Upgrading the Rose City

What is the purpose of a city? What do we mean by "livability" here, and is it applied to all? Does the shape of the past influence the shape of the future?

All of these questions and more were explored at Portland 2.0, a conference at Portland State University. I worked in Millar Library for several years, so one of the treats for me was observing how much the campus had or hadn't changed since I was last there. Some really awesome covered bike racks have popped up, and a building I thought targeted for demolition years ago was still standing.

The event started off with opening remarks from Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who despite having a day job that keeps him extremely busy, still has an encyclopedic knowledge of every development deal in the city's history. Such a pleasure to hear him speak!

Other panels during the day covered how plans in the 60s and federal policies combined to enable an energized populace to transform a blue-collar industrial town into a thriving, technology-driven city. (Fun fact, next time you visit Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, take a look at who the rooms are named after. It's all Wayerhauser, Georgia Pacific, and other timber companies. Not a single one is still a player in the city today.)

After a lunch, the afternoon sessions discussed how the city might proceed. Of particular note was the panel on Inclusion and Accountability, moderated by Sara Innarone. If that panel as a whole ran for office, I'd vote for the whole slate. Just sayin'.

One thing that came up repeatedly was the notion of "livability." When I first moved to Portland back in the day, I used to hear at every party and bar that "Portland was more livable than Seattle/San Francisco/other city" and it was a point of pride. I don't think that sentiment is as true now as it might have been then, and I certainly have not heard it in the last decade or so. Not with housing prices and transportation the way it is now.

A couple of things I noticed about the conference:

  • Nobody wanted to answer the question "Who really runs Portland?" Which is in itself an answer...
  • The phrase, "The people will tell you what they don't want," came up a few times. This was mostly in relation to the Mt Hood Freeway project that was later canceled, but I would totally apply it to the "Let's bring major league baseball to Portland" windmill that people keep tilting at. No, no, a thousand times, no.
  • There was a lot of discussion about how the city government structure needs to change. Now I'm slightly perplexed by this issue, because it's the same structure in place when the "golden age" of planning happened in the 60s and 70s. So what's different now? Also, I am from the only other city in the US (Cedar Rapids, IA) that had the mayor/council system that Portland has, though they have since abandoned it. Is it that bad or have we had a bunch of crappy mayors since Vera Katz? (Probably a little of both. But seriously, name one thing that Tom Potter did. I can't think of anything.)
  • I think that Andy and Andy are right to never have audience Q and A during XOXO. It never, ever works out.
  • Was nice to hear a shoutout to Business for a Better Portland. One of my favorite groups in town.

So what happens after the cheese plates are gone? I think of something that I saw while traveling to the event: Portland Police doing a sweep of a camp. This is like thing one or thing two that must go in the future of Portland. Half of the arrests in Portland last year were of people experiencing houselessness. Is this the best use of our funding? I suspect not.

My favorite show is The Good Place, which is (as Mark Evan Jackson likes to say) a pefectly normal half-hour of American network television. It just happens to deal with giant ladybugs, existential crises, the trolley problem in philosophy, and what it means to be human. The first season revolves around the question, "What do we owe to each other?" I'd pick that as a driving question over, "How can we build more hotels downtown?"

I look forward to seeing how this shapes out.

Doug Hankedesign, portland