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Vision requires next step: action

Two years of hard work by citizen volunteers and the investment of at least $1.2 million in public money haven’t done much yet to sharpen Portland’s vision for the future. If Portland Mayor Tom Potter hopes to salvage something of substance from his VisionPDX project, he has just two months to do so. On Sept. 19, the Community Vision Project Committee will present its final report to the City Council. Sometime after that, the council must decide what it wants to do with the Potter-initiated process. Should commissioners invest even more in the visioning project by allocating funds for specific initiatives? Or should they simply accept the report in its current ill-defined form and allow it to serve as a general but completely nonbinding statement about Portlanders’ values? At this juncture, it appears commissioners have no clear-cut choices to make — there aren’t any next steps or follow-up proposals on the table. If the visioning process, which has consumed thousands of volunteer hours, is to be worthwhile in the end, Potter and his staff must put some shape to it — and quickly. Thousands took part No one can doubt that citizens involved in the project were anything other than dedicated and sincere in their desire to advance the community and define what it should look like in 2030. Committee members have been meeting for almost two years. They’ve collected input from 13,000 Portland residents. And they are correct when they say they have engaged people in the process who likely never have been asked before for their opinions about the city’s future. So after all of this work — plus the city’s expenditures — what have we learned about Portland’s values? Among other things, the surveys show that Portlanders support equity, accessibility, sustainability, community connectedness, safety, diversity and accountability. If those values seem a bit predictable, it’s because they are. A well-designed public-opinion survey could have produced the same results for a fraction of the cost. But most Portland-area residents could have rattled off a similar list of values without having to spend any public money at all. It’s time for Potter to lead We realize it’s easy to criticize a public process as it nears its end. But now that Portland has spent all this money, involved all these people and accumulated all this data, the question remains of what to do with it. That’s primarily a query for Potter to answer. He’s the one who first wanted to clarify Portland’s vision. He’s the one who must demonstrate leadership — which means taking an amorphous “final report” and crystallizing it into a plan for desired future outcomes for the community. A broad statement of values may be useful for city planners as they revisit Portland’s comprehensive land-use plan. But if that’s all that comes from this process, we doubt Portlanders will think they got their money’s worth. A functioning vision — one accompanied by specific goals, outcomes and concrete steps for accomplishing them — is what is needed. Such a road map also would give Potter a reason to seek a second term as mayor, if he chooses to do so. As it stands now, Potter and the city seem to be left without a specific overall vision for Portland. The mayor’s faith in public process can carry him only so far. In the final analysis, the VisionPDX project report and the mayor must say precisely what next steps are needed to ensure that Portlanders’ values are preserved and important outcomes are achieved well into the future.