The argument over whether to block growth or plan for it can be settled by this number: 25,260. That's how much the population of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties is estimated to have grown between July 2005 and July 2006.

The latest statistics from the Population Research Center at Portland State University show that the three metro-area counties in Oregon are adding residents at a rapid clip. And the influx is happening now, not off in the distant future.

Between 2005 and 2006, the Population Research Center estimates that Multnomah County grew by 8,720 residents, Clackamas by 5,740 and Washington by 10,800.

To put those numbers in perspective, consider this: Every year, the three-county region is adding enough people to equal a city the size of Tualatin.

The population figures only reinforce our belief that it's pointless to debate whether growth is desirable. Invited or not, people are flocking here. The real discussion must focus on how to accommodate growth in a fashion that preserves the region's livability.

Earlier this year, the Metro regional government launched an initiative called the New Look to address growth-related issues, such as managing the urban growth boundary, planning for transportation and investing in communities to allow for larger populations.

That process should help define choices, but preserving livability also requires action at the state level. Among other topics, the 2007 Legislature must confront the state's inadequate level of transportation funding, its antiquated land-use system and the need to build new schools in rapidly growing communities.

Leaders as well as citizens must recognize that growth isn't theoretical. The region can be overwhelmed, or it can get ready.

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