Portland: Livability and Land Use

Leslie Carlson

This is a last-minute post, but if you find yourself with some free time this Mother's Day, you might check out a new documentary on Portland called Portland: the Quest for the Livable City.

This hour-long film airs at 1 PM today on OPB, and I found it an in-depth, interesting and compelling tale about Oregon and Portland's land use choices, and their influence through four decades on everything from our local food culture, biking, revitalized urban neighborhoods and even the 'young and restless' creative types who flock here for our vaunted quality of life.

In fact, I would argue that land use, which was designed to save farm and forest land from suburban sprawl, may be the very thing that has helped Portland grow into an internationally-known example of livability.

If you miss it and you'd like to order a copy, it's available for order from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Comments

  • billy (unverified)
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    Oregon’s land use system also has a downside, which the planners don’t like to talk about. Here goes:

    1. Our houses cost about double what they should. Compare to a region with few restrictions on building we are paying a “planning penalty” of about 50% on the cost of buying a home. Houston has housing at about ½ of ours, higher average income AND faster growth. Same for Atlanta.

    2. Our quest for increased density overloads our roads and is a cause of traffic congestion. The paving of every unused sq foot of land with condos and apartment, (not roads) causes more runoff which was a cause of the BILLION dollar cost of the big pipe and our skyrocketing water bills.

    3. High density is too costly, so the government subsidizes “show case” yuppie playgrounds like the Pearl and North Macadam. $200 MILLION is officially allocated for the Pearl and double that for Macadam.

    4. Once we let the planners and dreamers get charge of planning, we just have to have light rail in the name of efficient transportation. Unfortunately light rail is slow, low capacity and expensive. Its cost has proven to be over double that of a bus and about four times that of a car. Light rail has proven to carry about the same number of people as 1/3 of one lane of freeway in the space of a full lane of freeway and a cost much greater.

    5. The planners and dreamers have no respect for jobs, unless they are in little mixed use shops. They have driven industry after industry out of town. The up side is that Portland has reduced its CO2 emission. The bad news is that it was accomplished by driving out family wage industrial jobs. (Of course the liars at the city claim it was due to their land use and transit schemes reducing driving, yet driving per capita has increased and transit market share has decreased, proving they are lying.)

    6. The high cost of high density development subsidies is taking over $65 million in property tax revenue every year and giving it to developers through the PDC. This is money that otherwise would have gone to police, fire county’s human services and schools.

    7. The cost of housing is driving minorities out of Northeast Portland, splitting families and friends.

    8. Our neighborhoods are being “revitalized” by the addition of unaffordable skinny houses on just about every block and giant, out of place apartments lining mist major streets. This puts more cars on our neighborhood streets as the thoroughfares become overloaded. It is Metro policy to keep neighborhood streets open to encourage cut through.

    9. Sure signs of Portland’s success: a. The fastest growing county is Clark county. b. We are consistently among the highest un employment in the country. c. Low income people are being forced out d. The city subsidized Million dollar condos in the Peal and So What. e. A doubling in house prices.

    See DebunkingPortland . Com

  • Old Ducker (unverified)
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    If Land Use Planning has made Portland "liveable" when why are the old parts of the city the ones most prized?

    I think what has saved portland is that unlike many cities, when the freeway system emerged in the fifties and sixties, most of the neighborhoods as well as the central core were spared (although I-5 didn't do much for North, or the inner part of SW Portland).

    This is mostly the accident of geography rather than planning. I lived for some years near Grant High School and loved it, although I was surprised to accidently disover the house I sold for 275k in 1987 was on the market for 500k in 2003. It's probably not worth that now...my condolences to the buyer (although it was a great house).

  • steve (unverified)
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    Proponents of "anything goes" development should travel to Salt Lake City, or Houston, or Los Angeles, or any number of a long list of ugly, sprawling, hollowed-out cities. The urban-growth boundary and other factors have been very successful in keeping Portland's core vibrant, yet bucolic splendor is only a short drive away, without the interminable strip-mall transition zone of most cities. Yes, the junkyard-in-the-front-yard set has some problems with these regulations. Too bad.

  • billy (unverified)
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    steve: Proponents of "anything goes" development should travel to Salt Lake City, or Houston, B: Houston has a higher average income, more affordable homes and a higher growth rate. They clearly are doing something right.

    steve: or Los Angeles, B: Strange that you should include LA - they have land use more restrictive than Oregon and even more un affordable housing.

    steve: or any number of a long list of ugly, sprawling, hollowed-out cities. B: “Hollowed out” is a bull shit term. Also, are you saying that Salt Lake City, Houston and Los Angeles are “hollowed out”. Laughable.

    steve: The urban-growth boundary and other factors have been very successful in keeping Portland's core vibrant, B: Vibrant with drug dealers, bums and shootings. Why should we all pay the price of density, just to keep the core city “vibrant” for a few drifter yuppies? Isn’t it time to let the city core pay its own way?

    steve: yet bucolic splendor is only a short drive away, B: It still would be without our insane land use controls. You may just have to drive an extra 5 minutes. To save that 5 minutes to get to “bucolic splendor” every one of us is paying hundreds of dollars in increased costs every month.

    steve: without the interminable strip-mall transition zone of most cities. B: Stip malls are very popular because they are useful. Of course useful has never meant anything to a city planner. Looks and feeling is all that counts to them.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Billy likes to mix apples and oranges in his juicer. But something is desperately wrong with the filter - it's impure. And the logic is horribly flawed.

    Let's see: how many years did it take for Kersher, he of the NeverEnding Rage to fall silent? It's a long, long trek before Billlllllllllleeeeee takes a hike.

  • Richard (unverified)
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    This is a real comedy issue.

    Of course the older parts of the Portland region are favorable. And the worst seas of roofs, asphalt and concrete are those mandated by our model for the nation planning regime. Yes those photos used to demonstrate the need for more planning to stop sprawl are pics of what planning delivered to our region.

    Yet the multiple failures are ignored and the pretense of success is relentless. All while the push for more of the same is advocated. Why? It's expensive, ugly and a failure.

    Funny this all is.

    The planned community Charbonneau, with none of the central planning characteristics it spawned remains higher on the livability scale than the many subdivisions Metro imposed.
    Sure it's easy to look at the city center and claim anything preserved and admirable is due to central planning. Look at what the planning spawned and it's not so pretty.

    But one has to actually look. Anywhere. Orenco Station is a car oriented rat race like anything in the LA basin. Gresham same. Eastside MAX has been a corridor of crime and blight with new layers of goverment spending attempting to do what plannners claim was done long ago. You know, spurring all this good stuff?

    Cascade Station was meant to be a ped/bike/transit mini city and prohibit the very autor oriented BIG BOX strip mall it became. It seems nothing matters as long as MAX runs through it. The Beaverton Round is an identical lesson no one learns.

    South Waterfront the mother of all costly chaos makers.

    WES is a horrible addition with the daily 580 riders needing $265.00 each to operate the line.

    On and on one could go in pointing to the heavily tax subsidized outcomes that resemble the same Houston/LA rat races they were meant to avoid.

    In all cases the montra is we need more of the same to make it all work. Huh?

    Work like what?

    Who knows?

    In the mean time we get to hear the touting of our chaos as the only alternative to anything goes. Without any thought for everything in between.

  • Robert Collins (unverified)
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    SB 1000 and centralized land use planning thirty some years ago was touted as the wave of the future. It spawned metro, that strange governmental overlay.

    All these many years later, no other state in the union has followed suit.

    Meanwhile Oregon continues to be first in, last out and have one of the highest rates of unemployment during a recession.

    Obviously we know better than the rest of the nation how to do things.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    If it works for Portland; well fine. Please, please, PLEASE do not ask, expect, mandate the rest of the state to follow suit. We are not Portland and do not want to become a bunch of little Portlands.

    Centralized Planning is a failed model from both an economic and geographic viewpoint. If you love what the planners have created in Portland; great! Go live there. Just please do not impose that mindset onto the remainder of our state.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    "Proponents of "anything goes" development should travel to Salt Lake City, or Houston, or Los Angeles, or any number of a long list of ugly, sprawling, hollowed-out cities."

    ..as well as a side trip to Edmonton and Calgary.

    "The planned community Charbonneau, with none of the central planning characteristics it spawned remains higher on the livability scale than the many subdivisions Metro imposed. Sure it's easy to look at the city center and claim anything preserved and admirable is due to central planning. Look at what the planning spawned and it's not so pretty."

    Tanasbourne comes to mind here...what a junkpot that was...

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    As someone who lived in Houston, albeit for only a year, it sure was nice to be able to afford a really nice, brand new home there, something that is unattainable in Pdx.

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    RW wrote:

    "Let's see: how many years did it take for Kersher, he of the NeverEnding Rage to fall silent? It's a long, long trek before Billlllllllllleeeeee takes a hike."

    I see that you're the blog cop, eh?

    You've got more to say about fellow readers than you do about the topics, it seems.

    Try reading up on the topics and commenting about them instead. It's more fun.

  • dickey45 (unverified)
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    Leslie, you are full of it. When existing homes are damaged or in need of rebuilding, they can put requirements on you to give extra land for sidewalks, greenspace, etc. This falls under the comprehensive land use policy and the local land development code. I've read Portland's - it is much like my Corvallis.

    It's nice but they TAKE the land without compensation, in direct violation of the 5th amendment.

    Don't believe me?

    Sometimes land use gets out of hand and Oregon, as a whole, has gone over the line. I'm, for the first time, saying I am no longer a democrat. Cities plan for whatever in the long term and take it from people when they come asking for a permit. Really wrong.

  • (Show?)

    Perhaps all those folks who speak so highly of the quality of life in Houston should consider moving there to take advantage of the excellent, cheap housing, the clean air, the vibrant culture, and the great weather. Having spent time there years ago I can see just what they admire about that oh-so-lovely place...... And having Tom Delay as their claim to fame can't hurt!

    Anyone want to join me in taking up a collection to pay for one-way fare (plane, train, automobile, burro, etc.) from Portland to Houston? Bet both places will improve immeasurably - might even result in Tom Delay's disinterment!

  • steve (unverified)
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    steve: Proponents of "anything goes" development should travel to Salt Lake City, or Houston, B: Houston has a higher average income, more affordable homes and a higher growth rate. They clearly are doing something right. steve: Somehow Houston doesn't come to mind when talking quality of life. Portland's salaries have always been low for some reason, even in the "good old days" when nobody thought of land use planning and the Willamette river was an open sewer.

    steve: or Los Angeles, B: Strange that you should include LA - they have land use more restrictive than Oregon and even more un affordable housing. steve: Too late, the horse is already out of the barn. LA's formative years produced the present sprawl, but good for them for trying to improve things for future generations.

    steve: or any number of a long list of ugly, sprawling, hollowed-out cities. B: “Hollowed out” is a bull shit term. Also, are you saying that Salt Lake City, Houston and Los Angeles are “hollowed out”. Laughable. steve: "hollowed out" means that development (particularly new housing) occurs around but not in the central city. Portland has seen a large number of downtown condo towers built in recent years, which have transformed places like the Pearl District into something unrecognizable from even 10 years ago.

    steve: The urban-growth boundary and other factors have been very successful in keeping Portland's core vibrant, B: Vibrant with drug dealers, bums and shootings. Why should we all pay the price of density, just to keep the core city “vibrant” for a few drifter yuppies? Isn’t it time to let the city core pay its own way? steve: You mean the bums that live in the $400k condos? No, I guess that the condo owners must be the "drifting yuppies". In any case, they pay taxes (lots of 'em).

    steve: yet bucolic splendor is only a short drive away, B: It still would be without our insane land use controls. You may just have to drive an extra 5 minutes. To save that 5 minutes to get to “bucolic splendor” every one of us is paying hundreds of dollars in increased costs every month. steve: By increased costs I assume that you mean housing. I'll grant that housing cost might decrease with less restriction and more construction. On the other hand, just about every city that people want to live in has high housing costs.

    steve: without the interminable strip-mall transition zone of most cities. B: Strip malls are very popular because they are useful. Of course useful has never meant anything to a city planner. Looks and feeling is all that counts to them. steve: (sigh) To each their own.

  • billy (unverified)
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    steve: Portland's salaries have always been low for some reason, even in the "good old days" when nobody thought of land use planning and the Willamette river was an open sewer. JK: Where did you get that? A friend bought a house on minimum wage back then.

    steve: Too late, the horse is already out of the barn. LA's formative years produced the present sprawl, JK: You need to learn the basics before making statements like that. LA is the highest density urban area in the country. Therefore it sprawls the least.

    steve: but good for them for trying to improve things for future generations. JK: Why do you think that housing too expensive for ordinary people to afford is a good thing?

    steve: "hollowed out" means that development (particularly new housing) occurs around but not in the central city. Portland has seen a large number of downtown condo towers built in recent years, which have transformed places like the Pearl District into something unrecognizable from even 10 years ago. JK: There is a reason people choose to live outside the central city. First it tends to be polluted, crowded and expensive with lousy schools and few houses with space for children. As to you condo bunkers, too bad such developments don’t pencil out, so the city has to feed them millions of dollars taken from the County’s basic services, police, fire and schools. Or do you think the developers are more deserving of tax money than needy people?

    steve: You mean the bums that live in the $400k condos? No, I guess that the condo owners must be the "drifting yuppies". In any case, they pay taxes (lots of 'em). JK: Tax subsidized condos for millionaires that take money from the poor to build that crap.

    steve: By increased costs I assume that you mean housing. I'll grant that housing cost might decrease with less restriction and more construction. On the other hand, just about every city that people want to live in has high housing costs. JK: It is NOT demand that determines cost it is SUPPLY and DEMAND. Basic economics that city planners like to ignore when they say it is such a nice place that everyone wants to live there as an excuse for the high cost that they have created.

    steve: (sigh) To each their own. JK: Yeah, and (sigh) quit truing to dictate your tastes on others. If strip malls didn’t make sense to a lot of people they would not get built because there would be no demand. (Basic economics again.)

  • billly (unverified)
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    ewoc: Perhaps all those folks who speak so highly of the quality of life in Houston should consider moving there to take advantage of the excellent, cheap housing, the clean air, the vibrant culture, and the great weather. JK: I have just about had my fill of smart asses, that work for the rich developers, telling me that if I don’t like what they are doing to Portland I should leave. Well, fella, you are the one that needs to be run out of town. On a rail. Like the scum you work for.

    ewoc: Having spent time there years ago I can see just what they admire about that oh-so-lovely place...... And having Tom Delay as their claim to fame can't hurt! JK: You seem to have missed the point that more people are choosing to move to Houston than are choosing Portland. Maybe its because the developer whores haven’t succeed in getting their filthy mitts on Houston tax money gravy train yet, like they have in Portland. Or maybe its because they can actually afford a home there. Or because the average income is higher than Portland’s, or because the planners have not driven out most of the family wage jobs like they did in Portland (We don’t have land for jobs because we need it all for all those taxpayer subsidized condo bunkers.)

    ewoc: Anyone want to join me in taking up a collection to pay for one-way fare (plane, train, automobile, burro, etc.) from Portland to Houston? Bet both places will improve immeasurably - might even result in Tom Delay's disinterment! JK: I’ll be the first to donate $1 to ship you to a planner’s paradise like Havana or the old Soviet Union or the old Romania or Mao’s china. Oops, looks like most of your planner’s paradises have self destructed. Sorry. You don’t suppose there is a lesson here?

    Or you could go to a high density paradise like NYC or LA. That is you ideal for Portland isn’t it?

  • andy (unverified)
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    Leslie,

    I'm pretty sure that if you think about this topic a little bit you'll come to the conclusion that the various land use laws in Oregon, (especially the Metro area rules) have actually decreased "liveability" in many ways.

    Increased density, higher home prices, increased congestion, etc. are all the result of policies such as the UGB.

    Portland could quite easily go bankrupt due to the combination of a high cost infrastructure and tax revenue shortages. The city has been driving residents away by destroying "liveability" while at the same time it has been spending money on very expensive toys such as light rail, street cars, trams, etc. That is a bad combination of high overhead costs and lowered revenues. So it is probably way too early to be bragging about liveability.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    Portland "livability" hype lacks believability. The green city USA garbage is getting quite old, as is the global whining movement/cult. Portland is one of the most white cities in the USA. Ponder that during your next ride in your Prius to the sacred Pearl district.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    Portlandization=Californiacation

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    Conspiracyzach wrote:

    "Portland is one of the most white cities in the USA."

    So what?

    What exactly is the 'proper percentage' of white people in a city?

    How do you propose to achieve that?

    Isn't it rather racist to imply or to say in essence 'there are too many whites here'?

    What would you say to someone who implied about their town that there were too many blacks? Or too many Asians? Or (fill in the blank)?

    What would your utopian demographic be?

  • billy (unverified)
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    JK: Oregon’s land use system also has a downside, which the planners don’t like to talk about. Here goes:

    1. Our houses cost about double what they should...

    billy:

    That's because, during the period that they rose to that, people bred at twice the rate they should! Land use management is what happens AFTER you're too fucking in awe of religion to question the right of every moron to breed, breed, breed.

    Thanks, billy

  • rw (unverified)
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    My Utopian Demographic: JOE-LESS!

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    Billy wrote:

    "people bred at twice the rate they should!"

    I thought liberals believed that sex was 'private' and 'nobody's business' and that a woman should have 'choice'.

    Apparently Billy believes none of those things.

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    rw wrote:

    "My Utopian Demographic: JOE-LESS!"

    I'm just a harmless lovable little fuzzball.

    Free speech really bugs you doesn't it?

  • rw (unverified)
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    Your free speech does. It's too noisy. It clatters, it clangs, and when it seeks to go logical it clanks. It also pules, spews and bolts.

    Your speech is overly-free, Joe.

    I like my Utopia quite Joe-less, thanks. I like my Utopia thoughtful and quiet. :)

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    How did this thread get totally hijacked by right-wing sprawl-forever fanatics? I guess everyone else in the BlueOregon community feels it's futile to argue the point.

    But I can't let the constant drumbeat of Portland's "highest unemployment rate" in the country go without a rebuttal. There are several reasons for our currently high unemployment rate that have absolutely nothing to do with density or urban planning. Among these is the in-migration of young people who find Portland is a wonderful place to live, even though they still have not found a job here. I meet people like that every week. There just are not enough barista jobs for all of them. Some of them eventually find jobs, some go back home and others create their own businesses eventually.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    JK: Oregon’s land use system also has a downside, which the planners don’t like to talk about. Here goes:

    1. Our houses cost about double what they should...

    billy:

    That's because, during the period that they rose to that, people bred at twice the rate they should! Land use management is what happens AFTER you're too fucking in awe of religion to question the right of every moron to breed, breed, breed.

    Thanks, billy

    Hey, wait. Aren't JK and billy the same person? Is he now talking to himself? And answering?

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    rw wrote:

    "Your speech is overly-free, Joe."

    Spoken like a true liberal.

    Free speech for leftists, but not for anyone else, eh?

  • Scott J (unverified)
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    Leslie's post fits in with Carla's new post on Oregon's un-employment rate.

    Could it be that the employer looking to add a new location or add employees in Oregon vs. TX or UT (see Steve and Billy's arguement above) don't like the thought of higher costs of employee hires in Oregon due to the need to pay more to cover higher housing costs?

    Per Carla A's post, unemployment rates for OR, TX and UT are as follows:

    12.9% OR 6.6% TX 5.4% UT

    We all know that higher cost of living areas created need for higher compensation costs. Could you live on your current salary in NYC? Most of us can't. We would need a bump to cover the extreme costs of the islands higher housing, parking, food and taxes.

    Portland metro area is also something of a higher cost island.

  • Erik H. (unverified)
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    Interestingly I had to drive from my home in Tigard up to North Portland to make a few trips (yup, I consolidated my trips to save about fifty cents in gas) to some destinations only in that area and I stopped by Jantzen Beach to check out a few stores since I was in the area

    One thing that immediately struck me was that while I was standing in the middle of that expansive parking lot...that I was standing in the middle of an expansive parking lot in Portland. Surrounded by big-box stores.

    I'm tired of the hype that Portland believes it deserves but hardly does. Yes, so Portland has an urban growth boundary. Big deal - it gets expanded. Damascus is in the UGB and yet I would never, ever see any reason why we should be building homes out there. Portland is full of very, very poor development decisions and poor land use planning...it's as it there is a "guidebook" and that the Metro/City of Portland folks are not permitted to allow visitors from other cities to dare leave the "guidebook".

    I encourage folks from out of town to ride TriMet's bus system and tell me what they think of it. Is it comparable to light rail? Is it something you would want to take home with you? How do you like that 20 year old bus without air conditioning and a broken ADA lift? How do you like that bus stop that isn't even on a sidewalk - it's literally the side of the road, with a bus stop sign with virtually no information on it?

    I encourage folks from out of town to see some of our region's planning "successes" - Tanasbourne, Orenco Station (love those newly widened roads - Evergreen, Cornell, Cornelius Pass!), Sherwood, Wilsonville, Clackamas Town Center, Troutdale.

    Yes, we have a few high rises in the Pearl District. So about 10,000 people live there. Big deal - our regional population is what, 1.5 million? More people live OUTSIDE the City of Portland but within the Portland Metropolitan Area than live INSIDE the City of Portland. That's right - add up all the folks who live in Washington County, Clackamas County, East County (Gresham/Wood Village/Fairview/Troutdale) and Clark County - they exceed Portland's population. Clearly people are making a choice as to where they want to live and it's NOT Portland, much less the Pearl District which is attracting out-of-towners, not cross-town movers.

    And speaking of myself (a former City of Portland resident)...we were in the Pearl once during a benefit walk and we saw a condo for $160,000 - one bedroom, one bath. Nice, but we have a four-year-old son.

    The nearest elementary school for my son would be several miles away in Southwest Portland, well on the other side of downtown.

    My house in Tigard? Is one block away from my son's soon-to-be elementary school (and in a MUCH better school district) and a short walk from what will be his middle school in seven years. In fact according to www.walkscore.com, my Tigard neighborhood is "very walkable" compared to my "auto dependent" Portland neighborhood.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    I happen to be white. I think smart growth planning is racist. And smart growth planning sucks for many other reasons too. It follows the new urban canon of making places just like Disneyland.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    "Livability" like "sustainability" is in the eye of the beholder. These mushy terms mean all things to all people. Worse yet, our land use laws are filled with these words to keep the laws flexible. In other words, find a non-compatible use and wrap this nonsense language around it. Then go on and on about some triple bottom line psycho-babble. Presto-you are now a professional planner.

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    Exactly conspiracyzach.

    'Livability' is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

    Some 'planners' want to put everything 'within walking distance'. And that is 'livability' to them.

    But that definition of 'livability' would be a nightmare to many elderly who are unable to walk to the grocers and pull a cart of groceries home.

    Or to the single mom of three small children for whom walking to the grocers and carrying three bags of groceries home in any fashion with three kids in tow is out of the question.

    Having options is what makes livability.

    Being stuck with someone else's utopian vision of 'livability' is not.

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