Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is this the Theme of the 21st Century Planning? A Sense of Place?

By Paul Haeder

The E-Squared Series at EWU's Riverpoint and Cheney campuses broached the land use and urban planner and architectural Mecca in this region, of sorts, Portland. Portland bit the bullet and took the plunge sooner than many American cities. Investing in transportation, street carries, trolleys, aerial trams, and putting pedestrians as the first class transportation model has turned Portland into a city that is readying for a post-fossil fuel dependent future.

Look at the facts -- Portland in the 1960s was a dreary, dumpy city, full of decay in the downtown, and it was a parking lot hell. It tried to compete with the suburbs, but what was happening was a hollowing out of the city. Planners thought the decay and urban flight to the suburbs would be remedied with some planning method that would be able to facilitate getting Portland-ites in and out of the city as rapidly as possible -- in their cars, of course.

Portland's metropolitan area, 565 square miles, and the 500,000 inhabitants are tied to a strong multi-modal transportation system. That system started 30 plus years ago was facilitated by the 1973 land use law that Gov. Tom McCall pushed with 100 Friends of Oregon that made it a requirement that every city in Oregon establish and delineate and plan for the urban growth boundary. With Portland's leadership in development, planning, architecture and transportation engineering, as well as community development, accessibility won over mobility.

Now, Portland has major facts showing the investment in trolleys and rails and land use planning and pedestrian and street scale design worked:

  • 17 percent fewer private vehicle trips since 1990

  • 90 percent increase in ridership for mass transit

  • 257 percent increase in bike trips

  • 14 percent decrease in global green house gas emissions

Everything is organized around the pedestrian in Portland, and the Pearl and River Districts look for multi-use planning, having retail on the ground floor that does not have to have parking spaces built into future retail activity. Millions of miles of automobile trips have been taken out of the equation when it comes to people living in Portland and using feet, bikes and mass transit to get to places of work, recreation, commerce and public activity. The street car construction moved at a pace of a block a week, and the value of the property along the lines more than double in value.

The Pearl District in the 1960s had one big retailer, Powells Books; today, more than 250 businesses are in that district. Affordability is a big issue as these "lifestyle migrants" are moving into Portland. A commitment to affordable housing is part of the Pearl and River Districts plan, so 3,000 permanent affordable units are part of the housing mix. The City is committed to 30 percent of all new housing units built or developed to be affordable.

This E-Squared episode shows the power of vision, the power of community planning, and the power of seeing how fossil fuels are what has shaped the misuse of land and community and that it's a country, our is that is, that is shaped by aspiration, and reprogramming the American dream to include having more people able to act upon the dream. It's not about acquisition, that American Dream. Or if it is, we are doomed.

Portland shows that a new paradigm is not about deprivation. It's about choice.

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