Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Metro "bout" bobs, weaves around key issues

Last Wednesday a standing-room-only crowd that over-flowed into an adjacent video-viewing room packed a Metro Building auditorium on Grand Avenue.

The draw was two academics from British Columbia debating “different strategies for implementing the 2040 growth concept, our region’s plan for the future….”


How is this possible? Didn’t the crowd of, say, 250 to 300, have better things to do?

Well, as a matter of fact, they decided they didn’t.

And why was that?

In a word, marketing.

Metro Councilor Robert Liberty promoted the presentation as a pseudo-prize fight between sparring Professors Patrick “Corridors” Condon of the University of British Columbia and Gordon “Centers” Price of Simon Fraser University.

The set-to featured goofy raised fists, buffo posturing, “rounds,” judges and a “decision.”

It was a great come-on. The two opponents, after some entertaining verbal parrying, didn’t really disagree all that much.

The decision by a vote of the house was deemed a draw.

The disagreement, such as it was, was an effort to get the audience to think about how communities develop, or should develop. Should we “grow” them as nodes along established transit corridors, or should we plan and develop them as stand-alone communities and connect them later?

Importing two academics from Vancouver actually wasn’t as odd as it might seem. For several years, planners have recognized an eerie similarity between the two cities — in Metro size, growth and setting. Planners and planning consultants have shuttled back and forth between the two regions, comparing notes.

I have to confess I went into this verbal slug fest as a “center” guy from the Hillsdale Town Center. But here it all gets fuzzy because a major factor in Metro’s designating Hillsdale a “town center” (one of 27 in the greater Portland Metro Region) was its being located on no less than seven transit lines, which places it on a corridor, or, to be more exact, a pass through the hills.

The hills of southwest Portland are hardly known for straight-edged “corridors.” We don’t even have sidewalks. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway and Barbur Boulevard are obvious exceptions—but they don’t have sidewalks either.

Real corridors are linear trunks like Division, Powell, McLaughlin, Sandy and Hawthorne. Interestingly, none of them is considered a neighborhood.

Hillsdale, by contrast, is undeniably a "neighborhood" and a nascent community despite its dependence on sinuous Capitol Highway and the swerving Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

So centers versus corridors, as discrete concepts, seemed far less worth of debate than several crucial planning topics — all of them having as much to with people as place. That may have been the reason they were avoided — people are tougher to plan for and manage than places.

Here is some of what I missed:

Schools: Amazingly, a huge disconnect exists between city planners and those of us who see schools as essential to defining community. My guess is that the problem originates with schools and neighborhoods (communities?) being governed by separate entities — the school district on the one hand and city government on the other.

Integrated parks, plazas, farmers markets and civic centers. Could it be that these topics were avoided because they really are magnets for local organizing, and organizing is a direct threat to the centralized, entrenched power of city hall?

Community governance: This too is a threat. Power in cities should devolve to communities, where people know each other. For the devolution to happen, the present centralized establishments would lose power. Existing, traditional political networks would be disrupted. The topic never entered the ring last Wednesday.

Despite these concerns, Counselor Liberty is to be commended for promoting this “bout.” The promotion worked, but I learned more from what wasn’t discussed than from what was.

I’d suggest that Liberty think beyond the rigid “corridors versus centers” debate and present a debate of human substance and relevance.

Suggestions: “Should neighborhoods be given more power?” and “Should Schools be Community Learning Centers?”

Topics like these promote themselves.

Unfortunately, they are beyond the current purview of our Metro regional government. They shouldn't be.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home