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Friday, March 25, 2005

Going sterile

I know we've come a long way We're changin' day to day But tell me, Where do the children play? -- Cat Stevens

There was a story in yesterday's New York Times that's generating quite a buzz here in P-Town. It points out that our fair city is filling up quick with empty nesters and DINKs (double-income, no-kid couples), while families are fleeing to the 'burbs in droves.

Mayor Potter is wringing his hands over this trend, and vowing to do something about it. He's bringing kids in to speak at City Council meetings, and surely he's got more meaningful steps in mind as well.

Let me make a suggestion: Put people on the Portland Development Commission (including a new CEO) that will demand that child-friendly housing be the city's number 1 development priority for the next four years. Right now the vast majority of what the PDC is paying our tax dollars to build are luxury condos and low-income housing. Not that New Columbia doesn't look great -- it does. But it's just a drop in the bucket when it comes to welcoming families, particularly middle-class families, back to town.

We're racing as fast as we can, it seems, to become another San Francisco or Seattle, both groovy as can be to the Graggies in the trendy restaurants and black T-shirt lofts, but no place to raise kids.

To reverse that slide will take radical action. The hundreds of millions of dollars that flow through the PDC every year could be the perfect agent of change.

Comments (28)

As the oldest child in a family of seven children, let me just say that Children are overrated. When was the last time someone said, "Wow, all the kids made that city vibrant and exciting." You'll never hear it.

I'm not completely heartless, I have three younger siblings who live in N. Portland and are apart of the PPS system, and I think Portland needs to do its part to provide children with a strong education. But, honstly, I don't think Portland needs to attract more kids. Kids don't make a city great.

I read that NYT's article and by the end of it, I thought, "So what?"

Wow. O.k.,...

I would get rid of all of all of the smart growth types from the Portland Development Commission. That would probably only leave that lady from NE Portland, that opposed the skinny lots, on the commission.(Chris Caruso if I recall)

The basic problem we have is trying to plan for the way planners think people should live, instead of the way people want to live. I attended several public meetings during the final stages of the St. Johns/Lombard plan and I believe that I observed several examples of planners deceiving the public. This was done in order to get people to accept the plan.

For instance one planner claimed that, after the proposed changes on Lombard (that would obviously restrict traffic flow), the street would remain at an “acceptable level of service”. What he failed to tell people that an “acceptable level of service” on Portland’s major streets has been redefined to include stop and go conditions several hours every day.

He also denied that the plan included bus stops that forced busses to stop in middle of the travel lane, while such stops were plainly proposed in the plan as “transit supportive extended curbs”. Later, the planners claimed that such bus stop did not cause congestions by carefully choosing simulation conditions and words (sorta like “I did not have sex with that woman”.)

Sharon Nasset discovered just how far out of touch Portland’s planner when she conducted a survey of over 400 people in North Portland and asked questions about elements of the Planner’s proposals (quoting from the survey report):
A earlier version of this survey can be found at SaveLombard.com

A good discussion of some of the planners delusions is Wendel Cox’s presentation on urban forms being shown on cable Saturday at 7pm & Monday at 7pm on ch 22. You can also see this video from a link on SavePortland.com


A program bug wiped out the survey results that appeared normally in the preview. The previouos message shoud haveincluded:

approximately 445 individuals responded, most including their name and address. Responses to key questions suggest that some Portland practices deviate significantly from resident’s wishes:

Respondents were 94% against bubble curbs on Lombard.
Respondents were 89% against bike lanes on Lombard.
Respondents were 92% against “skinny lots.”
Respondents were 96% against removing the left turn lane.
Respondents were 81% for local control of zoning.

Although only North Portland was targeted in the survey, we believe that similar results would be obtained city wide

I'd say kids are important to a city in a tangible way because they form the base of the city as future wage earners and an educated work force. That may not be as large an issue in PDX as it would be in a smaller town, but it has an effect. On the intangible level, a city without kids is a city without life. Only so many people can cram into a trendy NW bar and for only so long and make it seem happening. After that, there needs to be a broader base of vitality from which to draw.
As a Clark County 'burbanite, my feeling is that bringing my now and future kids into PDX isn't all that attractive an idea. When I'm out looking for a new house now, what I see are decent places for (almost) decent money, with nice yards and, most importantly, lots of little kids outside playing on safe streets. That means a lot. I wouldn't want to live in a place where my kids couldn't just run outside to play next door with other kids their age.

In our Euclid Heights (Rose City Park) neighborhood, it seems quite the opposite. Over the past 5 years, many of us SIMO's (Single Income, Multiple Offsprings) have moved in to renovate homes whose elderly occupants could no longer keep them up. We've experienced quite a baby boom over those five years... 12 kids within 2 or 3 blocks.

To encourage this re-use of existing housing stock (isn't that what our city 'planners' want?), how 'bout giving us working stiffs with families a break when we improve our property, instead of raising our property taxes? I'd like the sort of tax abatement that this condo owner has...


If I put a 20K addition on my house to add a bedroom for another kid, it automatically generates a re-assessment from the city. They then bend me over and give it to me. So over the course of 10 years, that addition probably costs an extra $5,000.

Jud and Jack,

I re-read my comment and it does sound kind of harsh. I'm not anti-kids. I like kids and have been around kids my whole life. I just don't have kids, which makes my perspective markedly different from that of Jacks.

But if I did have kids, I'd head straight to the suburbs and I don't think that is a bad thing. I don't think having families circling the city, is bad for the city.

That said, Jack does have a family and he wants to make Portland a family-friendly city. And I get that.

Anyway, I agree that kids bring something to a city. I'm just not sure its that important... of course this is coming from a single guy in his 20's, who picked Syracuse to win the NCAA Championship, so... I don't really know what I'm talking about.

As a follow up to my comment above:

The Pearl condo for sale on craigslist:

Market Value $305,970.00
Assessed Value $19,340.00
Taxes (2003)
Property Taxes $363.14
Total Taxes $363.14

My 3bd/2bat house:
Market Value $203,600.00
Assessed Value $143,970.00
Taxes (2003)
Property Taxes $3,218.62
Total Taxes $3,218.62

That pretty much sums up the NYTimes article.

"Graggies"?! Yes! I love it! Brilliant and subversive...


Go to portlandmaps.com and type in 625 NW 11th.

Market Value - $943620
Assessed Value - $8600
Prop Taxes - $145.74

This ought to make you feel better about the craigslist condo not being too much of a ripoff.

"Children also create a constituency for parks, trails and public safety improvements, Mr. Potter said, and their parents tend to favor upgrading those amenities through higher taxes."

So, Mr. Potter sees children as the means to the ends of getting more tax money from people? I find that disturbing. Why not just make a principled argument?

That's a very principled argument. Appeal to the people who will vote for or support what you want. Parks, etc. are for the public good and should be supported. If DINKs are too dumb to realize it, woo the people who aren't.

The condos in the Pearl District don't attract families with children, but they didn't displace family-friendly housing. ("No family dwellings were harmed in the construction of this condominium!" the sticker could read.) Portland still has most of the family-friendly housing it had in 1970; the problem is that many of those houses aren't occupied by families with children. Allowing that I can't prove a general principle with a specific example, consider the lane I lived on in the 1960s. It had eight houses, all with 4 bedrooms or more -- good houses for families. Seven of the households included children in school, for a total of 24 children. Only one household included anyone over 50.

Today three of the seven houses are still occupied by the people who lived there 35 years ago, all now over 70. Their children have grown and left. I would be surprised if even ten children lived on that lane today. I'm guessing that Portland has a lot of similar streets.

I'm shocked! You'd figure that since the schools are in such great shape, people with families would be flocking to the City of Portland

A reader writes:

In response to your comment about city planning. I think you hit the nail on the head. H. and I moved to Newberg so that we could afford a house big enough for both our kids. The flip side of the young professional family plan is also common: Get a nice place to live in town (which you can afford without kids being a young professional) and wait till your career is going before kids.

However, this results in a major problem. Fertility rates for first time mothers start to drop during their early 30's and fall off dramatically as they approach 40. By the time professionals reach their career goals they are in a less fertile age bracket.

I am 26 and just finished school (with no break between undergrad and grad) and I figure it will be 3 years till I consider my career "underway". Family is very important to us so we knew we had to chose between living in the sticks with a good chance to have kids, or living in town and risk our family plan. These are the choices that young professionals have to make due to the current housing situation. If Portland wants to continue having rug rats it needs to change its policy.

I'd rather live next to a family with kids than a meth house, but it's a close call.

there are plenty of family size houses in PDX and the suburbs aren't really any cheaper. the real problem is that a lot of the Portland schools above elementary school are awful.

Try convincing an elderly seller to have sympathy for the needs of a young family that is using borrowed dollars to cover the purchase price of the home. You will talk yourself right out of a listing faster than it takes for the seller to say “What, are you crazy?”

The enemy of kids is the housing price support mechanism for the benefit of everyone except young families. The affordable housing policies have much more to do with price supports than making houses affordable. Strip away the non-market price support mechanisms and let the prices fall to where a family can afford to have kids and a house at the same time.

I cannot "stick" a young family with the costs of a property-tax-happy city bureaucracy bent on a myopia of increasing property values. Their only hope would be perpetuation of the hyper-inflation of property values using borrowed dollars. It is a morally sick state of affairs. Bush and the City are on the same asset-inflation-train that says hop on or go away. Bush wants capital-gains-tax-giveaways and he looks upon the present (not future) home owners as a targeted class of voters to sympathize with his total giveaway plans.

The high home prices are also an investment opportunity that is pegged to extract at least one-third of the incomes of residents, whatever that income be. If you can set aside any concern for the absolute value of property and then look just at the incomes of folks it is clear.

Of course, the asset-inflation-train has no need for a contrarian economist. Nor does it need kids, because immigration will solve the kid shortage problem.

If families are to be encouraged to invest in the city, they are going to need safe neighborhoods, including low-traffic areas where kids can play, good schools, and housing value comparable to the burbs. Urban planners should focus on those issues, as well as the financial ones.

Most of my friends and neighbors are willing to pay more per SF to live in the city, because we put a premium on the convenience of a short commute and other aspects of city life. But when the homestead exemption is only $50,000 and every investment to make an old house nicer requires dealing with the hysterical society and a follow-up visit from the tax assessor, I can understand why some folks just say the hell with it.

ALSO, the higher property taxes are especially irksome given that urban dwellers are the ones who have to put up with halfway houses, meth clinics, needle exchanges, and homeless shelters, among other "amenities"

Note to Jim:
The Save Lombard "survey" that was done is so incredibly unofficial and loaded that I'm beyond myself. You CAN NOT use those quotes as actual outcome or numbers to reference with this kind of survey. Please, quote some real numbers. These stink.

Couple of comments:

One commenter stated they should get a break on property taxes if they add an addition for another kid. Unless you offer it accrosss the board to all homeowners, it's just another discrimination against those who chose or don't have a choice about having kids.

Suburbs vs. City - yes, there is a significant difference in how the neighborhoods are laid our in the suburbs vs. the city, yet does that make one better? not sure. if i had kids, i would prefer to stay in the city because my perception of the suburbs is white bread.

Portland's woes? is it really all Portland's fault or could the county have something to do with it. I know of three families who are actively looking for property outside of mult. county because the I-tax really hit them hard.

just some thoughts from a portland dink (and damn proud of being one.)

Posted by LLNP at March 25, 2005 07:58 PM:
Note to Jim:
The Save Lombard "survey" that was done is so incredibly unofficial and loaded that I'm beyond myself. You CAN NOT use those quotes as actual outcome or numbers to reference with this kind of survey. Please, quote some real numbers. These stink.

Well, lets start out by you telling us who you are. Your email address is: anonymouse@web.com

Then we can discusse survey techneques and how the city's/metro's methods are better/worse than hundreds of real people who paricipated in the Nasset survey.

Perhaps you work for the city , Metro or one of its contractors and have an interest in preserving the fiction that people like what Portland is becoming (ie: Los Angelas). We don't know because you are hiding your identy - are you really a Metro palnner? or perhaps a PDC planner, or perhaps Homer Williams?

Tell us who you are - I do - I use real contact info.

Jim Karlock, born & raised in Portland (who has seen a steady decline in Portland's livability, spearheaded by planners who think they know things that they really don't know.) I'am actually in the phone book, are you?

I have worked with real estate for a while and think creating family housing should be a priority.

Based on experience, most non-kid people look for the "cool" neighborhoods, however, most of their interest in their condos is in maintaining prop values, mainly by attracting more trendy things around them. Unfortunately, these things are transitory. Even in PDX, notice the NW 23rd area which used to be appreciating and has slid in growth now that other areas are cooler.

"Family" areas (yards and SFRs) have owners who invest in keeping the house nice, care about things like neighborhood parks and schools and tend to stay on even if the area is no longer cool. Look at the fight they got when PPS closed schools. People weren't going to leave, but they were going to send their kids to private schools. I don't see this kind of community ever happening in the Pearl district. This lends stability to an area and makes long-term planning more rational.

These are general observations, so yes you can find things to the contrary, but in general, it is what I see.

Steve, do you recall the battles over school funding in Sandy ten years before Measure 5?

It was like the town had the plague or something if you wanted to find a home for a family.

Its' too bad we would have to look up archives of news articles the old fashioned way.

There is/was lots of space for the homes there rather than the bean-pole houses that keep springing up in Portland. Who wants to live in a mobile home that is tipped up on end to give you a room with a view?

It is like the Sandy problem is not a localized problem anymore, but only because it is now a statewide problem. There is no escape but across the river, at least for Portland's workers.

To the "proud" dink...

Um, to the best of my recollection, I did not advocate giving tax breaks *only* to people who put additions on houses because they're having more kids. Duh. Re-read my post. And I thought it was just people who have kids whose reading comprehension disappears.

I was comparing my "family friendly" house (with just 3 bedrooms, that's a stretch) to the condo owner in the Pearl who gets a RIDICULOUS tax break.

If Potter is serious about attracting families to Portland, he can get rid of this unfair tax bias, or at the very least ensure that it doesn't continue past the abatement expiration dates. The Pearl was a barren wasteland, yes... and the tax breaks may have early on contributed to its resounding success. But my neighborhood wasn't exactly Irvington-Jr when we moved in... we've contributed to a re-use of existing space within the city, preventing a need to expand outside the UGB. I think everyone of us that helps rejuvenate a neighborhood should get a break, not just those that Homer and Gerdling/Edlen drive thru.

Yes, those tax breaks for the at least relatively rich in the Pearl are obscene. I understand that Erik Sten was the prime orchestrator of them. Did he ever have a real job? Is he government apparatchik for life?

Then even when they go out of government, they come back in through side and back doors.

I don't see that Portland will ever have good much less competent government when such is the case. The Downtown Elite bothered the bejabers out of me. Way too downtown and way too elite.

I have an idea: let's stop subsidizing suburban development with road construction, lax pollution laws and real estate giveaways, and see how "family-friendly" they can be on their own.

Who exactly is it who is/are subsidizing suburban development with road construction, lax pollution laws and real estate giveaways?

Maybe it's the taxpayers who work in Oregon but live in Washington. Maybe it's the PDC. Maybe it's the county. Maybe it's the taxpayers in the suburbs.

What we know for sure it that it's not the condo owners with the ridiculous tax breaks who are subsidizing the suburbs.

I'm sure that if anybody could identity those evildoers who are subsidizing suburban development with road construction, lax pollution laws and real estate giveaways and force them to quit their evil doing ways, the suburbs would be as family friendly as the residents of the suburbs wanted the suburbs to be.

This begs the question, "Which suburb is the most family friendly, the suburb with mostly retired folk or the suburb with struggling families where there are parks and backyards for the kids to play in?"

Portland is not a family friendly place because the power elite doesn't particularly want Portland to be a family friendly place. Almost everthing going on in Portland now is geared for the benefit of young, urban, childless professionals. This includes the ridiculous tax breaks.

Portland's city leaders seem hellbent on making life so difficult for families that the suburbs seem to be the only reasonable alternative...even for families that genuinely prefer to live in the city.


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