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Policy Framework

Portland’s Comprehensive Plan is the key long-range plan that helps us prepare for and manage expected population and employment growth, as well as plan for the major public investments to accommodate that growth. It provides direction for City decision-making on land use, transportation, sewer and water systems, and natural resource management programs, while ensuring that investments in major city systems are coordinated. 

The Comprehensive Plan describes Portlanders vision for the future through a set of maps, goals and policies, and a list of capital projects. It is framed in broad terms, with the detailed refinements, such as specific zoning changes or the design of infrastructure projects, made in the implementation phase of the planning process. This policy framework provides the big picture of future growth and development in Portland, which will guide the update of the Comprehensive Plan. 

Relationship to the Portland Plan

The Portland Plan is the city’s strategic plan. It sets the framework for near-term action through a Five-Year Action Plan and sets long-range goals through Guiding Policies. The Portland Plan will be implemented through:

  • The Comprehensive Plan Update

  • Legislative Advocacy

  • Goal-based budget priorities

  • Internal City practices

  • Partnerships and coordinated action

Managing Growth

The Portland region has had sustained population growth and development since the mid-1980s. This trend is expected to continue with a forecasted 132,000 new households and 147,000 new jobs by 2035. The Comprehensive Plan is about physical development, but it builds on the social context, physical characteristics, current policies and strategic directions in the Portland Plan. The components of the framework provide the context for choices across many different policy areas, but they are not a comprehensive list.

Future Directions From the Portland Plan

The Comprehensive Plan will be one way (but not the only way) to implement the Portland Plan. All three of the Portland Plan’s integrated strategies (Thriving Educated Youth, Economic Prosperity and Affordability, and Healthy Connected City) and the Equity Framework will affect the physical development of Portland as well as how we make policy decisions. Many of these initiatives build upon past principles; others provide new directions. The Comprehensive Plan will include the following directions to implement the Portland Plan.

Thriving Educated Youth schoolsarts

Graduation rates, particularly for youth of color and youth in poverty, are low; only 60 percent of Portland’s high school students graduate in four years, and 23 percent dropped out altogether. Furthermore, many young people lack safe and convenient places for social interaction and recreation. The Comprehensive Plan will help:

  • Ensure that schools can meet 21st century education challenges and opportunities while serving as inter-generational community resources.

  • Align growth plans with school enrollment information and resolve school capacity shortfalls where growth is expected.

  • Promote the success of Portland’s youth through land use and infrastructure investment decisions.

  • Grow communities that support multiple generations by providing safe and convenient opportunities for recreation and social gathering, along with accessible housing to meet the needs of youth, families and older adults.

  • Ensure community development investments maximize the ability of youth to thrive academically and socially.

Economic Prosperity and Affordability neighborhoodseconomic development

Support the creation of high-paying jobs through land supply and infrastructure policies.In Multnomah County, the working poor make up about one-quarter of all households, and average wages have not kept pace with the rising costs of living. This increases the burden of housing costs on a wider range of households and neighborhoods. Even though Portland is the largest city in the state, as well as the business center for the regional
economy and a trade gateway to the Pacific Rim, in the last decade the city has had flat job growth. The Comprehensive Plan will help:

  • Make Portland’s business districts more attractive and competitive by providing adequate employment land capacity to meet projected growth for industrial uses, hospitals and higher education institutions, as well as Portland’s many small businesses.

  • Plan for multi-modal freight facilities, campus institutions and commercial corridors in underserved neighborhoods.

  • Re-focus affordable housing opportunities to provide a healthy supply of housing units of various types and price ranges. These opportunities would be located to reduce household transportation costs and meet the changing needs of our growing, diverse population.

  • Increase access to transit and essential services to ensure neighborhood affordability.

Healthy Connected City healthconnectionsenvironmentcommunity design

Hubs with greenways and corridorsChronic disease rates have increased, and 53 percent of Multnomah County residents are overweight or obese. The physical layout of the city and the quality of our infrastructure have a major impact on human health. The Comprehensive Plan will help:

  • Support vibrant neighborhood centers as places with concentrations of businesses and services, housing, gathering places and green spaces that provide residents with options to live a healthy, active lifestyle.

  • Connect people with nature, each other and the rest of the city. It will also help connect natural systems with a network of habitat connections, neighborhood greenways and civic corridors to encourage walking and biking, and weave nature into the city.

  • Develop an active, multi-modal transportation system that links neighborhood centers to each other, employment areas, the Central City and the broader region through safe and attractive frequent transit service, bikeways and pedestrian connections.

  • Increase energy- and resource-efficient development and sustainable stormwater management.

  • Protect and enhance the urban forest and natural areas to ensure all Portlanders benefit from healthy trees, safety from natural hazards, biodiversity, and places to recreate and enjoy nature.

  • Promote climate action, foster low-carbon development and ensure built, natural and human systems become more resilient and adaptable to the impacts of a changing climate.

Equity civic life

Growth means change, and how that change has taken place in the past has not always equitably affected different populations, including communities of color and other groups that face long-standing disparities. The Comprehensive Plan must help ensure the benefits of growth and change are equitably shared across all of our communities.

The Comprehensive Plan is a tool to consider and plan for the diverse and changing needs of our future population. Population trends suggest changing demographics with increasing racial and ethnic diversity, smaller households and an aging population. The Comprehensive Plan sets transportation and housing policy that can ensure quality and affordable housing options that meet the needs of all people.

The Comprehensive Plan will be developed in accordance with the City’s public involvement principles developed by the Public Involvement Advisory Committee (PIAC). It will formally incorporate these principles to ensure high quality, consistent, inclusive and effective community engagement practices.

Existing Urban Form – Physical Context

The future development of the city is influenced by Portland’s unique physical characteristics, which must be accounted for in the Comprehensive Plan.

Natural and Built Features

Portland’s urban form is shaped by natural and built features that will continue to have a major influence on future development. These physical features include hills and rivers, bridges and roads, open spaces and commercial districts that help give our city its special character.

The Five Portlands

The 5 PortlandsPortland’s existing development pattern varies in terms of street networks, natural features and building types, all of which contribute to the variety of distinct neighborhoods within the city. The Comprehensive Plan policies and implementation measures can do more to respect the differences in culture, history and the environment. There are five basic patterns:

  1. Inner neighborhoods with their main street commercial districts and compact street grid;

  2. Western neighborhoods, which are shaped by hilly terrain and streams;

  3. Eastern neighborhoods, whose diverse mix of urban and rural characteristics is set against a backdrop of Douglas firs and buttes;

  4. Central City is Portland’s most intensely urbanized area, with a mix of high density jobs, housing and cultural institutions; and

  5. Industrial Districts along the rivers. 

Good Ideas to Carry Forward

The 1980 Comprehensive Plan and Metro’s Region 2040 Concept Plan are based on a set of innovative planning principles that should continue to influence the physical development of Portland over the next 25 years including:

  • A strong Central City;
  • Integrated land use and transportation planning;
  • Mixed-use centers and corridors surrounded by green residential neighborhoods;
  • Transportation alternatives to the automobile;
  • Environmental and watershed planning;
  • Industrial sanctuaries; and
  • Infrastructure investments to maintain our major systems and respond to changing needs (asset management).

The Comprehensive Plan will also incorporate recent planning efforts and policy directions from the Watershed Management Plan, the Climate Action Plan, the Streetcar System Concept Plan, the Bicycle Master Plan, the Economic Development Strategy and other policy documents.


12 Measures of Success

Policy and investment decisions will be supported and evaluated by analysis of key data and indicators, building on the Portland Plan Measures of Success:

  1. Equity and inclusion
  2. Resident satisfaction
  3. Educated youth
  4. Prosperous households
  5. Growing businesses
  6. Creating jobs
  7. Transit and active transportation
  8. Reduced carbon emissions
  9. Complete neighborhoods
  10. Healthier people
  11. Safer city
  12. Healthier watersheds


Like the Portland Plan, the Comprehensive Plan must break down traditional bureaucratic silos. To get more from existing budgets, the public agencies responsible for managing growth and maintaining our public infrastructure, such as TriMet, Metro and public school districts, must align efforts and investments, with the goal of achieving multiple benefits and improving efficiency. The Comprehensive Plan is one tool to formalize that alignment.