Mayor Sam Adams takes a question at a meeting on the Portland Plan. Photo by Jake Thomas
By Jake Thomas
Last night, the City of Portland kicked off the first of seven community meetings on the Portland Plan, a strategic document that will guide how the city forms policy on issues ranging from public health to transportation infrastructure.
At the Beaumont Middle School in northeast Portland, over 100 people, primarily from the surrounding neighborhoods, gathered to give their input at a meeting that provided a snapshot of the city’s challenges and strengths.
“This is the most important piece in the process,” said Mayor Sam Adams to the crowd who gathered at round tables spread throughout the school’s cafeteria.
“It’s yours; please take ownership,” he said of the plan, which he characterized as a “guide to love Portland better.”
Adams pointed out that municipalities in Oregon are required to develop a plan under state law every 30 years. However, it did not require the City of Portland to involve other government entities (like Portland Public Schools or the Housing Authority of Portland) in the process, which it was doing this time around.
After making opening remarks, Adams, with sleeves rolled up and microphone in had, wandered into the audience to take questions.
One woman wanted the “boom boxes” in peoples’ cars to “go away.”
Another person pointed out that homelessness was not addressed in the plan.
Someone brought up the issue of historic preservation.
Another wondered if the city would actually fund its ambitious bike plan.
“How do we build quality affordable housing without public subsidies,” one man asked.
One audience member pointed out that Portland International Airport emitted more carbon than the cars in Portland combined.
Several people called on people to get out of their cars.
Others asked about how the plan might affect Portland’s poor.
One person pointed out that that the people in the room were overwhelmingly white, which was striking since the meeting was intended to get input from people in northeast Portland- one of the city’s most diverse areas.
The audience at Beaumont Middle School was very white. When the crowd was polled on its ethnicity, 88 percent identified as Caucasian. Photo by Jake Thomas
After taking questions, Adams returned to the front of the room where he further explained aspects of the plan.
He pointed out that 50 percent of Portland’s current population was not present the last time the city formed its comprehensive plan in 1980, and the document would be affecting policy at the city level for the next 30 years.
“It’s got to be more than land use and transportation,” said Adams of the parameters of the plan. “It’s also got to be about people.”
He pointed out that Portland was becoming increasingly diverse, especially with its Hispanic population. Adams added that one third of Portland, primarily on the city’s east side, was annexed since the last time the plan was revised.
From there, Adams polled the audience using devices that allowed them to respond to a series of questions, which revealed that participants attitudes on various issues.
Adams polled the crowd on a range of issues covered by the plan, which revealed general support for public-private partnerships, arts and education opportunities for students, improved walk-ability of neighborhoods, retention of teachers, and a host of other initiatives.
Adams also presented statistics and figures that show that Portland is a city that has many challenges, but also has a lot going for it.
The Willamette River is getting cleaner, and Portland’s tree canopy is expanding. The number of people with bachelor’s degrees in the city is higher than the national average. It also has the second highest rate of volunteerism in the country, and 86 percent of Multnomah County voted in the last election.
However, Adams pointed out that 50 percent of Multnomah County is overweight. Wages are also lower in Portland than the rest of the country, with about a third of the population being considered working poor.
Affordable housing is another issue facing the city. Portlanders shell out 46 percent of their incomes on average for housing, above the national 36 percent average, and the median price of home in the city is out of reach for people who make median income.
At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Nick Fish, who heads the Housing Bureau, thanked the crowd for their time. He noted that he learned a lot about the concerns of Portlanders, and was pleased that people conducted themselves in such a respectful fashion, referencing the explosive health care reform town hall meetings that occurred during the summer.
“It’s nice to know civic engagement is still alive and well in Portland,” he said