Michael Jordan, Metro's top administrator, threw out a considerable challenge this month to Portland-area leaders - and the public - when he said that if citizens care about the future of their communities and region, then they better commit to meaningful investments and new forms of leadership.
Jordan's challenge comes on the heels of the region's urban and rural reserves process, which concluded that growth during the next 40 to 50 years will occur largely within the present urban growth boundary. To accommodate expected growth, the Metro process identified 28,615 acres outside the urban boundary that would be reserved for future development for housing and jobs. It set aside nearly 10 times that amount - 266,615 acres - to be protected as rural lands.
Jordan believes the region can have vibrant and unique suburban and urban communities; a prosperous economy; safe and effective transportation systems; and a healthy environment.
But change is required, he says. And we agree.
What does region want?
We think the first step is to define essential measurable outcomes that the region hopes to achieve. This would include specific goals for:
• Creating well-paid jobs that sustain families.
• Providing diverse and affordable housing choices.
• Protecting the health of our natural places.
• Allowing mobility for freight and individuals.
• And supporting an economy that retains and welcomes businesses.
Jordan is calling for a regional strategy to invest in infrastructure - such as roads, water and sewer systems, schools and parks - that allow growth to be absorbed primarily within the urban boundary and in a handful of designated expansion areas outside the present boundary.
Without that kind of strategy, he says, the region could be overwhelmed by the ill effects of growth - or growth could spill outside the urban boundary. We see another, even more serious risk: that opportunity and success will leave the Portland region for other places.
For the public to buy into a brighter future and needed investments, citizens must be engaged, communicated with and able to see clearly that the aspirations of individual communities will be a priority - and that this effort will not be focused solely on the urban core or major regional centers.
Jordan understands that success won't occur simply by getting the public to support new fees and taxes for infrastructure, but it also will require improving how public money is spent.
He also calls for a change in leadership, where elected officials and bureaucrats agree to break down barriers that presently keep them from working together. Private-sector leaders, he says, must be embraced and help point the way for creation of a collective community-investment strategy.
The downside of inaction on these issues is large. Even without the current recession, the public cannot afford a plethora of new taxes, and citizens have grown weary of infighting between government agencies. Taxpayers want and deserve effectiveness from government and they don't care who takes the credit or whose name is on the press release.
Leadership styles must change
We believe the future - a future in which as many as a million more people will move into this region - requires new leadership qualities primarily among elected officials, but also among community and business leaders. More trust, civility and confidence are required. Too often today, infighting on entrenched values keeps leaders apart and progress from happening. The public grows disenchanted when all it hears is leaders saying 'no' to priorities that are important to citizens.
Looking ahead, for the region to achieve essential outcomes, elected leaders must stop saying what they are opposed to, and instead say what outcomes they favor and why they are important.
As the region looks ahead, the requirement to better invest limited dollars and also change how things get done should start now.