Thursday, 19 November 2015

Strength of foresight

A willingness to embrace alternative policy and question routine thinking was a common theme of practise observed in Portland. Evidence of this can be found in transit and growth planning policy and objectives. Policy implemented in Portland is embraced and supported by the community The city’s commitment to cycling and public transit is evident when using various systems. My experience of using light rail, streetcar and bus services and the amount of users across all modes reveal a community embracing public transit. A community embracing multi-modal transit indicates a high level of success for a city with such commitment to transit based planning. Transit effectiveness is boosted by the bicycle friendly nature of the city. Cycling around Portland reveals a city committed to cycling. Due to its reputation, I expected more dedicated infrastructure and a higher degree of separation from traffic. However, Portland’s reputation as a bicycle friendly city may be found in driver’s attitude towards cyclists. The sheer number of riders on the roads promotes a consciousness of cycling among other road users. The courteousness and attention paid by drivers makes the city a safe and enjoyable place to ride.
The success enjoyed by Portland’s transit system owes to it’s commitment to strong planning policy. The city appreciates the value of effective transit systems and their vital contribution to the accessibility and liveability of a city. Portland’s commitment to creating a liveable and accessible city is further reflected in a strong focus on maintaining the city’s urban growth boundary.

Portland planning objectives across a number of categories reveal its importance, I was unaware of its impact upon planning as a whole in the city. Practice observed reveals how it is referenced frequently in overall policy, including its use in transit, housing and economic contexts. To maintain an effective catchment and provide good accessibility, transit and housing policy recognizes the need for the UGB. Having a secure UGB allows transit to effectively plan for future population growth within its parameters, allowing for appropriate transit and housing solutions to be applied in growth areas. Not only does the UGB dictate growth patterns, it is important for the city’s economy.  The feasibility of community supported agriculture schemes and maintaining Portland’s artisanal food industry is also very much dictated by the retention of the UGB. An important component of Portland’s economy nominated as vital to the character of the city. 

UGB focused policy and transit solutions reflect the standard of policy I was expecting from Portland, however visiting the city revealed some unexpected details. Portland’s high property prices and housing accessibility is creating issues for the city. As a city with a strong focus on community equity, housing and homelessness very much detract from these goals. While the city is taking steps to provide solutions, Portland’s drive for rail to outlying areas exacerbates the problem. As demonstrated by the rapid increase in property prices following the provision of MAX rail services. Once affordable housing is now no longer accessible to residents that could once afford to live there. While the MAX rail is enormously successful, it appears to be contributing to a major housing issue in Portland. While Portland is not without its issues, the strength of foresight in planning provides a benchmark for other US cities and the world. Strong growth strategies and transit planning will ensure the city is prepared for future growth challenges. While Portland may provide a benchmark for other cities to follow, its response to housing affordability and homelessness will be a determining factor in its overall success.

Ben Yates