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Planning and Sustainability

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Chapter 7: Questions for the Future—A sampling of issues that could affect Portland’s future

This section provides a sampling of emerging issues that could shape the future for Portland and Portlanders.
Public Health and Obesity
According to the American Obesity Association, over 60% of Americans are overweight and almost a third are obese. Contributing factors include poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. This trend, along with increasing health care costs, has ramifications for businesses, employees and government agencies.
The City of Portland Risk Management considers overweight and obesity a top health issue for City employees, affecting health care costs and productivity. The Parks and Recreation Bureau reports that Portlanders increasingly use facilities for health-related reasons.
Prevalence (%)
Prevalence (%)
1988 to 1994
1999 to 2000
1988 to 1994
1999 to 2000
Overweight (BMI>25)
Obesity (BMI>30)
Severe Obesity (BMI>40)
Source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Health, United States (Table 70) 2002.
Notable geologists estimate that the world has or is near the peak in world oil production and that natural gas production will also decline in the next few decades. At the same time, global political situations are calling the public’s attention to the critical role of affordable energy sources in the world’s economy. Yet, while costs energy rise, overall energy demand is also increasing.
Recently City Council passed a resolution to create a task force to examine the potential implications of peak oil for Portland. At the community level, groups are organizing to discuss and prepare for potential economic and societal shifts as a result of changes in energy supplies.
Climate Change
There is now consensus among scientists that the earth is warming due to human activities and that this will affect weather patterns, snow pack and water supplies. Some futurists speculate that as clean water supplies become more scarce and cooling gets more expensive, population may shift from drier climates like the southwestern states to places like the Pacific northwest.
Natural Hazards
Portland Office of Emergency Management (POEM) is responsible for planning for natural hazard mitigation and response. The Planning Bureau participates in that planning and adapts tools like environmental overlay zones to reduce damage from landslides and floods, the most common natural hazards locally.
Another concern is earthquake hazard. Though it has been many years since the area has experienced a large earthquake, the region is seismically active and POEM projects that there is a high likelihood that an earthquake will cause injuries and property damage in Portland.
Communication Technology
Communication and technological advances continue at a rapid pace, with implications for education, community building, governance and public involvement, the economy and social equity. While governments adopt new technologies, most lack comprehensive strategies for influencing the development and sharing of communication infrastructures or harnessing the potential of technical innovations.
Locally, the City of Portland uses e-governance approaches to involve community members in neighborhood and City decision making through the internet and email. The State of Oregon State has formed the Oregon Telecommunications Coordinating Council to help extend the benefits of telecommunications technology to all Oregonians regardless of income, through the participation of local residents, institutions and communities.
Population Growth
The Region 2040 Growth Concept was developed in 1995 based on a projected population increase of about 1.1 million people for the four-county region. However, in 2002, Metro estimated that an additional 37,400 housing units and additional 5,700 acres for industry need to be accommodated within the Urban Growth Boundary by the year 2022. Metro’s New Look is currently reevaluating population projections, so these figures could be increased further.
  • Which of these issues are most important for Portland to address through planning policies and tools?
  • In what ways can planning practice most effectively minimize the negative impacts of these changing conditions?
  • What are the implications of these shifts for how planning work is done?
  • How should the Comp Plan provide guidance regarding these issues?
  • American Obesity Association
  • Portland Risk Management
  • Portland Parks Bureau
  • Illahee Society Lecturers – James Howard Kuntsler, William Deffeyes, Richard Heinberg
  • Sightline Institute
  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Portland Office of Emergency Management
  • Office of Management and Finance
  • Oregon Telecommunications Coordinating Council
  • Metro