Sculpting the perfect Portland
Late last year and early this, we asked Tribune readers and selected civic leaders to think big Ñ to imagine the Perfect Portland.
The results were impressive. More than 50 people responded to the challenge of presenting ideas, ranging from the grandiose to the fastidious, that would make Portland and the surrounding areas better and more enjoyable places to live.
The categories we selected were:
• Business growth
One theme that emerged was a surprising nostalgia for ideas that hearken back to the city's earlier days. Several readers suggested that making the city the way it once was Ñ in their minds, a place overflowing with parks and clean water Ñ was all that was needed to perfect Portland.
This week and next, we present the results.
• Mike Houck, an urban naturalist with the Audubon Society of Portland:
'We should resolve to be the center of an ecologically sustainable region, as articulated in the 1903 Olmsted parks master plan; Metro's Greenspaces Master Plan and 2040 Growth Concept; and Portland Parks & Recreation's 2020 Vision.
'We can achieve this resolution by developing a comprehensive, interconnected system of parks, green spaces, fish and wildlife habitats, and trails that allow the region's residents easy access to nature and a variety of park and recreation opportunities.
'Implementing this resolution would contribute to a perfect Portland and allow us to compete economically with other cities and regions.'
• Noel Miller, Grant High School: 'Refurbished and fully supported park and recreation facilities for our children.'
• John Porter, Southwest Portland: 'Hire more rangers for Forest Park, and encourage the police chief to have the cops circle city parks more often to keep out the street demons.'
• Ethan Seltzer is the director of Portland State University's School of Urban Studies and Planning and chairman of the Portland Planning Commission.
'Cities are uniquely human creations. The legendary urbanist Lewis Mumford once remarked, more or less, that 'each generation writes its autobiography in the cities it creates.' What we do today, here in Portland and with each other, is the legacy that we're creating for tomorrow.
'Neighborhoods are among the most critical locations where that kind of city-building interaction takes place. They are where most of us feel most at ease, most connected and most committed.
'But what if you don't have a connection to the place other than as a place to sleep? What if neighbors don't actually feel neighborly? What happens if folks don't feel a sense of connection that empowers them to reach past their front stoop to the stoop next door?
'When neighborhoods become characterized mostly by their isolation, lack of identity or problems, the whole city suffers. They become places that we seek to leave, rather than places where people of every stripe choose to be.
'Fortunately, there is a simple principle that underlies successful cities: The city is a better place when its citizens are empowered by their connections with each other.
'My wish for 2004 is that Portland recommits itself to neighborhood organizing and strong, articulate, able neighborhood associations.
'Connected, empowered citizens are what makes a city great and its future bright. By trusting neighbors and seeking better organized neighborhoods, Portland will open itself up to a future of choice, rather than one by default and of last resort.'
• Deborah Lee, Southeast Portland: 'Neighborhoods should be multicultural, affordable and pedestrian-friendly. And don't crowd social service centers into one area. Instead of so many in Southeast, try erecting a few in the Southwest hills.'
• Glen Ropella, Eagle Creek: 'One fosters diversity by encouraging, through incentives and attention, many small efforts, enterprises and ventures.
'There are two prongs on this fork: those who want to do or create something and those who are willing to pay attention to the things being done or created.
'My suggestion is to provide support for many small efforts including businesses, bands, artists and collectives, and support publication outlets for those efforts.
'For example, see these Web sites:
• Robert Landauer, Northeast Portland: 'The very first thing we have to do is purge the city of Portland's politicians from City Hall.'
• Richard Ellmyer, North Portland: 'All neighborhoods are not created equal when it comes to sharing the burden of low-income public housing. Ten neighborhoods in Portland out of 117 in Multnomah County carry 26 percent of the Housing Authority of Portland's clients. This violates Portland's official policy of distribution Ñ not concentration Ñ of low-income public housing clients.
'But a policy without enforcement or even the means to be evaluated is a sham, not a real policy. We cannot fix the inequities, reveal public policy success or failure and improve the overall quality of life in Portland neighborhoods until the Portland Housing Development Corp., HAP and Portland Development Commission all commit to neighborhood map-based accounting of low-income public housing clients.'
• Ralph Crawshaw, Northwest Portland: 'One hundred years ago, Portlanders took active civic pride in their 'World's Best Water System': a great natural basin, 30 miles from our city, dedicated to forever collecting pure water and bringing it to the users' taps by gravity. How about that for perfection?
'And what has happened? The vision for this perfect water system has vanished. Our pioneering system was turned into a cash cow for diminishing taxes and a point of neighborhood squabbling over its infrastructure. It's been the unfortunate victim of a poorly constructed computer system. It is, in short, Portland's neglected child.
'What citizens should be working on is regaining the pride we once had in our perfect water system by renewing the vision that was handed down to us by wise citizens.'Ê
• Scott Bailey is a product of Portland Public Schools and a parent activist with Community & Parents for Public Schools. He works as an economist. He and his wife, Nancy Abens, have two children; Wilson, 14, attends Grant High School, and Charlie, 11, attends Laurelhurst Elementary:
'We know the elements necessary for good schools: vision, leadership, curriculum, teaching, parent and community involvement, and communication. What we need to develop in Portland Public Schools at the district level are the systems to develop and support each of these elements at every school. For example, we have a number of very fine, hardworking principals, but we don't have a good principal at every school, in part because personnel evaluation isn't done well. We have schools that welcome parents at all levels of involvement, including shared decision making, and other schools where parents are shut out.
'We have a number of schools where there is incredible staff collaboration, and some schools where mutual support is lacking. In part, that's a leadership issue, and in part, it's due to the distrust between the district and the teachers union that leaves us with a teacher assignment process that doesn't serve the best interest of kids.
'The school board is helping to move us in the right direction. Hopefully, with a new superintendent, we will heal the rift between the administration and the teachers, and implement the support and accountability systems we need to make every school a good school.'
• Deborah Lee, Southeast Portland: 'Stop paying the superintendent such a huge salary! Such salaries are top-heavy; (they) should trickle down to teachers and other underpaid workers in Portland Public Schools.'
• Nancy Hamilton, Northeast Portland: 'We will know we have perfect schools when every one of our kids gets ignited with the fever of learning and never slows down. When teachers have what they need to feed that fever one child at a time through books, science, art, music, sports or something we can only imagine today. And when we understand that supporting the schools is the most cost-efficient investment we can make in our collective future.'
• Melinda Pittman is a writer, director, composer, producer and performer of original theater works and music. She is perhaps best known for her work with the Fallen Angel Choir. She has lived in Portland since 1979.
'The work every artist embraces is creating the impossible out of nothing. Art sculpts civilization.
'What would turn Portland's cultural specimens into vibrant art and life forms? I have five ideas. Portland will become perfect when:
'1. Art, music, dance, theater, painting and poetry are recognized as necessities of civic life, the raw material of society creating itself. When arts and artists are treated as treasures and when the work of doing art is recognized as the Prometheus of progress, Portland will near perfection.
'2. All artists are paid living wages for producing and visioning civilization. Heck, for that matter, Portland will be perfect when everyone who works is paid enough to live. If no one had to choose among food, shelter, clothes, schools or health care, we as a community could invest in expanding our hearts and brains through art.
'3. The newspaper's arts section is as thick as the classifieds, and local arts are as extensively covered on television as sports.
'4. Every member of the Portland Development Commission has to work for one year as a parking lot attendant; teachers and nurses are recognized as heroic.
'5. Genny Nelson is chief of police; Avel Gordly is mayor; Gus Van Sant picks the playlist for Regal Cinemas; Kristy Athens is president of the Arlington Club; and Elisabeth Linder is the grand marshal of the Rose Parade, brought to you by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.'
• Don Tucker, West Slope: 'Rename and move the Blazers so as to remove the stigma of their antics from Portland's formerly great fame of being a relatively decent and beautiful place. Help the more economically depressed towns by moving the Blazers there; they could use local high school gyms. Suggested names might be the McMinnville Miscreants or Camas Culprits. É You get the picture.'
• Phillip Yien, Goose Hollow: 'I would like to see more 'highbrow' type stuff performed in public arenas such as Pioneer Courthouse Square, or on one of the main stages during Waterfront Park festivals. Sure, the true demand for something such as 'Shakespeare in the Park' may be hard to measure, but the point is exposure to new audiences. Even if some people who see the performances never pay to see another one, I think their lives are enriched by it.
'Expand the palette of offerings beyond rock, jazz, blues, etc., to encompass (more) classical, opera and live theatrical performances. Concentrate on local and regional artists first.'
• Doug Kelso, Northeast Portland: 'Portland could use a top-flight museum of natural history. I nominate the Forest Discovery Center at the World Foresty Center for the role. It's a good museum but needs to grow. 'Natural History of Forests' is a broad subject and could fill a major, world-class museum. Imagine a cluster of wood buildings, all masterpieces of Cascadian architecture, linked together to form the greatest natural history museum on the West Coast. Needed: a few good corporate angels.
'Last I heard, the Tom Stefopoulos Lovejoy ramp murals are sitting in storage until a home can be found for them. How about putting them in an art garden? There's a great site next to the Pearl District: a cluster of empty or mostly empty blocks under the Interstate 405 ramp north of Northwest Northrup Street. Those blocks could be turned into a spacious art park Ñ a semisheltered place for the Lovejoy murals and for other sculpture, mosaics, murals and outdoor performance spaces.'
• Noel Miller, Grant High School: 'Say hello to the people you know. Smile at the people you don't. Be patient and accept the fact that some people are different from you; maybe even rejoice in their differences with them. Never forget the wise words 'Won't you be my neighbor?' and try to make that an enjoyable position to be in.'
• Maury Brown is the information director of the Oregon Stadium Campaign. He lives in Southwest Portland.
'Thousands of people head north to watch it, and thousands more watch it every season on television. From both a cultural and business growth perspective, major league baseball would draw millions of people to Portland ever year, and expose the city's grace and beauty through games televised nationally.
'As anyone who has taken in a view of Puget Sound from Safeco Field or listened to the buzz of cash registers around the 'SoDo' district in Seattle knows, MLB in Portland would bolster the image of Portland above and beyond our current sports options, and give businesses something to cheer about.'
• Jesse Beason, Portland: 'It is small business that Portland does best. Though Nike, Intel and Tektronix will remain our buddies, it is the small-business owner who excites us. Local business makes us feel good about spending and directly connects us to our economy.
'Well, what better way to keep the money in the family than to make our own cash? Let's be the first major city to implement local currency on a large scale, backed by city government, credit unions, local business and of course, the toil and sweat of thousands of Portlanders.'
• Philip Yien, Goose Hollow: 'As a small- business owner with stores located in shopping malls, I wish more Portlanders would try to buy local. Sure, brand-name chains at the mall are more familiar and require less thought, and megastores such as Target and Wal-Mart are hard to compete with on price. But this wonderful city has many areas with independently owned shops: Hawthorne, Belmont, Sellwood, the Pearl, 23rd Avenue, etc. Even some of the shopping malls have local independents.
'There is nothing wrong with shopping at a Target or Gap Ñ these companies obviously employ many local residents. But buying local makes a statement to the business community that our city supports the true backbone of small business.'
• Bruce Warner is the director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
'The ideal transportation system in Portland is safe, robust and diverse, allowing people and freight to get where they need to go quickly via the mode they choose. It effectively connects Portland's economy with the region, the state, the West Coast and the nation.
'My vision for Portland provides for all users and includes at least the following elements:
• A completed east-west, north-south light-rail system connects Portland with Hillsboro; Gresham; Oregon City; Vancouver, Wash.; and the airport.
• An expanded Interstate 5 corridor Ñ with new bridges, an additional travel lane for high-occupancy vehicles and trucks, and light rail Ñ provides congestion relief and better access to jobs in North Portland and Rivergate.
• Our existing bus system is enhanced by flexible demand-responsive transit.
• A better connection between Interstate 84 and U.S. Highway 26 links Portland with new jobs and housing in east Multnomah and Clackamas counties.
• An expanded Interstate 205 accommodates increased traffic and freight while strengthening the area's bond to the West Coast and national economy.
• Covers over an improved Interstate 405 allow development of new jobs and housing in North and Northwest Portland and new lease revenues for other transportation projects.
• City, county and state highway traffic control systems are connected through ’intelligent’ transportation technology that coordinates signals and ramp meters to maximize traffic flow.
• A partnership between the ports of Portland and Vancouver provides a new bridge for heavy rail and trucks over the Columbia River to accommodate the region's increased tonnage from the deepened shipping channel.
• Freight rail improvements allow passenger rail service between Eugene, Portland and Vancouver, B.C., to increase to five trains per day.
• A new connection between I-5 and Oregon Highway 99 relieves congestion and allows better and safer access to the coast'
• Christopher Frankonis, Southeast Portland: 'From 1914 until the late 1930s, merchants on Southwest Third Avenue financed the Great Light Way Ñ a series of illuminated arches that arced diagonally above the street's intersections.
'As part of efforts to revitalize downtown transit and pedestrian livability, we should bring back such illuminated arches, perhaps along the transit mall, perhaps elsewhere, or perhaps both.
'It's easy to imagine that such elegant forms might help tie together opposing street sides and unite street-level sightlines with upwardly drawn gazes at surrounding buildings and architecture, as well as provide lighting for pedestrian crossings at night.'
• Bill Kidd, Northwest Portland: 'In order to improve the flow of traffic from the east side to downtown, bore two tunnels under the river. This would be similar to the MAX tunnels that go to Beaverton. Put one-way traffic in both tunnels. Bore another one for MAX so that it
doesn't have to rely on the ups and downs of the Steel Bridge.
'If they can put a tunnel under the English Channel, we can surely do this. And we're already doing it with the big water-runoff line!'
• Juergen Jung, North Portland: 'Incentives are virtually nonexistent in this society. Here is a suggestion to decrease road rage and traffic violations:
'Have the police spot and stop good drivers, drivers who obey all traffic laws, and reward them with a pleasant surprise check (not a gift certificate) of $10 to $100. Make this program known to the public, but never announce the end of it, only the beginning.
'What we would have is a redistribution of money from reckless drivers, who get fined, to good drivers.'
• Paul Johnson, Gresham: 'The Steel Bridge is 100 years old and has served its day. It should be dismantled and replaced with a new bridge. It is a real eyesore in the Portland skyline.'
• Doug Kelso, Northeast Portland: 'The planned Oregon Health & Science University aerial tram doesn't go far enough. It should go west from OHSU to the Washington Park MAX station and east to the future MAX station at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
'Serving OHSU from two MAX lines will go a long way toward relieving traffic and parking problems on Pill Hill. It will also turn the tram into an important regional transit link.'