.

“The spaces owned and operated by municipalities are really vital,” says Naomi Adiv, an assistant professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University who studies public space. “In a luxury apartment you’re hanging out with a lot of people in your same income bracket. It’s important to get out and see people who aren’t like you. That’s a key part of being in a democracy.”

To be sure, Netflix and smartphones also dissuade people from wandering parks and sidewalks. And the fall of retail and the rise of virtual delivery services—Amazon and UBER Eats—do their part to keep people inside.

“I don’t think people are choosing to stay here rather than go out there,” Andersen says. “But it does create the opportunity for them to say I don’t need to go out there. I can stay here.”

But in a privately managed apartment courtyard no one can ask you for money. Nobody can play music you don’t like on the street corner. Plus, it’s hard to beat the convenience of having so much to do in your own building.

“I don’t think people are choosing to stay here rather than go out there,” Andersen says. “But it does create the opportunity for them to say I don’t need to go out there. I can stay here.”  

Those who stay sip beer with the neighbors at a themed party planned by a “community manager,” an onsite employee whose job description isn’t so different from that of the residential advisers one encounters in university living situations.

“I don’t want to use the word dorm, but it has an adult dorm vibe to it,” Granchelli says. “There’s people cruising the hallways with glasses of wine.”

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