Since assuming the role of Chair of the Planning and Sustainability Commission, Kat Schultz's keen perspective and input has driven forward-thinking decision making that has helped shape the framework and implementation of many of the City’s signature planning packages.
The Chair shares her thoughts on the City’s top priorities and why ‘smart growth’ strategies can be the first wave of 21st century urban planning.
What are Portland’s biggest challenges right now?
It’s the issue that is on everyone’s mind: housing. The 2035 Comprehensive Plan was a great exercise for helping us think about how the city should grow for our current populations and future residents. We’ve also created innovative tools and opportunities to create more housing. But I’d like us to go a step further with our smart growth strategies that allow us to explore the idea of ‘cities within cities’. I often wonder if our communities would thrive more if their built environment was denser yet yielded more housing, access to jobs and daily amenities? Is that model sustainable? I find this to be an enticing concept in terms of big vision planning, but should it be thought of as the next steps of 21st century planning in order to accommodate our expected growth?
What led you to the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC)?
I actually started by serving on the City of Portland’s Design Commission. It was a great growth experience – I learned how to find my voice, quickly coalesce my thoughts and become comfortable sharing my perspective in front of the public. It prepared me for my position on the PSC. Both opportunities have helped expand my understanding of the City’s challenges and provided a broad evaluation of the needs of our communities.
Have you faced any challenges as Chair of the PSC?
Personally, I’ve had challenges with trying to understand an area of our work that I’m unfamiliar with and how to very quickly make a recommendation that I believe is sound and in the best interest of Portlanders. I can’t know everything, say, about transportation, but I trust that my fellow commissioners can facilitate a healthy conversation and move beneficial policy forward. I’ve learned so much from my colleagues and really value their perspective. I may not always agree with them on a particular issue but I very much rely on their vast experience and knowledge that they bring to the table. The diversity of thought is what makes being a part of the PSC such a rewarding experience.
What motivates you to give your time to the PSC?
I was born and raised in Portland. I’ve traveled all over the world, but I always want to come back home. I feel very fortunate to live here and experience all of the charm and changes – I embrace all of it and am equally excited by it. But I also want to sustain the core of what makes Portland such a livable city. I like being a part of that kind of the work and the PSC has been a great avenue to venture into exploring the evolution of the urban environment here.
You have helped shape signature planning packages like the 2035 Comprehensive Plan that will greatly define the city’s future. 20 years from now, when that plan is actualized, how do you envision Portland?
I love to walk through different quadrants of Portland and study the diversity of that particular built environment. I often ask myself, why is certain zoning applied in some areas and not others? Should mixed-use zoning be applied everywhere? I believe the future of planning must be geared towards quality of life for Portlanders. We should be able to access our daily needs easily – meaning more walkable neighborhoods with quick access to grocery stores, transit stations and employment hubs. Corridor development is a critical strategy that should incorporate sustainability, health and other important factors for facilitating high quality of life for everyone.
Has your identity or professional career influenced your contributions to the PSC?
I work in the development industry which is private-market driven. The nature of my work provides me with really diverse experiences that help paint a full picture of the benefits and challenges of smart growth in Portland. I often reference my work scenarios when approaching projects being reviewed by the PSC to help inform my colleagues and the public about how the development side responds to opportunities for growth.
In terms of my identity, I’ve had a couple of instances where I felt there was a bias against me because I was the “only girl” in a room full of male developers. I strive to listen to and value all voices around the table, coalesce and move the conversation forward into meaningful action. I’ve read those qualities may be “female traits”, but I take it as just who I am and the qualities I bring to my profession.
Kat graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Architecture. She serves as Chair of Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission and previously was a member of the Design Commission. She enjoys mentoring through Benson Polytechnic High School’s Job Shadow Program and traveling internationally.