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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?