In the 1990s ZGF created a vision to guide the development of the River District – the core of what is now known as the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon. At that time, the land was vacated rail yards surrounded by aging industrial remnants. Today, the Pearl District is considered the gold standard of a successful live-work-play neighborhood, featuring lively streets, parks, art galleries, businesses, high-rise condominiums and lofts, and a streetcar system linking the Pearl District to downtown and Portland’s east side.


Initially there was little confidence that a vibrant neighborhood could succeed in this glum area, however, transformation began when ZGF convened a consortium of unlikely partners: developers and property owners with a shared interest in district revitalization. Under ZGF’s leadership, a development agreement was drafted, and the consortium worked collectively to advance district interests. ZGF’s urban design vision that incorporated the consortium’s feedback, attracted public interest, established a master plan for the neighborhood, and ultimately organized public and private investment to move the development forward.


The Pearl District was conceived as a cutting edge ‘smart growth’ concept, and has become a foundational example of what is today’s ecodistrict movement. The neighborhood illustrates how businesses and residents can share costs and benefits using district systems to capture value from active street design, community-scale energy generation, and low-carbon transportation options through the integration of natural and built environments. The Pearl is a model metropolitan neighborhood due to its contribution of vertical, mixed-use development with easy access to streetcar, bike routes, pedestrian activities, parks and green streets, as well as a commitment to shared resources that support a dynamic mix of jobs, homes, arts and recreation.


ZGF continues to work extensively in and around the Pearl District on projects including master planning, public realm design, and architecture. Key among them is the Broadway Corridor project—an extension of the Pearl District centered around the Union Station and the 14-acre U.S. Postal Service site, which is anticipated to be developed in phases beginning in 2019. Other ongoing projects include the Transit Mall Extension, and the Old Town/Chinatown Vision Plan.