Updated August 22, 6:30 am: The Independent District Commission voted unanimously on August 21 to officially approve the Alder map. 

When Portland’s new charter reform is officially implemented in January 2025, it will bring a lot of changes to the city government, some of which will have a more direct impact on Portland residents than others. One of the transformations likely to be most noticeable to everyday Portlanders— many of whom feel strongly about their neighborhood identities— is the creation of four geographic districts across the city, each to be represented by three city councilors hailing from the district. 

After months of deliberation and community input about how the new city districts should be drawn, the Portland Independent District Commission (IDC) voted unanimously Wednesday, August 16, to move forward with an amended version of the “Alder” map.

The Alder map would place inner southeast neighborhoods of Reed and Sellwood-Moreland with communities west of the Willamette River. The IDC ultimately decided this approach was most in line with their goal to create “communities of common interest.” 

The Alder map was one of three district voting maps released in draft form in May. The commission is likely to approve the map during its official vote today. 

The district commission was formed soon after Portlanders voted to approve a sweeping city charter reform measure last November. Alongside the IDC, a separate volunteer committee is tasked with figuring out the appropriate salary for new city commissioners. A government transition advisory committee was also appointed. 

The commission will decide how Portland should be divided into four geographic districts, each with a roughly equal population, that would “utilize existing geographic or political boundaries” and “not divide communities of common interest,” among other requirements. 

The preferred Alder boundary map was deemed the best outcome for balancing the population in each voting district and keeping Portlanders of common interest together. However, some inner Southeast Portland residents object to being lumped in with Portland’s west side. Eastside Portlanders want to make sure they’re able to retain their community identity. 

“It’s clear you’re trying to protect the integrity of several communities in Portland and I fully support that effort. But what I fear you may be missing is that inner-SE Portland also has a strong, unique identity worth protecting,” a Sellwood resident wrote about the maps in public comments. “I could live with Alder but only if the SE neighborhoods can retain their SE identity.”

The three draft maps released in May included the Alder map as well as two others, dubbed Cedar and Maple. All three bore a certain likeness, maintaining similar geographic boundaries that basically separated the north, south, east, and west parts of the city into distinct districts. But there were some key differences to deliberate over. 

One of the biggest questions commissioners grappled with was where to draw the boundary across the Willamette River. Because of Portland’s population distribution, all versions of the district maps would require some neighborhoods on the city’s east side to merge with the west side district. 

The Cedar and Maple maps both placed parts of Portland’s renter-heavy and progressive Central Eastside in the majority west side district, which some community advocates spoke up against after the draft maps were released. Opponents of the maps worried the decision would dilute youth and progressive voices in the Central Eastside to lump them in with the wealthier west side neighborhoods. 

Other people who offered public comment said the differences between Portland communities across the Willamette River are too big to overlook, and keeping the city’s east side intact should take precedence over ensuring an even population split. 

“Despite any perceived similarities, such as the existence of both Lewis and Clark and Reed College, if you've lived in these communities you would know they are culturally dissimilar,” another Sellwood resident wrote to the commission. “The Willamette does not simply provide a natural boundary between these communities, it draws a line between interests.” 

The full implications of the new districts will become more clear as political candidates emerge from each part of the city.

The new map gives numbers to the districts: 

District 1: The area encompassing Portland east of 82nd Ave (I-205 north of SE Division Street) includes Powellhurst, Lents, Gilbert and Hazelwood

District 2: North and Northeast Portland. Neighborhoods include: Kenton, St. Johns, Piedmont, Cully

District 3: Mostly comprised of Southeast neighborhoods like Brooklyn and Errol Heights to the south, Central Eastside to the west, and Montavilla to the east, with portions of Northeast Portland that include North Tabor all the way up to Maywood Park.

District 4: Encompasses most of the west side. After tweaks to the “Alder” map, the final version now places the entire Brooklyn and Montavilla neighborhoods in the same district, after earlier versions proposed splitting them between districts. It also clarifies the boundary between the Roseway and Cully neighborhoods, dividing them between districts two and three along NE 63rd Ave. 

Because the IDC is likely to cast the official vote for the map unanimously at its final meeting today, Portland City Council won’t have to issue a final seal of approval. After commissioners vote to approve the map, the commission plans to release a final report addressing mapping rationales and frequently asked questions.