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