Difficult and significant choices lie ahead as the Portland area grapples with the challenge of absorbing more than a million new residents over the next few decades.
We don't disagree with Metro Chief Operating Officer Michael Jordan's recent recommendation that as much of that population and job growth as possible be accommodated within the region's existing urban growth boundary. But Jordan and his bosses on the Metro Council also need to show appropriate interest in helping to fulfill the aspirations of the region's two dozen individual communities - some of which want growth and others that do not.
Jordan last week unveiled a thoughtful set of recommendations as part of Metro's 'Making the Greatest Place' planning process. He suggested that the current urban growth boundary is not in immediate need of expansion, but he also acknowledged that between 15,000 and 29,000 additional acres ought to be set aside as urban reserves - lands that could be urbanized sometime in the next 40 to 50 years.
Jordan provided some general outlines of where those reserves ought to be located, and his choices reveal the tensions that will arise as the region tries to hold the line on expansion of its urban footprint while also enabling local communities to determine their own destinies.
Here are some examples of places where regional guidelines could directly collide with community interests:
• Jordan recommends that the area known as the Stafford Triangle near Interstate 205 and Stafford Road be opened up to development that would include a new employment center. But some cities surrounding that triangle - most notably Lake Oswego - prefer keeping a rural buffer and would resist adding that land to the UGB at urban-level densities.
• Jordan recognizes the need to provide more industrial lands around Hillsboro, but that city, which has a demonstrated history of attracting good employers, may question whether the expansion is sufficient. Meanwhile, other cities throughout the region are wondering why they aren't getting their own share of new employment land.
• Jordan opposes adding urban reserves near Troutdale, but that city's mayor believes his city cannot grow to its full potential without additional lands.
• The Metro executive also suggests that much of the new housing and required space for future jobs can be provided by infill, increased density of development and reclamation of lands left idle or contaminated. Yet these notions come with a high infrastructure price tag and with an undefined concept for regionally sharing funding that communities might otherwise seek to obtain and spend locally.
Who will pay for growth?
Such potential conflicts between regional goals and the ambitions of the cities within the region are to be expected. And it's easy to say growth can be accommodated within existing boundaries if every city is willing to do what is necessary to allow for such development.
But some cities will and some won't. And left to be settled is the even bigger question of who will pay for the streets, sewers, water lines, schools and other public services that must be provided - no matter where growth occurs.
None of this is to say that Metro shouldn't attempt to define choices for the future. But its plans must do more than ensure that the overall region has the land needed to provide future housing, jobs and recreational opportunities. Those plans also must allow the area's individual communities to maintain their unique characteristics and achieve their individual visions of success.