Thursday, 19 November 2015

Going its own way

Whilst completing the pre-tour assessment on Portland, I remember reading that the city is one of the world’s most mentioned within the planning literature. Of course, Portland is not perfect and the reality has demonstrated that there is much room for improvement, especially surrounding the current “Housing Crisis”. Nonetheless, it remains remarkable that Portland has been able to go its own way, in the face most other US cities continuing to favour the automobile.

The factors which led Portland to develop in a different way to other American cities is something which has strongly ignited my curiosity. My pre-tour research led me to the assumption that the city’s successes were largely due to the unique commission style of governance. However, the study tour has demonstrated three further factors. 

Firstly, the Portland people hold a long tradition of actively engaging in civic affairs. Some presenters attributed this to the city’s small size and young age in the American context. The city’s position in an incredibly scenic environment was also referred to. During the First Stop Portland Program, Kathryn Dougherty-Chapman explained that when a landscape is “physically beautiful”, the need to protect it becomes “intuitively clear to people”. In a time when people were less aware of the importance of nature conservation, it appears 
Portland’s forest were saved above all else, because they were pretty. The atmosphere created by this natural setting is not something that can be understood from the literature and thus, this is a factor which in reality, exceeded my expectations. To describe luck as a factor influencing Portland’s success, would undermine the city’s hard work, however the study tour did reveal some unlikely and unfortunate situations which worked in the city’s favour. These included the ability for Portland to redirect federal highway funds into the construction of their light rail system, and the advantage of the airport link opening post September 11, and being able to travel into an exclusionary zone which excluded vehicles. As time in Portland revealed, there is no single factor determining why the city was able to go its own way, however the continued passion of Portlanders provides an obvious illustration of the importance of people getting involved in their own communities.

Harry Bell 

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