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Region must get ready for growth

The argument over whether to block growth or plan for it can be settled by this number: 25,260.

That's how much the population of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties grew between July 2005 and July 2006. The Center for Population Research at Portland State University produces its population estimates each year. The latest numbers, released late last month, show that the three metro-area counties are adding residents at a rapid clip. And the influx is happening now, not off in the distant future.

Between 2005 and 2006, the Population Research Center estimates that Multnomah County grew by 8,720 residents, Clackamas by 5,740 and Washington by 10,800. And East Multnomah County is getting its share of these new residents. The cities of Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village and Troudale grew by a total of 2,320 people between 2005 and 2006 - which is almost the equivalent of adding another Wood Village to East County each year.

To put the regional numbers in the same perspective, consider this: On a yearly basis, the three-county region is adding enough people to equal another Tualatin.

That's each and every year - and we're not even counting population increases in fast-growing Clark County or in other nearby counties. The population numbers only reinforce our belief that it's pointless to debate whether growth is desirable. Invited or not, people are flocking here. The real discussion must center around how to accommodate growth in a fashion that preserves the region's livability.

More people will mean the need for more schools and better transportation systems, but the region lacks funding for such endeavors. Growth also raises the pressure for suburban sprawl or for increased density within existing urban and suburban centers.

Earlier this year, the Metro regional government launched an initiative called the New Look to try to address growth-related issues such as managing the urban growth boundary, planning for transportation and investing in communities to allow for larger populations. That process should help define choices, but preserving livability also requires action at the state level. Among other topics, the 2007 Legislature must confront the state's inadequate level of transportation funding, its antiquated land-use system and the need to build new schools in rapidly growing communities.

Legislators as well as citizens must keep in mind that growth isn't theoretical. It will be difficult to absorb another Tualatin every year. The region can be overwhelmed, or it can get ready.