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Citizen's View: Expand the Urban Growth Boundary?

No: Let's make the most of what we have

MARTHA BENNETTLocal farms and forests. Clear air. Clean water. More time with friends and family and less sprawl. These things are easy to take for granted, but they aren’t an accident.

The Portland metropolitan area is special because of the hard work and careful planning done by generations of Oregonians who came before us. They knew decades ago that a growing population in Oregon was as inevitable as rain.

That’s why Oregonians created urban growth boundaries and made the decision to make the most of our existing towns, cities and main streets before allowing growth to expand to the farms, forests and nature that make Oregon unique.

It’s also why I recommend the Metro Council maintain our current urban growth boundary for the next several years.

Signs of the new people and new jobs our predecessors knew were coming are everywhere today. Cranes rise in Portland, Hillsboro, Gresham, Beaverton and other cities. Bulldozers move earth for new neighborhoods, offices and shopping centers.

We’re making the most of our parents’ and grandparents’ investments in roads, bridges, parks, sewers, water pipes and other public structures and systems that support our quality of life and economy. Just as important, agriculture remains a key part of our economy and landscape.

In short, our community’s plan is working. Even though we’re growing again after the recession, we don’t need to convert farms to city. We still have many vacant lots and dilapidated and underused buildings. And, there are thousands of acres we added to the urban growth boundary in the past that remain vacant due to a lack of money to build the roads, sewers and other systems required to support development.

So before we pave over more local farms and forests, we should recommit to the Oregon tradition of making the most of what we have.

Just like our predecessors, we know tomorrow will look different than today. Given the economic and demographic changes happening across the nation, we know many more people will live alone or with just one other person. We know the cost of housing is a concern for young and old alike. And we know demand will continue to grow for neighborhoods where people can walk, bike or use transit to get where they need to go.

We’re also concerned about changes in the job market. Since the recession ended, we’ve been adding low-wage and high-wage jobs, but losing middle-income opportunities. We know there are other things happening in the world — like water shortages in California — that may affect how fast we grow, too.

That’s why I also recommend the Metro Council look at the urban growth boundary again in three years. We need to make sure we’re still on the right track given all the changes we face as a community.

We have a history of working together in the Portland region to manage growth and protect the things we love. Let’s continue that tradition by focusing first on making the most of the communities we have.

Let’s make the most of vacant and underutilized land to build housing where people want to live at prices they can afford. Let’s use our existing vacant industrial land to create good jobs. Let’s take care of our roads and our transit system to help people spend less time in traffic. And in the Oregon tradition, let’s conserve our farms and forests.

The Oregonians of the past made some great decisions. Now it’s our turn to ensure future generations have the same or better opportunities than we have.

Martha Bennett is Metro’s chief operating officer.