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From our director, Susan Anderson: Planning through the lens of equity

Portlanders who lived here in 1980 won't ever forget the eruptions of Mt. St. Helens. Though somewhat less dramatic and explosive, many also will remember 1980 as the first time Portland created a long-range plan for its future.  

A lot has changed since then.  Thirty years ago, the big issues were a crumbling downtown, the OPEC oil crisis and a struggling economy based on natural resources. Now, our economy is more diverse—but still troubled. Our worries about oil shortages have grown to include climate change. And we now face an aging and more diverse population and educational inequities.

We clearly recognize that the face of Portland is changing. We are now home to immigrants from all over the world. Many of these residents live in East Portland, where it’s less expensive to rent or own a home. Much of East Portland was incorporated into the city relatively recently, and in terms of access to transit and amenities, educational opportunity and public safety, there are significant differences from the rest of the city.

East Portland represents only one area where Portlanders experience disparities, whether because of income, race, or ethnicity. Inequities also cross geographic lines and affect people because of their age, gender, sexual orientation and physical ability.

The issue of equity has been the focus of many recent news articles and editorials—a few examples include the OpEds by Carmen Rubio, Latino Network and Gerald Deloney of SEI as well as coverage of the report from the Communities of Color Coalition.

Throughout the Portland Plan and visionPDX processes to date, Portlanders have made it clear that our long-term plan for the community must include concrete actions that advance our equity goals and reduce the glaring disparities in educational, housing and economic opportunity, to name a few. During the recently completed Phase Two of the Portland Plan, community members were challenged to look at equity issues in all nine of the Portland Plan action areas, from education, housing and economic prosperity to transportation, sustainability and public health.

But what exactly do we mean by equity? According to the Coalition for a Livable Future, equity is the right of every person to have access to opportunities necessary for satisfying essential needs and advancing their well-being.

As we move forward with the Portland Plan, what will distinguish us in the future will not just be our land use policies, transit-oriented development and green economy, it will be our ability to sustain all Portlanders regardless of race, income, sexual preference, ability or age.  

We intend for all programs and projects at BPS—not just the Portland Plan—to use an equity lens to help shape their planning and implementation. Like the term “sustainability,” equity has social, economic and environmental meanings. At its core, it is about fairness and opportunity for all.


Susan Anderson

City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

In other Portland Plan news…

The community workshops for Phase Two have ended and roughly 500 people participated in this round of workshops, which featured live music, door prizes, healthy food, childcare and many special guests, including Neisha Saxena, Disability Rights of Oregon; Diane Hess, Fair Housing Council of Oregon; Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Portland City Council; and Tony DeFalco, Verde NW.  Mayor Sam Adams hosted the events, with the majority of workshop time devoted to group discussions around the nine action areas and the issue of equity.

The Portland Plan Community Involvement Committee presented its report on Phase One public engagement to the Planning Commission on June 8. View the report here

On July 13, staff will present updates to the Factual Basis (some of the background reports) for the Portland Plan and the Buildable Lands Analysis to the Planning Commission and again on July 27. Public testimony will be heard at both times.

Moving Forward
Over the summer, the Portland Plan team will be at dozens of summer fairs and events with an interactive game that will help us create strategies for Phase Three. As we move forward with the plan, we will discuss equity in greater depth and apply its principles to each of the objectives that we pursue.