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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

Thoughts on the Final Adoption of the Comprehensive Plan

Last week, the City Council adopted the 2035 Comprehensive Plan. This plan is a big deal. Using the guiding principles of economic prosperity, human health, environmental health, equity, and resilience, the 2035 Comprehensive Plan is the guiding document for where and how Portland will grow. In the next 20 years, we expect that 260,000 new residents will join the current 620,000 Portlanders. On top of that, we’re expected to add 140,000 new jobs to the 370,000 jobs we have today.

The process of developing this plan required significant participation by many people. Together, Policy Expert Groups, the Planning and Sustainability Commission and the City Council spent hundreds of hours collaborating, including listening to and reading testimony from thousands of Portlanders.  My sincere thanks to everyone who participated in this effort.

Given the importance of last week’s final vote, I want to share a few thoughts about the plan’s most important elements.                                 

Our city is currently grappling with two significant problems that will be addressed by the new Comprehensive Plan: climate disruption and housing affordability. Climate disruption is the greatest challenge of the 21st century, posing a serious threat to our natural resources as well as to our economy and health. And housing affordability is a local crisis, threatening to make Portland a place where only high-income people can afford to live, eliminating diversity in our neighborhoods and foreclosing opportunities for low-income families and people of color.

Building more housing is part of the strategy to help address both climate disruption and housing affordability.

Lots of people want to move here, including people with high incomes. If we don’t allow more housing to be built, those new Portlanders will continue bidding up the cost of our existing housing. But demand isn’t infinite. If we allow enough new housing, we should have room for those high-income people and for people with more modest incomes.

Of course, we are going to build some affordable housing with tax dollars. But government-subsidized housing typically only helps people who earn below median income. To ensure that people of all incomes can afford to live in Portland, we need to build subsidized affordable housing and allow for more and different kinds of market housing.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, increased density improves the livability of our neighborhoods and helps to address climate change. It takes about 7,000 households within walking distance of each other to make a grocery store economically viable. By identifying places where enough people can live close enough together, it will be easier to walk rather than drive to the grocery store, reducing carbon emissions. And when you have a lot of people living close together, public transit becomes more viable—a light rail line is a lot more economical if it picks up 30 people a stop instead of 5 people a stop.  This means that transit will become a better option, even for longer trips. New York City has far lower carbon emissions than we do, and that’s largely because New Yorkers take the subway everywhere. The subway only makes sense because there are a lot of people per stop.

Tackling housing affordability and climate disruption is also why I am passionate about middle housing. In Comprehensive Plan hearings, we heard testimony from neighborhood advocates concerned about the negative consequences of growth and change. Many Portlanders are concerned that growth will change the look and feel of their neighborhoods. In a market where single-family homes are becoming unaffordable for many people, we need other housing options. But if we put apartment buildings everywhere, it will radically change the look and feel of our neighborhoods. Middle housing, which includes duplexes, triplexes, and even larger courtyard apartments, can meld seamlessly into a single family neighborhood. If you walk through the Buckman neighborhood, you’ll see dozens of examples of middle housing that fit with the character of the neighborhood.

In addition to these big themes, I want to mention a few other significant elements of this Comprehensive Plan.

  • The anti-displacement provisions we incorporated into the plan are important to ensure we keep Portland open to everyone. City Council supported all of the measures proposed by Anti-Displacement PDX for the final plan, and I congratulate them for their effective advocacy. We must keep our focus on preventing displacement, though, because implementation will be the true test of these policies. I look forward to continued discussions about this during the forthcoming zoning code update, during our discussions about building subsidized affordable housing, and in many other areas.
  • I was concerned when I heard that the Planning and Sustainability Commission’s recommended draft plan used the low cargo forecast because I was worried that this could send a negative signal to harbor businesses that in some cases employ many people in good livable wage jobs. New analysis by staff showed that we could increase capacity on some harbor lands and move from the low to the middle cargo forecast. This is the right decision and sets a course for continued investment in the economic engine that is the harbor.
  • I am pleased that we maintained the Planning and Sustainability Commission’s recommendation to preserve Broadmoor Golf Course as “open space.” Broadmoor is a unique ecological resource that should be preserved as wildlife habitat.
  • I am pleased that we adopted a transportation strategy that prioritizes right-of-way design for pedestrians and cyclists. The transportation strategy is critical as our population grows. We need to make investments in transportation infrastructure that make it safe and easy to walk and bike for short trips, opening up street capacity for longer trips by transit and car. I am also glad that we have prioritized disability accessibility as its own policy in Chapter 9. Thanks to my colleagues for supporting this important policy.
  • The Bureau of Transportation Project List identifies multi-modal projects that address the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, freight movers, and motorists. The list of investments is needed to maintain existing facilities and ensure the system meets the needs of Portlanders for decades to come.

Thanks to all of the Portlanders who had a role in developing this plan, and I look forward to the next steps in putting our Comprehensive Plan into action.