Tuesday 24 November 2015

First Stop Portland

In doing the research for the first assessment for this course, I discovered the history of the state of Oregon, the City of Portland, and its components such as transport, its people, the economy and the environment. After completing our visit to the City, many of the themes and details explored were evident and, in some cases, were more evident then what was discovered through my research.

Contrary to the others, I was not surprised by the population of homeless people on the streets in Portland. However, what did surprise me a great deal was the lack of financial and overall support provided to war veterans. I read a sign that a homeless gentleman was holding up as he sat by the sidewalk, which stated he was previously a veteran and did not have money or a place to sleep. I assumed he was being dishonest, but soon found out, from the Mayor, that he most likely was previously a war veteran. The Mayor confirmed that a number of initiatives to deal with this problem would occur, but these were only short term and temporary in nature.

The City of Portland, although considered a benchmark city, given their consideration of the environment and accommodating a growing population, buildings were no more than approximately 10 stories, if that. Many of the buildings were beautiful to discover, and were more consistent with existing streetscape and surrounding buildings. The grid pattern of Downtown was easy to navigate, and made similarities between Portland and Melbourne (especially the weather!), become evident.

Understanding the evolution of the system beginning from the influx of freeways and the first plan for Portland in 1972, to the City that now has a light rail network, a street car system, rail and a bus system, was interesting and inspiring. The transport system hopes to accommodate 725, 000 people over the next 20 years and plans to shift its focus slightly, to investing in the bus transit systems since its recent opening of the Orange Line (MAX).

I was blown away by the light rail stop infrastructure and its grandeur and green initiatives. I was appalled by the one-way operation of the tracks and I felt the negatives outweighed any positives. According to Bob from TriMet, there is a pull away from soft infrastructure, communicating transit information to commuters, and a focus on technological advances to take the place of signage. I felt this would isolate and segregate those that may not be able to rely on technology, as well as place people at risk in emergencies when technology is not an option. The system overall was great. It was functional, on time, and tickets seemed to be relatively cheap.

What also surprised me were the funding structures and avenues, which I didn’t think would interest me when doing the research for assignment 1. To hear about a community developing initiatives and then raising money to see them through, was astonishing. I was also quite amazed at the level of community involvement in key planning decisions, even dating back to the late 1860’s.The taxing system was also extremely different to Melbourne. To hold land values, then claim on the profit margin, was different. To tax gas for road and transport based projects was also an interesting way to collect funds, but these measures were understandable given Portland did not have a sales tax. Many of the key speakers saw this as a problem to bettering the city given the scarcity of budget.

The two-day program was excellent, exceeded my expectations and challenged my assumptions. I was astonished at the light rail stop infrastructure, interested in the funding structures of various projects and impressed by the attitudes of the Portland people to help make their city a more sustainable, functional and profitable place to live.

Renee De Alwis


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