Greenspaces Revisited: Submit it again or forget it?
(The Oregonian, April 16, 1993)
By Richard Carson and Judy Wyers
Overshadowed by the recent [federal] forest conference was another gathering that may have a far greater environmental effect on the Portland metropolitan area the Greenspaces summit.
Why have such a meeting? The region's quality of life is on a collision course with its economic and population growth. The qualities that attract people to the region jobs and investment will eventually be its undoing. Today only 8 percent of the natural areas and open space in the tri-county area are in public ownership, which means 92 percent are privately held and can be developed. In the next 20 years, the Portland metropolitan area's population is expected to increase by 50 percent. Thousands of acres will be developed for housing, businesses, schools and roads needed to accommodate this growth.
However, the possibility of having a high-quality natural environment and a sound economy need not be a contradiction. An important difference between the Portland metropolitan area and other West Coast urban areas is that we still can protect our open space and natural areas.
The Metro Council established a Greenspaces Task Force to address this issue, and the Greenspaces summit helped them answer three basic questions: Should Metro refer a second ballot measure to the voters to acquire these critical natural areas, what amount should be put on the bond measure and when should the election be held?
The Metropolitan Greenspaces Master Plan was adopted last summer after four years of work. This regional plan is based on a detailed analysis of how the significant remaining open spaces and natural areas (15,000 acres) can be preserved and then connected by a system of trails that will stretch from Gresham to Forest Grove, and from Wilsonville to Portland.
What is proposed is a vision for the 21st century. Ninety years ago the city of Portland commissioned the sons of Fredrick Law Olmsted the designer of New York City's Central Park to design a system of parks for the city.
Are the citizens of the tri-county area any less visionary than our predecessors? Of course not. Are we as shortsighted in terms of our willingness to pay for that vision? Let's hope not.
Last November, Portland voters turned down the Greenspaces measure that would have financed the implementation of the plan. The campaign's survey showed that the measure would have been approved if the region's voters knew more about plan. The campaign had to compete for media attention and contributions given to a presidential campaign, a Senate campaign and other, more controversial ballot measures.
The good news is that the measure lost by the narrow margin of only 5 percent.
The Greenspaces summit brought 100 citizens and elected officials together at the Portland Audubon House on March 31. The participants agreed that a second bond measure should be on the ballot. The measure should ask for $150 million to $175 million to acquire and preserve these important natural areas, that the bonds could be sold in increments over 10 years. The measure should be put on the ballot next spring.
If a ballot measure is fielded, we will get a second and probably last chance to decide whether our region becomes another concrete wasteland like Los Angeles, Dallas or Seattle or whether it remains a metropolitan area known for its lush landscape and quality of life.
Pietro Belluschi, the region's most noted architect, said it best, "Nature has been very generous with the City of Roses. The hills, the river, the green forests and the climate all contribute to make it a pleasant place in which to live. What man has been contributing to those elements has not been very flattering."
We are indeed fortunate to have business leaders from Mentor Graphics, Sequent Computers, Norm Thompson, Nature's Fresh Northwest, Ponzi Vineyards, Fred Meyer, Clackamas Sand & Gravel and the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce; dozens of environmental groups like the Portland Audubon Society, Friends of Forest Park and Trust for Public Land; and over 1,200 citizens contributing their time, money and support to this measure.
They understand a simple concept. We must all be stewards of the land for ourselves and for our children.
Richard Carson is the chairman of the Metropolitan Greenspaces campaign and Judy Wyers is the presiding officer of Metro.
(Editor's note: The Metropolitan Greenspaces ballot measure passed in May 1995 and raised $135.6 million for open space acquisition in the Portland metropolitan area).