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Future best if achieved, not just talked about

A meeting last Friday that drew several hundred people to the Oregon Convention Center to take a 'new look' at the future of the Portland area is but one of many critical evaluations of the values, outcomes, problems and opportunities that face the metropolitan area over the next 20 or so years.

The forum was part of Metro's 'New Look' initiative - an update of the region's 2040 planning process that was crafted in the mid-1990s. This isn't an effort that should be viewed as fine-tuning or acceptance of what was proposed a decade ago. It is a requirement to face rapidly changing times and growth that will bring 1 million more people to the region 15 years earlier than was once predicted.

By the end of the year, this 'new look' will conclude with a planning template for the region. This template must deal with many issues in ways that should creatively and nimbly achieve the valued priorities and outcomes that citizens, governments, businesses and community organizations deem to be important. But planning for the future should not be like pouring concrete. Plans should be living, enthusiastic and evolving tools that help achieve outcomes. And plans for outcomes need to be validated by everyday citizens and business people from throughout the region - not just the usual suspects and every day advocates for 'this or that special interest or cause.'

Planning ahead is hard. To do so effectively, the community must be committed to not only talk about things, but also commit to achieve outcomes that are good for the future.

Here are some of the tough issues that need to be discussed and strategic outcomes that must be nimbly and creatively shaped … and achieved:

n Growth management and land use planning rules that limit sprawl and accommodates growth. The best rules will also seek to protect personal rights and individual communities' ability to define their own character.

n Congestion relief. Congestion won't be eliminated, but it can be reduced, or otherwise, it will cripple the economy and frustrate citizens.

n Economic strategies. The region finally has some, and they need to be enhanced by regional planning. After all, jobs result in income taxes that fund public services.

n Open space protection. While we appropriately invest in efforts to preserve unique open spaces and enhance natural areas, we must also recognize that some housing density and infill is also removing some wooded areas and wildlife habitat. Where does the balance need to be?

n Affordable housing. The region consistently has failed to come to grips with how to provide for it.

n Density. Increased densities within the urban growth boundary are one way to limit sprawl and protect farm and forest land outside the UGB, but is increased density creating tensions between neighbors and among adjoining cities who have little to no say, but a big stake in what goes on next door?

n The cost of providing public services. Who will pay for the services that 1 million more residents will require in areas of the community, such as Damascus, that have been targeted for growth but have no infrastructure to do the job?

n Schools. Where will new schools be built and where will kids play?

n Safety. As our population grows, how will plans for the future shape the personal safety of those that live, work and play here?

n The rest of the state. How can the Portland region consider and plan for its own future while keeping an eye on being a good citizen of Oregon and a contributor to the state's overall economy and livability?

These are tough issues that one meeting or a planning process will help address but not completely resolve unless citizens, businesses and governments can work together and put conflict on the back burner.

That's why we think it's best for citizens and government representatives to first decide what vision and future outcomes they want for their communities, the economy and the Portland region's future and then decide what plans and actions will nimbly achieve these outcomes and vision.