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Tigard's 20-year-plan: Where do we go from here?

It’s been nearly two months since Jeff Speck, the noted urban planner and walkability expert, weighed in on Tigard’s strategic plan.

Speck spoke in Tigard on June 15, and in July, issued a 23-page memo detailing what the city is doing right and wrong with its plan to become the most walkable city in the Pacific Northwest

The results were sobering, city officials agreed, but also encouraging. Now the city is asking itself: Where do we go from here?

Since November, the city has been charged with a goal to become the most walkable city in the Pacific Northwest over the next 20 years.

Known as the “strategic plan,” the goal is meant to shape the way that the city addresses issues, everything from walking tours of downtown to the city’s new bicycle police team.

Speck’s report largely focused on urban planning and design — making streets the right shape and speed, and organizing businesses and shops closer to where people live.

With most of the city already developed, there are only a handful of places in town that can be built to be truly walkable, Speck wrote in his report. Those areas include River Terrace — the as-yet undeveloped stretch of land along Roy Rogers Road — and two areas that are currently being re-developed, downtown Tigard and the area between Highway 217 and Interstate 5 known as the Tigard Triangle.

But Kenny Asher, Tigard’s community development director, said that leaves the majority of Tigard’s residents without a walkable community.

“That area, to me, is the great mystery still unsolved,” Asher said. “I guarantee you, the 40,000 people that live in that in-between area would like to be able to walk, even though they live in a place that’s not going to have much mixed-used housing. Jeff’s answer is that when you build new, build better. That’s certainly a part of the answer, but that’s the easy part.”

Asher said that the city is putting a plan into action that will work to implement Speck’s vision of building smarter, more walkable neighborhoods while also addressing the already developed sections of Tigard, but he admits that part will be the most difficult.

“Anything that we do in those (developed residential) zones are going to be the hardest, certainly the most controversial,” he said. “So we’ll do those last.”

In the meantime, the city has put an emphasis on so-called “lighter, quicker, cheaper” projects, including highly visible projects such as adding sidewalks in neighborhoods or making safer routes for students to get to school.

Asher said that he has yet to meet a resident who isn’t excited about the idea.

“This vision has so much energy because it really matters to people,” Asher said. “If we were trying to do something visionary like build a new campus for high tech, like other cities do, or pick your gimmick, but what people really want are sidewalks. They want to be able to walk their dogs. They want to know their neighbors.”

But Asher said that the biggest challenge the city faces in making Tigard more walkable doesn’t involve adding sidewalks or walking trails — it’s changing the way the city has operated since its inception.

“A lot of the change that happens out there will have to happen in here,” he said. “We have to put out a charge to our folks that they can make a difference.”

It’s a different way of thinking than how suburbs have operated in the past.

“You could say that it’s a reversal of how the city has operated,” Asher said. “The suburbs were built under an assumed condition that we don’t have feet, we just have tires, that we have to take cars everywhere. But people in 2015 want to live in cities. More people will be living in cities than suburbs before too long.”

Tigard City Manager Marty Wine said that she doesn’t expect the city to become the most walkable city in 20 years, but that it will have made steps.

“Twenty years is the first increment of what there is to do,” she said. “I don’t think we declare victory at year 20.”

Asher agreed.

“If we have a good run here over the next 20 years, things will look very different, and the next version of this plan will continue that direction,” he said. “We didn’t bring Jeff Speck here and listen to him for two days just to be entertained. We really mean it. This is not a publicity stunt.”

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