Metro area getting ready to direct growth
(The Oregonian, April 21, 1992)
By Richard Carson
We must make a decision today for the 21st century. What will be the future of the Portland metropolitan area? Will it become another Seattle or Los Angeles? Do we want to live in a place where we sit in our cars and use cellular phones to compensate for our lost computer time? Are we going to allow housing costs to soar so that only people who have saved for 20 years can afford a home? Are we going to pave over the natural landscape until open space and wildlife are no longer a part of our daily lives?
Population and economic growth in this region mean change is inevitable and some important decisions must be made. Doing nothing is a decision, albeit a poor one. We need to be concerned about what the citizens and policy-makers of this region want and how these decisions will be made.
So what does the future hold for the Portland metropolitan area?
- By 2010, the metropolitan area will have to accommodate 400,000 to 500,000 more people.
- In spite of the foresight of the region's founders, who protected the largest city forest in the nation (Forest Park), we are bulldozing the few remaining natural areas in our urban environment in order to accommodate growth. There is still speculation and development pressure on farmland, even after 18 years of statewide land-use planning.
- The quality of our air and water is being degraded.
- Housing is less and less affordable to the average person or family, through no fault of their own. There are others who are homeless and need help.
- And, in spite of our commitment to light rail, our development patterns are still designed to serve the automobile and not the human being who is, after all, a pedestrian.
So what do we want? What can we do? It is time that we, as individuals, take full responsibility for the good and bad of our urban landscape. We need to ask questions about our values and then make decisions based on those values.
However, the governance of the region, which in the 19th century was vested in the city of Portland, is today vested in 24 cities, three counties, a regional government, more than 130 special districts and some 400 locally elected officials.
From Wilsonville to Vancouver, Forest Grove to Gresham, the region functions as a single economy that transcends city, county and even state boundaries. For this reason, only Metro, the regional government, can plan for the entire region as a whole and help ensure the livability of the region for its 1.1 million residents.
In "Image of the City," Kevin Lynch believed that regional governance was becoming a reality and could make a difference by defining a new kind of vision: "A clear and comprehensive image of the metropolitan region is a fundamental requirement of the future We are rapidly building a new functional unit, the metropolitan region, but we have yet to grasp that this unit, too, should have its corresponding image It is the total environment made visible."
This is exactly what your regional government is doing. On September 26, the Metro Council adopted the Regional Urban Growth Goals and Objectives, a policy framework by which we can address the problems of growth and change. The next step is the Region 2040.
The Region 2040 project will assist in deciding what this region will be, and look like, over the long term. The project is unique in that it looks 50 years into the future, rather than the standard planning horizon of 20 years.
First, the public, its elected officials and local and regional planners will work together to design strategies for important regional issues such as transportation, land use, open space, air and water quality, economic development and a host of other factors that determine this region's livability. Region 2040 will use this input to create up to five regional development alternatives that will then be compared and evaluated in terms of their social, economic and environmental costs and benefits.
Only when we fully understand the trade-offs that must be made can we decide what is truly the best urban landscape of the future.
Technology has accelerated the pace of change in our lives. We have seen as much change in the last 50 years of the post-World War II era as we saw in the 100 years following the end of the Civil War. Given this technological half-life, where the technology of the future will change twice as fast as in the past, a valid question arises: How can we accurately look 50 years into the future?
One answer is that while technology creates change in our lives, people's basic wants and values remain fairly constant. The basic need for food and shelter is universal. The desire for a decent quality of life and community is unchanging.
It seems reasonable that we should plan at least for the future of our children. A 50-year vision will allow us to ensure a legacy of a clean environment, a vital economy, culturally rich neighborhoods and affordable places to live.
This regional vision will be another Oregon first. The bottle bill, the Willamette River cleanup and even statewide land-use planning were born and supported in the Portland-metropolitan area. Metro, too, was a first. It is the only regional government in the nation with locally elected council members and the authority to make regional planning decisions on major issues regarding land use, transportation, solid waste, open space, housing and air and water quality.
The job now is for citizens of the region to join us in visualizing how different choices will affect the regional landscape and our own environment. Region 2040 provides an excellent forum for discussing these choices. Then it will be up to the citizens and elected officials to make a choice and implement that vision of how we want to live.
Richard H. Carson is co-chairman of the Citizens' Campaign for Metropolitan Greenspaces and was formerly the planning director for Metro.