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Area livability is tied to economy

Portland-area residents clearly cherish their quality of life. That's the benchmark value of a public-opinion survey conducted for the Metro regional government and released last week. In that poll, citizens came down decisively on the side of neighborhoods and nature.

They said their most urgent priorities included protecting area rivers, air quality and existing neighborhoods; preserving farm- and forestland; and acquiring open spaces. Traffic congestion also is a concern, although somewhat lower on the list.

The survey polled 600 Portland-area residents to help assess the public's attitudes as the region prepares to accommodate more than a million new residents during the next 25 years.

But the survey also is telling for what it doesn't reveal. While citizens believe that education, congestion and transportation issues, and the economy are top concerns, there is only modest understanding about the connection these issues share with one another Ñ particularly, the relationship between a healthy economy and quality of life.

Business community must speak up

This isn't the public's fault. In the case of jobs and quality of life, the business community generally has done a poor job of making relevant connections between the economy and core citizen values.

It hasn't helped that while the public grew distrustful of politicians and public agencies, the esteem of big business tumbled just as far. And along the way, business and government often have appeared at odds over issues important to citizens.

It's time to change that. The business community must tell its story better. It must communicate the importance of jobs and the connection that the economy has to citizens' core values. But it also should initiate partnerships with nonprofit groups, including the environmental community, elected officials and citizens who care about noneconomic outcomes Ñ such as education and the environment Ñ that are supported by the economy.

The risk of not doing so is to broaden the misunderstanding. Without a prosperous economy, there is no money to pay for preservation. There are no funds for improving schools. And without greater appreciation of that connection, decisions to invest in or protect quality of life may come at the expense of the economy Ñ eventually damaging the livability values that the public holds dear.

Investment today will pay off tomorrow

Efforts already are under way to strengthen the link between jobs and quality of life. A regional economic strategy is being developed Ñ patterned after the Oregon Business Plan. But more needs to happen quickly.

As the region begins planning for the next 25 years and an additional million people, our choices now will shape not only how and where we live, but where we work and what we invest in.

Without investing in our economy, the region faces not only a growing population, but an increasing expanse between those who are affluent and a new class of citizens: the working poor. Without investing in the economy, we will not be able to achieve and preserve quality-of-life values, including open-space protection and great public schools.

Ultimately, without building community, economic and quality-of-life partnerships, the Portland region increasingly will be less than citizens want it to be.