Where are Tomorrow's Leaders?
(Oregon Planners Journal, July 1997)
By Richard Carson and December Carson
Oregon's land use planning program needs to be reinvigorated, maybe even reinvented, by a new generation of citizen-planners. The problem is that nothing is being done to nurture this. The planning system is aging, as are the people administering it. It has been a quarter-century since the statewide program was created in 1973. The city comprehensive plans created in the late 1970s and early 1980s were only meant to last until the year 2000. Two decades later no one remembers creating these plans and no one takes ownership. We desperately need to pass the baton to a new generation of citizen-planners. Instead, the older generation of planners either will not release it from their fingers or seemed to have misplaced it.
Unfortunately, the great Oregon public policy laboratory that created statewide land use planning, clean air and water initiatives, the Willamette Greenway and recycling has turned in on itself. We now vote for debilitating issues like property tax limitation measures, or divisive ones regarding the rights of homosexuals and the benefits of public employees.
Hector Macpherson, the farmer turned state senator, likes to remind us that it was the farmers who created the statewide planning system and not the professional planners. The farmers wanted to stop the onslaught of development on their lands and to create tax breaks to help keep farming viable. The planners were simply hired to manage the new land use system when Senate Bill 100 was approved.
However, the progenitors the high priests and priestesses of statewide planning have grown older and quieter. In the early days of statewide land use planning, the new Department of Land Conservation and Development planners (according to the former deputy director Craig Greenleaf) worked in a "strange cult-like environment." The staff argued over the implementation of law in the basement of their building in Salem. This is an apt description of the great zealousness many had at the time; the feeling that this was a great new social experiment.
Oregon's statewide planning system has gone through reformation and redirection before. Governor Atiyeh a Republican who believed in minimalist government made former state legislator and hog farmer Stafford Hansel the Commission's chair in an effort to make the planning system more business friendly. Governor Neil Goldschmidt a Democrat who pushed for greater government investment confronted the state planners in their own building and directed them to look to the cities and urban issues, and not just the rural areas.
However, all of the great champions (like Tom McCall, Mark Hatfield, L.B. Day, and Norma Paulus) are unknown to a younger generation. The people capable of reformation no longer exist, for we refuse to acknowledge them. These days we have only this incredible bitter negativism about our government.
We have gone from being enthusiastic young planning advocates to middle age planning processors. The truth is that many of the older generation planners no longer have the stomach for confrontation and the free debate of ideas.
When the citizens of this region began to rail about the need for growth to pay its way, the professional planners looked away. The result of this indifference was made manifest in Ballot Measures 47 and 50. A poll done by the city of Portland points out that, two of the top three reasons people voted "no" were to stifle economic development and planning in the mistaken belief it would stop growth and change.
The basis of our faith was captured by Tom McCall in 1973 when he said, "Oregonians have very protective feelings about one of the state's most priceless resources the landscape." How ironic is it that Californians have become the greatest defenders of this state's physical landscape! The fact is, Oregon's newcomers are the strongest advocates for protecting Oregon resources.
Tom McCall made "quality-of-life" and "livability" the defining words of our time. The foundation of those years was the great leadership, and the energy of young men and women who worked long and hard in the political fields to achieve those dreams and to save the best of Oregon. What we need now is new blood; young people with the enthusiasm to breathe life into and revitalize Oregon's political heart. People like Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten and state legislator Peter Beck.
It is time to question everything we are doing. In 1973 that is exactly what we did. We questioned and then acted to dramatically change the planning model. It is time for the next generation to take the leadership helm. Let them drag us kicking and screaming into the 21St century. Oregon will be a better place for their efforts. In 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke at the University of Capetown in South Africa and said that youth is "a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease." The legacy our champions bequeathed us is not written in some statute. They gave us a common vision and a set of values that said we are all stewards of this place called Oregon.
We know who will take back our Oregon you and I will. But first we must throw open the doors of the temple and invite the young in from outside. For we will not find leaders among a people who have no faith.
Richard and December Carson are father and daughter. Richard is the managing editor of the Oregon Planners Journal and can be reached via the Internet at "firstname.lastname@example.org." December Carson is a freelance writer for Portland area music publications like The Rocket. She can be reached via the Internet at "email@example.com."