By Jason Miner of Hillsdale, Oregon. Jason is Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Oregon. He has 17 years of experience in land use planning and natural resource stewardship. Jason holds a Bachelors degree in Biology from Amherst College and both a law degree and a Masters of Environmental Management from Duke University.
This week, 1000 Friends submitted formal notice it is appealing Metro’s urban and rural reserves plan. The plan is supposed to be a roadmap to the next fifty years of development and conservation for the Portland region. But if we follow the map that’s been drawn, we’re bound to lose our way.
I want to tell you why we’ve made this choice. But first I want to tell you about a place.
Maybe you’ve been there. You’ve no doubt been somewhere like it in Oregon.
You head west on Highway 26 in Washington County, hopefully on a day when traffic isn’t at a standstill. You pass mile after mile, exit after exit; you see commercial warehouses, big boxes, apartments that come right up to the freeway’s shoulders.
And then—the urban tide ebbs. It’s a familiar and welcome sensation. Wherever you live, knowing where your city ends is a shared value among Oregonians.
Along Highway 26, one such spot is Helvetia Road. If you exit there and head north, the urban- rural transition is almost jarring in its suddenness. With Hillsboro’s high tech campuses in sight, you enter a landscape dominated by productive farms, directly contributing to an agricultural economy that’s still growing.
It’s not a past-tense place. It’s an active place, just minutes from the center of the state’s most populous region. It’s producing, rather than consumed.
And if Metro’s reserves plan stands, it may one day be like the other places you just passed along Highway 26. This is an area, like thousands of acres of highly productive farmland in Washington County, that the County and Metro plan to see paved over in the decades to come.
Theirs is a lackluster vision, one that assumes our future consists of the same sprawl we now find so relieving to leave behind. It’s a vision that disregards state law directing urbanization away from highest-quality farmland, and the role it plays in our regional economy. It’s a vision that will undermine our shared goal to improve the communities where most Oregonians already live.
We must challenge this vision.
Growth is going to happen in the Portland region, and no one is out to stop it—certainly not us. In fact, more people and more innovative businesses are helping to make our region more vibrant.
We accepted Clackamas and Multnomah counties’ reserves proposals because they charted a balanced approach to growth, prioritizing investment in existing communities, instead of envisioning the same old expensive, consumptive sprawl.
But Washington County chose another route. Washington County employed its own criteria for defining rural reserves, diverging from the intent that this be a plan for the entire Metro region.
They reached farther than state goals and common sense would suggest is reasonable. They produced compelling numbers by designating vast swaths of land with no possibility of development as “rural reserves.” But in almost every case where there was a real choice to be made, they chose to designate high-quality farmland for urban expansion, or to call these areas “undesignated.”
This isn’t just about what to do with farmland on the region’s fringes. This is part of a broader struggle between two visions. Will we hold to the core values that have guided Oregon and made it such an inspiring place to live and work? Or will we follow the path of so many other cities: putting more cars on our roads, more pollution in the air, more pavement on top of productive soil, more money into new roads, sewers, and infrastructure rather than rebuilding and repairing the places already inside the boundary.
From a huge bridge that even proponents recognize will export more sprawl to Clark County, to an anti-transit revolt in Clackamas County: there are clear threats to our region’s livability and health that we must confront.
More than many plans, the reserves will play a key role in shaping our region’s future. We’re standing against the current plan not because it’s easy, but because it’s the right thing to do— for farmers working and living on the land today, for families who need safe routes to school and clean air to breath, and for the region’s future residents.
As Governor McCall said in a 1969 speech: “Let us never be charged by our inheritors that…we buckled and floundered, when everything rode on our grace as leaders who valued our sentimentality but who knew it took much more than loving platitudes to preserve it.”
The time for platitudes is over. That’s why we’ve made this choice.
Sept. 07, 2012 | |