TRIB TOWN: Longtime green believer sees positive tradeoffs in policies to preserve land

Denis Hayes, the national coordinator for the very first Earth Day in 1970, praises the Portland region's commitment to land-use planning and mass transit, even as he acknowledges that the policies increase home prices and limit housing choices.

'As we are forced by too many people and constrained resources to turn toward sustainable development, Portland has a great deal to teach America,' Hayes said in an exchange of e-mails with the Portland Tribune.

'Perhaps the most important lesson is that there is life beyond Wal-Mart. Cheaper isn't always better. Sometimes it is better to pay a premium for quality.'

Hayes will speak in Portland on Thursday, three days before Earth Day 2007, at the fifth annual Regional Livability Summit. The summit runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Portland State University's Smith Center Ballroom, 1825 S.W. Broadway.

The event is being organized by the Coalition for a Livable Future, a regional group of more than 90 environmental, labor and social justice organizations.

It was formed to address a range of land use-related issues, including housing affordability and environmental justice. The summit will explore some of the big issues affecting the Portland-Vancouver, Wash., metropolitan region, including how to accommodate the 1 million more people expected to move here over the next 20 years.

For those who can pay, admission is $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers.

Hayes worked on the first Earth Day because he felt human activity was threatening the future of the planet. He sees the growing scientific research on climate change as confirming those fears.

Hayes now runs the Bullitt Foundation, an endowment in Seattle that funds green projects in the Pacific Northwest, and believes regional policies such as the Portland area's urban growth boundary should be adopted around the world.

'Portland has been an international leader in intelligent land-use planning, reducing sprawl-induced demand for transportation, and creating a healthy, vibrant city,' Hayes wrote. 'It has played a distinctive role on myriad issues that concerned us that first Earth Day, from addressing climate issues to cleaning up the Willamette to decommissioning Trojan,' the former nuclear power plant in Columbia County.

Although Hayes says that policies to preserve farm and forest lands also affect home prices and choices, he believes the trade-offs are worth it.

'People who want to live there will pay more money for less land, and increasingly find themselves in multifamily housing that integrates a street-level commercial enterprise,' he wrote. 'The Portland model has protected open space because it was held to be a high public value, and residents pay somewhat more for a home than they would in a bland suburb of Houston.'

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