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Sculpting the perfect Portland, Part 2

Today's Insight pages offer another round of thoughts from readers on how to improve our city and the surrounding

areas.

Late last year and early this, we asked residents and selected civic leaders to think big É to imagine the perfect Portland.

The categories were:

• Parks

• Traffic

• Schools

• Culture

• Neighborhoods

• Business growth

Here, for the second week, we present responses.

But did we miss your idea? If so, e-mail your notion to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. These mini-essays should be no more than 100 words.

We'll publish as many of the submissions as possible over the next few months, because it's no easy task to reach perfection.

Ñ Roger Anthony,

Tribune Editor

Parks

• Doug Kelso is a self-employed legal researcher and volunteer at the Oregon Zoo. He does not own a car and gets around by bus and bicycle. He lives in Northeast Portland:

The Grand Ronde tribes are willing to pay big money to put a casino in Portland. We should go for it. However, don't waste this opportunity on a mere stadium or hotel. Build parks instead. Put the price tag for a Portland casino at $200 million upfront to build parks, plus 15 percent of annual casino profits to help maintain Portland's parks. Whichever tribe meets the offer gets a 50-year exclusive right to operate a casino in Portland. Downside: one casino. Upside: new parks all over town. That's a net plus for livability.

Delta Park east and west, Smith and Bybee lakes É connect 'em up and there's space enough for a major landscape park like New York's Central Park or San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. And that big, mostly unbuildable parcel just south of the Expo Center and served by the freeway and light rail? It'd make a grand public garden, something like the Oregon Garden or Buchart Gardens, right here in town.

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• Margret Bailey, Northeast Portland: Those of us who walk, either for pleasure or out of necessity, would survive longer if the broken sidewalks were repaired. It's dangerous out there.

The reporting of and repair of a sidewalk is a long process. I am told there is a lack of funds. Beautiful Portland does not need all of the new projects that are proposed. We need to maintain the facilities we already have.

Schools

• Cynthia Guyer is the executive director of the Portland Schools Foundation. She and her husband, Jeff Malachowsky, are the parents of an 11-year-old son, Michael Malachowsky, who attends Beaumont Middle School and a 16-year-old daughter, Sarah Malachowsky, who goes to Grant High School. Guyer lives in Northeast Portland:

Over the last decade Portland communities have done whatever it takes to support public schools. Since parent, civic, education and business leaders formed the Portland Schools Foundation in 1996, tens of thousands of citizens have joined us, in campaign after campaign, to press for a great school for every child.

As a result of much hard work by many people, we begin 2004 with three years of stable local public funding as a result of the May 2003 election and a new, focused and energized school board.

We also have dozens of schools across the city where teachers, principals and parents are working to create and support vibrant, thriving learning environments. Fifty thousand students wake up every morning and attend the largest school system in Oregon. One out of every 10 students who attend public school in our state go to Portland Public Schools.

But we still have great challenges and much work to do to create an entire system of high-performing schools. Too many low-income students and children of color are not getting the education they need to be successful in work and community life. Our high schools, especially, are ripe for bold and dramatic change.

This is a pivotal year. The new school board has set out to recruit a strong and capable superintendent to build on our considerable strengths and tackle our challenges so that Portland can take its place among the best urban school systems in the United States.

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• John Porter, Southwest Portland: Pay the teachers more and give the disciplinarians the power to do what we pay them to do.

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• Noel Miller, Grant High School: Raise the bar and eliminate the gap. Support educators and staff, but especially the children. We will someday decide the fate of this country. Consider also the many students who volunteer and spend their time giving back to the community.

Neighborhoods

• Paul Leistner is a neighborhood activist from Mount Tabor:

Portland's neighborhoods long have been a major source of our city's vitality, diversity and creativity. At one time Portland had the best neighborhood association system and highest public engagement in government in the nation.

Sadly, many of the mechanisms and processes that made the system work have been abandoned. Today, a majority on the City Council are actively suspicious and disdainful of community involvement. Important review and input processes are evaded, policies and projects often are poorly conceived, and special deals to powerful interests and campaign donors increasingly trump good policy and broader community goals.

In a perfect Portland:

Neighborhoods, local businesses, community organizations and local government regularly work together in a true partnership to identify and respond to community needs and opportunities.

Elected city officials value community input and know how to effectively engage the public. Mechanisms are in place to ensure meaningful public input when it can make the most difference.

The Office of Neighborhood Involvement strongly supports community organizing. Community activists work together citywide to advocate for good public process, transparency and accountability in government.

Public funding of campaigns limits the influence of money in elections. The 'Portland way' again serves as a model to the nation.

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• John Tomlinson, Northeast Portland: My dream improvement for Portland actually unites four categories: parks, traffic, neighborhoods and business growth. Yes, you can guess what ties these categories together and spoils all of them. It's that awful east-bank Interstate 5 freeway.

I know that this is a tired subject, but I recently read in the Tribune that the 'experts' said nothing can be done for decades to move this eyesore. Yet, nothing else that I can think of holds Portland back from being one of the West Coast's most attractive cities. Starting at the west-side approaches to the Marquam Bridge all the way to the convention center, this stretch of freeway is outdated, dangerously designed and a visual blight. Even worse, it eats up some of the most desirable and taxable property in the heart of the city.

The state admitted years ago that it erred in locating I-5 on the east bank of the Willamette. It was done because the state was in a hurry to complete urban freeways on the cheapest available land, without thinking about the future consequences. I find it hard to believe that people such as Tom Moyer and Neil Goldschmidt want to tear out picturesque city blocks in the heart of downtown. If they really want to improve the city, their focus should be on pressuring the state and federal government to find some creative way to correct this decades-old mistake on the east side.

Portlanders banded together 100 years ago and, against the odds, created a beautiful world's fair. I don't see any united civic spirit like that going on today. Now it's all territorial infighting to protect this or that pet project. If politicians and business people were to think alike and focus on relocating the east-bank freeway, I'm sure Portland could pull it off, and relatively quickly. I can think of no grander gesture to improve this city for future generations than this one thing.

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• Martha Bergman, Southwest Portland: A perfect Portland cares more about taxpayers than tax lots. A perfect Portland is full of working people, not just dreamers. A perfect Portland saves hundreds of million of dollars by maintaining open reservoirs and a skyline uncluttered by a tram. We invest those resources in schools and job training.

In a perfect Portland, the Portland Development Commission no longer dominates our civic conversation. We can save millions by not giving property tax breaks to developers of luxury condominiums or by extending property tax breaks for another 30 years to downtown Portland property owners.

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• Phyllis Reynolds, Southwest Portland: Portland's neighborhoods have a lot of trees in the right of way. People in houses across the sidewalk from the parking strip now have to pay to have those trees cared for (or cut down if the tree is dying or dead) and they have to pay for leaf disposal.

Why not assess everybody a few cents per linear foot of frontage and let the city take care of the trees and the leaves? That way the neighborhoods would have the many benefits of trees but be free of the potentially extensive costs.

Culture

• Christopher Mattaliano is the general director of Portland Opera. He joined the company in July 2003.

In some ways it might seem a bit presumptuous for a relative newcomer like myself to hold forth on such a subject. But I have been coming to Portland for the past 15 years as a guest artist; I sought this position because of the high regard for Portland Opera within the opera world; and I now live here full-time with my family, own a house here, have a daughter in local schools and am quickly becoming immersed in this wonderful community.

So if that gives me any standing, I'm happy to offer my view in that context.

First, Portland is already a vibrant cultural city. But that cultural vibrancy could be enhanced if the entire community would embrace the quality that already exists here. From large to small, there are cultural groups here doing work that is quite astounding.

Second: Build a new opera house that would help us emerge from the shadows of Seattle and put our city at the forefront, architecturally as well as musically. There's no need for us to be bashful about being better. No need to be reluctant to be the best.

Finally, we need to intensify the collaboration between our arts organizations. There are great minds and organizations here. Together Ñ with a major arts festival, say Ñ we could create something that would make our entire city proud. Done correctly, it could highlight our arts organizations, draw visitors from throughout the region, increase our economic vitality and help solidify Portland's reputation as a city where great things are happening.

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• David Hudson, executive director of the Regional Arts & Culture Council: Portland is riding a wave of cultural enthusiasm in which we should all partake and promote. Let's encourage more art festivals like PICA's Time Based Arts Festival (held in September) or the new Portland Jazz Festival (scheduled for early February) to draw in hungry cultural tourists; support facility expansion for our performing arts groups bringing long-term investment to these groups; and support young artists and entrepreneurs so their creative endeavors can benefit the community.

In 2004, I would like to see arts and culture in the region continue to flourish and prosper, becoming a vital component in our citizen's daily lives, in the region's economic prosperity, and in making Portland the ideal place to live, work and play.

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• Paddy Tillett, Northwest Portland: Portland, beloved for its river and its world-class collection of bridges, is squandering that wealth. After dark, the bridges disappear. Visit Paris or London or even Cleveland, and after dark, lights pick out the architectural details of each bridge, making distinct nighttime landmarks across the city.

From St. Johns to Sellwood, we have 11 bridges, each distinct in its architecture, most exceptional in design quality. Imagine each of them illuminated as a splendid symbol for neighboring communities. Imagine the impression that our city would make on visitors with 11 spangled bridges defining the river. Let's perfect Portland by lighting the bridges.

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• Doug Kelso, Northeast Portland: Back in the 1980s, the Portland Development Commission proposed a Portland aquarium. We should give the aquarium another look today, with a specific eye to a research-oriented aquarium in the South Waterfront district. If we want a biotech cluster there, a research aquarium would be a great addition. It would also be a great cultural resource, boosting education, conservation, entertainment and tourism as well as research.

Our local governments Ñ cities, counties, Metro Ñ have large and growing collections of publicly owned art. Take a surplus public building suitable for museum use. Hire a small museum staff (perhaps under Portland Parks & Recreation or the Multnomah County Library). Put a large portion of our region's public art on permanent display under one roof. The end result? The Gallery of Public Art: a free art museum open to all.

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• Loren Sutherland, Lake Oswego: I would suggest that Portland identify local talent and find the financial banking to launch a jazz-driven version of 'Austin City Limits,' a Public Broadcasting program that is very popular and a source of great pride and visibility (for both tourists and music fans) for the city of Austin, Texas.

What a treasure trove we have locally Ñ Pink Martini, Michael Allen Harrison, Tom Grant, etc.

Transportation

• Don Chalmers, Fairview: My concern is the deplorable condition of Naito Parkway/Front Avenue. The street between RiverPlace north to Gunderson Inc. is kind of Portland's front door. Consider this:

• Much of the road surface is so rough that you don't dare travel the speeds posted in many places.

• There are places with no drainage provisions, so you have a lake until evaporation takes place, plus an automatic shower for pedestrians.

• Many of the north sections have railroad tracks that haven't been used for years. These are rough for autos and downright dangerous for bike riders.

• Of less immediate concern is what appears to be a complete lack of parking, particularly visitor parking.

I would think this 'parkway' would be a serious embarrassment for Mayor Katz and other city officials. Somebody ought to visit San Diego and see how well they have accommodated visitor parking.

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• Michael Wilson, Southeast Portland: Let's end the restrictions on the ownership of private transportation services in the Portland area and open the market to alternatives. TriMet has built an arterial system. Now we need to develop the capillaries. That is service within the neighborhoods and between neighborhoods.

Presently it is difficult to go to the store and back on TriMet carrying a few days' worth of groceries. Add a couple of children, and it is nearly impossible. Transit is reduced on Sunday, so getting to church is difficult for some, and the disabled need to make arrangements 24 hours in advance.

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• Lois Plunkett, Southeast Portland: In a perfect Portland, no one would run red lights. Not only is it dangerous and people get hurt or killed, it is also rude and inconsiderate. It takes extra time for those of us waiting for the stupid idiot to finish running the red light before we can go on the light that has already turned green.

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• John Kellogg, Southwest Portland: Portland would be a far better city if Mayor Vera Katz and the City Council would quit trying to be involved in baseball, telling Meier & Frank how to run their business and overtaxing, overregulating and overlooking basic city government functions.

Take a walk around Southwest Portland. There are miles of unpaved, pothole-ridden, unsafe roads. Instead, Katz wants to spend our tax dollars on projects best left to private business.

This town will be better off once city government gets back to basics and leaves the pie-in-the-sky projects for those with better business and intellectual acumen.

Filling potholes and paving roads should no longer be ignored by anyone who wants to run for or remain in office.

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• Fred Nemo, Northeast Portland:

1. Induce (with tax incentives or creative preferences) businesses whose employees commute on Interstate 5 to stagger their working hours between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m Ñ or even more.

2. Rename Interstate 405 as I-5.

3. Remove I-5 from Interstate 84 to the Marquam Bridge.

4. Treat the lower deck of the Marquam Bridge as a two-way Southeast Portland access spur to I-5.

5. Convert the upper deck of the Marquam Bridge into the West Coast's most spectacular urban park.

6. Stick Portlandia up there, hanging off the north side, gazing on downtown Portland.

7. Realize how much all our parks would benefit from a reduction in gridlock-caused pollution.

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• Mark Hellweg, Oregon City: It doesn't make sense to devote such a huge portion of Portland's transportation budget to light rail when it only carries a fraction of actual commuters. Light rail is an important part of a vibrant downtown, and it should not be ignored in the budgeting process, but to try to force commuters to give up their cars by purposefully making the traffic even worse in some areas (i.e., removing turn lanes) is both impertinent and anti-progress.

Instead, the money should first be spent on improving and expanding the current infrastructure to accommodate all of Portland's new residents who aren't about to give up their cars.

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• Kay Stanley, Northeast Portland: Reader boards are great on the freeway, but how about putting them on the main streets before the on ramps so we don't get stuck on the freeways due to heavy traffic, weather or accidents.

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• John Porter, Southwest Portland: How about putting a toll on every non-Oregonian who comes into our state Ñ give them some kind of ticket when they cross the border Ñ charge them $1 to $3 if they leave within 24 hours. The incredible amount of revenue from Washingtonians alone would pay for substantial traffic improvement.

The government could simply issue passes to the Washingtonians who actually work here and pay taxes.

Business growth

• Chris Finks is director of marketing for Carl Greve Jewelers in downtown Portland and former vice president of marketing for the Portland Business Alliance:

The assignment of writing a short essay on a prescription for making Portland a better place for business is a daunting one. Clearly, there are no solutions that may be answered in 100 words, but there may be a direction or tone to set, which is a beginning.

With wonderful neighborhoods, arts institutions, parks and a vital downtown, Portland offers much to those who live and do business here. It is easy to understand why thousands of people, including me, have fallen in love with our city and now call it home.

The test of the current economic situation has made Portland and the business community more fragile and vulnerable. Placing political agendas, spin and hyperbole over working with business to support a real 'business prosperity strategy' is a recipe for disaster. I firmly believe that we can, as we have in the past, do better.

As I have experienced firsthand, the relationship between our local government and business is often colored by mistrust and animosity. We must move past these hurdles to work closely together as everyone has far too much to lose. Our economic recovery, specifically the creation of new jobs, depends on it. I have heard it said that 'quality of life begins with a job.' I could not agree more.

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• Jay Schmidt, Southwest Portland: Portland needs to attract corporations that offer hope of long-term employment. Employers such as Tyco and Sumco USA recently have departed Oregon for Mexico and China to take advantage of low labor costs, and Intel Corp. could be next on the list of major corporations headed in force to China.

Portland needs to market itself to those corporations that will sustain employment in this region and utilize the local resources for long-term growth. Align our higher-education infrastructure to further attract these types of companies to the Portland metro area. The quality of life in this city will improve with a better economy.

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• Barbara Tetenbaum, North Portland: Make Portland a more exciting and sustainable city by creating low-rent storefront spaces for young entrepreneurs. This would keep the downtown a unique place to shop and do business, give young people a chance to start a small business and employ the multitudes of creative people who have made Portland their home.

Offer building owners a tax incentive to participate, have the city use some of their spaces, give people three years to grow their business before letting them take on more of the real cost of the space. Portland is a creative hub of the country, so let's foster its health.

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• M'Lou Christ, Southeast Portland: Tap the potential of the downtown east bank even while the freeway and tracks are there. Access and economic and environmental improvements can begin immediately with stand-alone, compatible, fundable components:

1. Extensions over the tracks and freeway to the esplanade of Southeast Oak and Ash streets would provide pedestrian access and economic, artistic and informational venues.

2. Vertical and horizontal swales put water by Southeast Water Avenue and treat Marquam and Interstate 5 runoff.

3. A split-diamond interchange with lowered ramps at the Morrison Bridge's east end would improve pedestrian/bike access, reduce visual blight and add land use options.Ê

The momentum generated by improvements may even spur enough interest and creativity to solve the freeway/railroad-removal dilemma.