quote of the week: the mayor on those portland powerpoints


No planner from the city of Portland should be going to national conferences and bragging about how smart we are about urban planning in Portland until we have an actionable plan to make 122nd & Division a great  place. … We have a lot of work to do to make the hype about how livable Portland is true citywide.

— Newly inaugurated Portland Mayor Charlie Hales,
in an interview with Willamette Week.

Here's the intersection the Mayor is referring to:

122 Division
122 Division street view

Strong words.  I've sometimes felt exasperated by the some of "Perfect Portland PowerPoints" that I've seen at conferences all over the world.  Many of them show you pictures solely from downtown and the innermost neighborhoods, and give you the impression that every place worth going to is right on the Portland Streetcar.  They don't usually mention that repeated cuts to the city's once-excellent bus network are calling into question the viability of a no-car lifestyle over large parts of the city, and that much of the official wonderfulness of Portland isn't that evident in daily life in some of the outer parts of the city.  

But of course, planning PowerPoints about lots of cities are distorted in those ways.  And in fact, many cities have fairly ordinary looking suburban fabric like you see in this picture, and conflicts between the needs of such areas and those of a more glamorous and expensive inner city.  So I would be gentler than the Mayor on this point.  

Portland is far more flawed, contingent, lovable, ordinary, and fascinating than the some of the PowerPoint warriors will let on, but after all you've heard, you'll probably have to see it to believe it, or at least spend some time on Google.

10 Responses to quote of the week: the mayor on those portland powerpoints

  1. ladyfleur January 2, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    I think the reason that Portland Powerpoints are flying out to other cities isn’t because the whole city of Portland is wonderful. It’s because most cities are filled with the “fairly ordinary looking suburban fabric” shown above and have no idea on what a livable, mid-sized modern North American city could look like.

  2. EngineerScotty January 2, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Both SE Division and SE 122nd, the two major thoroughfares at this intersection, would make excellent BRT lines. Division is already being considered for such, though no project has yet started to do that. But 122nd, a 5-lane thoroughfare with on-street parking, could also be modified to support faster N/S transit; the 71 which runs along it is a fairly successful crosstown line.

  3. EngineerScotty January 2, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    It also should be noted that Portland’s new mayor was, both during a prior stint on the city council and in his private practice in between government gigs, a big proponent of the Portland Streetcar. It has long been assumed, including by many of his critics (who derisively call him “Streetcar Charlie”), that he would continue an inner-city focused development system–but here, he is directly answering a major criticism of Portland’s recent transit changes: that it has focused too much on downtown land-use reform, at the cost of lower-quality service in outer and suburban neighborhoods.

  4. Scott January 2, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    As a former Portland resident now living abroad, I often have to explain to people that a minority of Portland is “Portlandia,” and that most of the land area of the city on the east side is quite suburban. Actually, though, the part of the city that I would nominate as most “fascinating” to borrow a phrase from above, most in need of an “actionable plan” (read: outside money rather than trying to beat it out of the people living there) is Brentwood-Darlington where large numbers of residences aren’t even on paved streets.

  5. The Overhead Wire January 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    If anyone actually stops to listen to what the people from Portland are ACTUALLY saying, the ones I have seen never claim to be perfect and want you to know that the city isn’t. At least that is what I get out of hearing Portland folks talk.

  6. Nathanael January 2, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    Ladyfleur makes a good point: there are entire cities where there is NOTHING BUT suburban sprawl; where there is no visible downtown at all. I’m sure you can all think of examples. “Small” examples like Spokane. “Big” examples like Phoenix.

  7. APMargulies January 2, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Nice post!

  8. Jonathan Parker January 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Others are onto it. It’s not that Portland’s perfect. I’ve been there twice and it’s definitely got it’s beautiful & ugly places just like anywhere else (mostly positive). It’s just that other cities/regions are so terribly car-dominant that Portland stands out among US regions of its size by comparison. There are other US cities that do and have a legacy of strong transport/land use planning (Arlington, VA, for example), but few can match the Portland’s history of maintaining quality planning on the *regional scale* for several decades, which is an incredibly difficult task in the US context. To me, that is what sets Portland apart.

  9. Joseph E January 3, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    122nd and Division is part of East Portland. Most of this region, east of 82nd street, was developed after WWII in an auto-oriented suburban fashion when the land wasn’t even part of the city of Portland; it was annexed to the city in the 1980s. The city has done an interesting study of the development of the area thru the last century: http://tinyurl.com/abgmsvt
    I agree that both Division and 122nd would make good BRT (or light rail) routes. The right-of-way is at least 94 feet wide on each street at the intersection, and buildings are set back even farther. It would be technically easy to add exclusive lanes for transit while still preserving sidewalks, bike lanes, parking and car access. The politics is harder, but it happened on Burnside just a couple of miles north of Division, when the Blue Line light rail was added.

  10. Spencer January 6, 2014 at 7:19 am #

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