Tag Archives: new urbanism

Portland Region 2040 Vision–What’s Next?

April 4, 2016

“How do you think Metro should respond to the key issues and trends affecting the region’s ability to realize the vision of the 2040 Growth Concept?”  

I was asked this question recently and here’s what I said. . .

Since its inception in 1995, the 2040 Growth Concept has promoted compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented development in centers and corridors.  This has been central to shaping regional growth patterns, limiting sprawl and creating livable communities.  In fact, directing growth into centers & corridors has been the region’s primary strategy for preserving farms, forests and natural areas outside the Urban Growth Boundary.  Metro policymakers (and I myself) believe that compact development is the premier tool to address climate change, ensure equity, create jobs and protect the region’s quality of life.

I see three key trends that have only gotten stronger since 1995:

Trend 1: Walkable Urbanism Preference

Beaverton's Broadway Vision

Most cities in the region know that they must promote walkable urbanism–but sometimes their policymakers forget. This image is from Beaverton’s Civic Plan.

Boomers and Millenials both show a strong preference for “Walkable Urbanism.” Some suburban policymakers responses to Metro’s Climate Smart Communities (CSC) project shows that many of them are not aware that this first trend means that they should be focusing more of their infrastructure dollars towards “retrofitting suburbia” rather than building and widening roads. I worked hard to see that urban form/urban design was in the strategies tested in the CSC project (and indeed it tested at the top!), but many suburban policymakers would rather focus on electric vehicles and other technology for lowering tail pipe emissions. More needs to be done to alert them that their present course will potentially lead to stranded assets where there is little market left for suburban single-family homes that don’t provide the opportunity to walk to needed services and amenities.

Trend 2: Recognition That Inequality Hurts Us

There is a growing recognition of the unacceptable impacts of inequality (racial, social, financial).  Inequality impacts such issues as housing affordability, homelessness, displacement and even sprawl as people seek more affordable housing in towns outside the Metro Urban Growth Boundary.  Thanks to Bernie Sanders, financial inequality (the widening income gap) has become a chief topic of presidential debates and led to more discussion of the role that the Federal government should play. Meanwhile, Metro has attempted to address several aspects of inequality.

Equitable Housing Report

This report mentions Community Land Trust as a strategy. But it needs to become THE major strategy if we are to address housing costs for a 2040 workforce.

Regarding Metro’s Strategic Plan to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Metro’s COO Martha Bennett said “the priorities are to learn more about best practices, apply equity plans to its service-delivery areas, improve community engagement and use equity as a measure of decision-making in spending money.” Any build out of the 2040 Growth Plan will need to address gentrification, displacement and contracting opportunities in an equity strategy that focuses on communities of color.

Metro has pursued affordable housing strategies for many years—the latest effort being the Equitable Housing Initiative headed up by Councilor Sam Chase. From Metro’s web site: The Initiative’s Report discusses a variety of tools that could help, including financial assistance for residents, renter protections against evictions and nonprofit community land trusts. . .

I agree that Metro should utilize the Community Land Trust model, but not just for the involuntarily low-income. I would like to see governments in the region, including Metro, promoting the CLT for ALL OF US.  The original impetus behind the CLT movement was to create a new institution to keep housing permanently affordable.  The first people I ever met living in a CLT were NOT low-income, rather middle-income people who saw it as a better way. Probably the local government that best understood its potential was Burlington, VT under then-mayor Bernie Sanders.  The City of Burlington under Sanders helped to support the formation of the Burlington Community Land Trust.  It’s now the Champlain Housing Trust, the largest CLT in the US and a model for local governments looking for systemic solutions.

Champlain Housing Trust Image

Champlain Housing Trust is the largest Community Land Trust in the nation. It enables housing to be kept permanently affordable by holding title to the land under both multifamily and single family homes–both rented and owned. Image from CHT 2014 Annual Report: http://www.getahome.org/learn-more/publications.

I believe the CLT is the best tool for transforming our housing system.  By taking the land under housing off the private, commodity, speculative market, it helps to change the concept of housing from a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit. Instead it encourages us to see it as a social good that everyone needs and deserves.

“By looking at housing as a fundamental human right rather than a market good that goes to the highest bidder, and with shrewd political organizing in a hostile environment, housing advocates in Burlington have created a sustainable model for affordable housing that deserves to be emulated across the country” says Daniel Fireside in Burlington Busts the Affordable Housing Debate.

The Portland region has a Community Land Trust, Proud Ground (formerly Portland Community Land Trust and Clackamas Community Land Trust). Personally, I feel that it is far too focused on home ownership rather than a mix of ownership and rental. Nonetheless, Metro should explore developing a relationship with it similar to that of Burlington and CHT.

Woolsey Corner in the New Columbia area of Portland was developed as a Community Land Trust by Proud Ground utilizing Orange Splott as its builder. Photo courtesy of Orange Splott.

Woolsey Corner in the New Columbia community of Portland was developed as a Community Land Trust by Proud Ground utilizing Orange Splott as its developer. Photo courtesy of Orange Splott.

For the shorter term, it should work with innovative housing developer Orange Splott, LLC and its network of other small  incremental developers in promoting more alternatives to conventional home ownership. Let me repeat, these alternatives should be marketed not just to “the poor” but to ALL OF US!  For Metro, this work could come under the banner of the Equitable Housing Initiative, but it needs to be larger than “affordable housing.” Rather it needs to focus on housing affordability involving ALL income levels.  In the long run, hopefully before 2040, such efforts by Metro will help to change the concept of housing from a commodity to a social good.

Trend 3: Need for Excellent Urban Design

Residents of existing neighborhoods will be far more supportive of new development when it includes excellent urban design encompassing:

  • appropriately scaled buildings
  • streets designed for walking, biking, pushing baby strollers. . .and even cars
  • neighborhoods with diverse uses
  • people of diverse incomes, class and ethnicity
  • sufficient parks and natural areas, protected streams, wetlands, and steep slopes
  • infrastructure for arts and culture

Metro might look into working with the Regional Arts and Culture Council to produce a toolkit to encourage every community in the region to integrate arts and culture. Transportation for America has produced a Creative Placemaking Handbook that could provide a good start.

Towards a Walkable Tigard

Tigard Mayor welcomes New Urbanist Jeff Speck for two days of talks and workshops on making Tigard, a suburban community in the Portland Metro area, more walkable. Photo by PlanGreen.

Members of the Congress for the New Urbanism have a great deal of expertise in excellent urban design.  Metro should continue to develop a partnership with the Portland-based non-profit National Charrette Institute, a leading affiliate and powerful voice within CNU. As presented at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference by Council Member Craig Dirksen, the Investment Areas Approach with its Shared Investments Strategy  highlighted both the City of Tigard and the Tigard Triangle in the SW Corridor Investment Area. New Urbanists are having strong influence over Tigard’s redevelopment and this trend should be encouraged.

Metro is involved with connecting its natural area at Canemah Bluff with a riverwalk along the Willamette River.

Metro is connecting its natural area at Canemah Bluff with a riverwalk along the Willamette River. This will make Oregon City even more appealing as a place to live and work. Photo by PlanGreen.

Metro should continue its long-standing relationship with The Intertwine regarding the integration of parks and natural areas into developing centers and corridors. This coalitions of organizations have long been involved with implementation of Titles 3 and 13 of the 2040 Concept. It should consider expanding relationships with environmentally oriented organizations that represent communities of color (some of whom are in The Intertwine). As mentioned above in the inequality trend, any urban design efforts must take into account gentrification and displacement. They must also take into account inequitable air quality impacts.

What do you think about my three key trends re: implementing the 2040 Growth Concept–and my ideas on what Metro should do about them?  What are your ideas?

Occupy Sprawl

Occupy Sprawl – by Galina Tachieva as posted to a Pro-Urb Listserv

Inspired by the recent popular discontent expressed so colorfully on Wall Street, I offer this proposal: Occupy Sprawl!

People are not happy with the economy, with politics, with the government. Consider the physical surrounding of the protesters: the streets and squares in lower Manhattan where there are plenty of places to gather. Good urbanism provides good spaces for assembling and protesting. Our sprawling suburbs are devoid of such places. Where can people get together to show frustration (or to celebrate)? Are people happy with their physical environment in sprawl? Why not revolt against the system of sprawl, which is responsible for some of the most serious environmental, economic, social and health problems in recent history? Sprawl has been central to our economic troubles: the mortgage meltdown, dependence on cars and oil, pollution and waste of resources to mention just a few. Sprawl has even been blamed for the death of the American dream itself.

How about taking on sprawl in the passionate way the protesters are taking on Wall Street? The metaphor of occupation can serve us well in the quest to reform sprawl because we will need a dramatic overhaul   of the physical pattern, of the law, of the financing mechanism that created, supported and encouraged sprawl for decades. The whole system must be shaken from its foundations, in the same way the occupiers demand systemic changes on Wall Street.

There is so much to occupy in sprawl! People should reclaim the empty, unproductive, wasteful spaces: over-scaled parking lots, empty big boxes, dead malls, vast front lawns, foreclosed McMansions, massive cul-de-sacs, underperforming golf courses, etc. Suburban strip corridors can become main streets and boulevards, malls can incubate much-needed town centers, deserted McMansions can house students and seniors, and parking lots can be transformed into productive community gardens.

There is a direct connection between Wall Street and the future redevelopment of sprawl. A few years ago Christopher Leinberger identified 19 real estate categories or standard product types preferred by Wall Street and showed the need to provide new alternatives that are walkable, diverse, more resilient. The redeveloped sprawl types will be the new products in the Wall Street toolbox.

Leinberger put it succinctly and unambiguously:  We can stay outside the world of Wall Street-dominated real estate finance, discuss, and (occasionally) design and build precious, expensive alternatives. Or we can work hard to develop new product types that the mainstream can understand, accept, and prosper by developing and owning.

The good news is that things are already moving. The New Urbanists have been building numerous projects redeveloping sprawl, piling up experience and success. Sprawl is under attack from many sides ≠ from the grassroots as well as from the private and the public sectors. The market is shifting towards more intelligent, human-scale urban patterns and Wall Street is paying attention. Adam Ducker of RCLCO pointed out in his CNU presentation on the economic context of sprawl repair, that walkscore is becoming a Wall Street underwriting tool.

But more voices and hands are needed for this Herculean effort. The resources are here and plentiful; just help yourself. Use the strategies from Retrofitting Suburbia, the toolkit of the Sprawl Repair Manual, the maneuvers of the Tactical Urbanists, the interventions of Incremental Sprawl Repair and Planned Densification, the common sense of the Original Green, the sustainability of Rainwater-In-Context and Light Imprint, the techniques for re-zoning sprawl of CATS and get support from the many minds of the CNU Sprawl Retrofit Initiative.

Get out and Occupy Sprawl!