It's easy to understand why Portlanders are fearful of the population growth predicted to be headed this way. When people read that up to 700,000 more people will move into Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties over the next 25 years - increasing the region's population by nearly 50 percent - local residents have trouble imagining what impacts growth will bring.

One simple way to put 700,000 people into perspective is to break that number into terms and locations that everyone understands. For example, 125,000 of the 700,000 new residents are expected to land in the city of Portland alone. That's the equivalent of wedging a city bigger than Gresham into Portland's existing boundary.

But such numerical imagery is not enough. And it doesn't tell people what they really want to know, including: What will the community look like after adding so many people? What will growth mean for schools, parks, natural habitats and places of employment? And what will it mean for existing neighborhoods?

What's required is graphic visualization of the expected growth that will allow informed choices to be made about the alternatives for accommodating the mass influx of people.

Is higher density the answer?

Whenever the Portland Tribune writes about this topic, as we did July 31 ('Move to Portland, and live where?'), we hear from readers concerned about growth.

The article pointed out that the current regional emphasis is on growth within high-density, transit-oriented developments. This direction is in part a response to widespread worry that infill development is damaging established neighborhoods.

However, the push toward more and taller buildings has critics, too. One argument is that Portland will be less family-friendly as condominiums in towers proliferate.

Citizens can visualize options

This issue of density versus infill underscores why Portland-area residents need better tools with which to make choices.

The city of Portland and Metro are skilled at engaging citizens in conversations about what they want their communities to look like. Both require renderings of proposed developments.

We believe, however, that conversations and planning documents can go only so far. With modern computer technology, city and regional planners can go further and provide dynamic and graphic visualizations of the alternatives that would accommodate growth.

As Gil Kelley of the Portland Planning Bureau notes, 'dots on a map' are inadequate to convey to citizens the impact of new development on their neighborhoods or their city.

Kelley proposes computer-generated imagery to show what developments would look like. We agree and recommend that city and Metro planners enlist the talents of Portland's high-tech and digital graphics community to develop creative ways to visualize growth management options and the trade-offs that each option would bring.

For example, how would the community look if all 125,000 new residents were accommodated through infill? Within high-rises or transit-oriented developments? Within traditional neighborhoods? And what would the rest of the region look like? After all, Portland is not an island.

Using innovative technology is an opportunity for government to partner with high-tech businesses to help citizens make the best decisions about the look and feel of the future Portland. When citizens can see what's coming, their worries may not be fewer, but their choices will be clearer - and better made.

Portland Tribune editorial board

The Tribune publishes editorials on local and regional issues every Tuesday and Friday.

• Steve Clark - president, Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers Inc.

503-546-0714; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

• Dwight Jaynes -executive editor, Portland Tribune

503-546-5151; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

• Mark Garber - vice president, Community Newspapers Inc.

503-492-5130; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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