Today's meeting at 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 is part of Metro's New Look initiative - an update of the region's 2040 planning process that began in the mid-1990s. This isn't a chance at fine-tuning. 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 once was predicted.

By the end of the year, the initiative will conclude with a planning template for the region. The template must address the valued priorities 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 evolving tools that help achieve outcomes.

With that in mind, we are hopeful the community can do more than talk about the future as part of this process. There are tough issues that need to be discussed and strategies that must be shaped. Here are the most important issues:

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

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

• 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.

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

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

• Density. Increased densities within the urban growth boundary are one way to limit sprawl and protect farm and forest land outside the growth boundary. But denser development also can create tensions between neighbors and among adjoining cities. Often the neighbors - whether cities or citizens - have little to no say in a development but a big stake in what goes on next door.

• 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?

• Schools. Where will new schools be built and where will kids play? And once again, who will pay for these schools?

• Safety. As our population grows. How will plans for the future shape the personal safety of those who live, work and play here?

• 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 a single meeting will help address but cannot resolve.

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

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