Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Alternative roots

Key Themes:
  • Portland didn’t initially appear to be the shining beacon of hope that it has been reported to be
  • Development of alternative culture through rebellion – push against the mainstream planning norms by strong Mayor influence
  • Power of the people – desirable city to live in results in a increase planning and land use interest

The physical form of Portland city is vastly different to my expectations. From the research project I completed the city is portrayed to be a beacon of hope and inspiration amongst the car-dominated suburban planning of American in the post war era. However, it has been evident since we first stepped foot in this city appears to be similar to the form of many other Australian cities. The main component of this is the presence of a range of issues that have been obvious during our visit. One of the immediate issues that we were faced with is the significant homeless population within the main centre. It was a shock to me to see such an extensive homeless population as this has not been acknowledged or addressed in any online information. This issue was addressed by the Mayor Charlie Hales as a significant issue within Portland that has no obvious solution and it appears that there is no major plan to address the issue. Another obvious issue we encountered was the failure of the storm water drainage system and how this has the capacity to delay the light rail transport system. As we know, this was a major inconvenience to us on our arrival to Portland. These issues demonstrated to me that despite Portland’s sterling reputation as a forward thinking city, this centre is no different to any other development in that it experiences a range of specific issues. These issues became more evident as we began to hear from the residents of Portland.


It is acknowledged that Portland is not a perfect city and shares many pitfalls with other American and Australian centres. However, Portland does exhibit several unique characteristics, especially when compared to other North American examples. As we have all experienced first hand, a major area of difference arises in the transport modes within the central city. The reallocation of freeway funding towards the development of a streetcar system towards the turn of the century paved an alternative path for the city. I believe that this was one of the fundamental moves towards the alternative nature of Portland that exists today. This streetcar development proved to the world that there is an effective alternative to the car, and with enough time and development, it can supersede the car in convenience, affordability, climate impact and time efficiency. This deviation from the norm of American society demonstrates that alternative options can have a successful outcome.


From these alternative foundations, it can be argued that the ‘weird’ culture of Portland was born. It is this culture that continues to allow planning and societal advances that continue to push the boundaries of urban planning policy today. From the presentations and from engaging in extensive conversation with locals (Mark), the strength of public interest and support must be acknowledged. The strong cycling culture within the area is an example of this strength of Portlander’s character. Despite the inclement weather, Portland boasts a 7.2 per cent mode share of bicycles within the urban area. This demonstrates the strong participatory role city residents are willing to adopt. It was raised that because of Portland’s liveable reputation there is a high level of migration towards this city. In this case migration towards Portland is deliberate and often a calculated decision to move towards a more desirable city style. Because these residents have actively chosen Portland, it is believed that they share an interest in the future direction of the city. This results in high rates of interest in planning decisions as well as community support behind small and large-scale ideas. It can be argued that these knock on effects of forward thinking city development spark further innovation and apparent sustainable success. Therefore the community support is a large driver in the ability of Portland to achieve such ambitious urban and social planning concepts.

William Russell