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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Survey says

It's easy to goof on Portland Mayor Tom Potter's "vision quest," wherein the city is spending tons of time and money getting all touchy-feely with its residents. Translated into at least a dozen languages, the city's questionnaire about long-range goals is now sitting out for your completion in library branches and other locations all over town.

Why -- why are we going through all this when there are so many immediate needs screaming for attention? It's the nature of relatively new department heads like Potter -- they invariably launch into "strategic planning," with no end to the consultants, "branders," and opinion researchers called in, ostensibly to see what the paying customers want.

But of course, so often that's not what it's really about. So often the leader is about to dictate a change of direction from on high, and he or she is looking for justification, and a veneer of participatory democracy. You can't help but think that the City Hall bureaucrats are going to take whatever they get and hammer it into a show of support for whatever they already have in mind.

And this particular survey is going to be wide open for "spinning." It's four essay questions, kids -- no numerical data, just words and music. Whatever the returns say, they'll be thoroughly chewed over by some "vision" bureaucrat or another before they're released to the world.

Having said all that, to me the most interesting thing about the questions is that they're exactly the ones that Potter should be asking. If I sat next to him at a nice dinner party and he popped these on me, I'd come away thinking that the guy was really trying to do his job -- either that or he was pulling my leg pretty hard.

Anyway, as I looked over the form, it occurred to me that these would make some excellent topics for blogging and blog comments. Now, I'm not being facetious here (for a change) -- if you feel as strongly as I do about the future of the Rose City, you ought to be able to say something intelligent about each of them.

So I'm going to roll them out, one at a time, and see what readers here have to offer. Here's question no. 1:

What do you value most about Portland and why?

Enter your answer in the comments below. And when you're done, you might think about heading over to the official vision website, and weighing in there, too.

More questions over the next week or so.

Comments (22)

By virtue of being awake too late reading writing samples, I guess I'll start. We're a city with a sense of humor, and a sense of goofiness (cf. the Rose Festival Parade). There is a lightness to the spirits of the people who live here that I haven't found anywhere else I've lived. And, as a result, I tend to like people who like living in Portland. I am a kinder person here than I was on the East Coast, and I'm sure that's why. It's a beautiful city, in a beautiful state, but I'm here for the people.

We need to think about what makes Portland PORTLAND, and not just another anonymous city, with the same shops and chain restaurants you find everywhere.

Nick's Coney Island, hardly haute cuisine, but unique to Portland. Cinema 21, or the Clinton Street Theater. Local beers and ales you can't find anywhere else. A committment to local produce; Sauvie Island pumpkin farms; city government where you can sign up to speak to power...on anything.

Strong neighborhoods, and neighborhood associations. Walkable (in places). Bikeable (in places). Wild Salmon and world-class Pinot Noir as part of the scene, assuming you can afford it. Places to go for help if you can't. A city that works, mostly.

The east side esplanade may have been a dumb idea, and cost way too much...but there's something enchanting about walking the loop --including Waterfront Park, where we tore out a freeway-- over lunch with lots of fellow Portlanders.

What also makes Portland special is it's in Oregon...and in no time at all you can be on Mt. Hood, in the Gorge, at the Pacific Ocean...or sipping wine in Dundee.

I value Lars Larson's unpaid, pimple-faced, teenage interns at KKKXL who have a strong enough command of the English language to file silly, specious protests with Portand, the city neither of them live in.

Unlike Lars, their high-school diploma-carrying, thrice-married, family values boss.

I value that I am no longer in Portland.

While I miss the beauty of the trees, the rivers, the hills. But lots of cities have those characteristics, not just Portland.

I will not miss the traffic congestion, the taxes, the out of control bureaucracies, the gloomy weather, the cramped in-fill inside the urban growth boundary that forces the poor out of downtown and forces prices up.

I will miss being close to the ocean and the cascades. But lots of cities have those characteristics, not just Portland.

I am happy to be in Boise where government is just big enough, they are lowering property taxes both at the state and county levels, the sky is normally blue, the friendly people are plentiful and diversity is beginning to take hold.

I think the thing I will most though, is Sesame Doughnuts on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. That place is awesome.

Everything Frank listed can be found, for the most part the same or very similar,
in many cities all over the country.

Most valuable about Portland is the location and climate which has not changed or been provided by the decades of crazy central planning.

Is "special" really applicable and a necessity?

Clearly people in cities all over the place want to believe they live in a special place. Including every enclave of the Portland region.

I disagree that the city "works" as this claim pretends to apply measurement and comparison to other cities.
The perpetual campaign by Metro and others that Portland does it right is pure folly.
What was once a less crowded, more flexible, better run city and suburbs is fast becoming just another megalopolis
like LA or Chicago with all the trappings and detriments these big cities include.
All for the sake of avoiding sprawl and advancing the high density/light rail transit agenda.

Unfortunately with our model of planning growth is being retarded instead of accommodated.

As the Metro Executive himself said back in 2000.
"Traffic congestion is bad and getting worse.
It is a nightmare for commuters and it is choking freight mobility.
There is no more clear illustration of our inability to meet growth needs than our failure to address our transportation needs.
Within the transportation arena we are facing utter chaos."
from Metro head, Mike Burton's State of the Region Speech, 2000

The continued conspiracy to perpetuate more of the same abhorrent planning lessens the long enjoyed livability of Oregon and Portland.

Thank God for the weather, beaches and mountains.

I value what Portland used to be. It used to have lots of open spaces, relatively low housing prices, manageable traffic, and a wonderful department store right in the center of downtown (Meier & Frank before it was taken over by the May Company). Portland used to have a medical school that focused on helping the community instead of having a "health sciences university" that concentrates on sucking all it can from our community. Portland used to have a winning basketball team that didn't have any overpaid knuckleheads on it.

I valued the Portland I grew up in. It was a special place with physical beauty (which, of course it still has); gracious and somewhat quirky at the same time, laid-back but serious enough and easily traversed at almost any time of day.

The most amazing thing about that Portland was that none of those qualities was "planned".

Since the advent of "planning", largely imported by non-Portlanders, the efforts of this city seem to have become almost wholly consumed with "addressing" a myriad of "issues" created by the very plans that were forced on us. The priorities of city government have been turned on their heads as more and more time, money and effort have been diverted to feeding the insatiable hydra of "planning". You can't plan serendipity - it just happens. It's amusing (or would be if it had happened elsewhere) that almost all of the "models" held out by planners are of cities, towns or (God help us) villages that were NOT planned.

Everybody has a different view of what Portland should be, but nobody seems to like what it has become - inconsiderate, impatient, insular and worst of all, impolite.

As a friend of mine often says, when watching others blindly blundering away at some task: "Go ahead. Keep f**king with it 'til you f**k it up."

Mission accomplished.

Many of the things that originally drew me to Portland are largely gone. Easy commutes, great public schools, dirt cheap housing, uncrowded outdoor attractions that were easy to drive to, safe and polite drivers, strong respect for history, and opportunities for middle-class people to live a great lifestyle.

New good things have sprung up since then -- microbrew, great restaurants, great biking, great use of the internet.

Still around are the old neighborhoods and the old parks -- the latter being breathtaking gems. There's still a community dedication to fitness and to care for the environment. And there are still the special Portland people who share a commitment to make the city a better place, even if they personally don't profit from the program. Who clean up graffiti and pick up other people's garbage. Who will drop everything to help strangers, particularly from out of town. Who are smart and polite and generous and kind.


You're right; there are some unspoiled neighborhoods left - islands like Laurelhurst and Alameda - and parks which are unquestionably gorgeous (and not TOO dangerous). There are some good, new things (I'll have a pint, thanks), but they're like new patches on a quilt that's falling apart. Portland, used to just work. It was of a piece and freestanding; yet diverse at the same time. Now it seems disjointed and unstable - sort of swerving down the road. It's surviving on its remaining good folks (and, of course, some newer good folks) and past successes - but it's growing and being pulled apart at the same time.

I'm 56, was born and grew up here and sometimes I feel like an alien in my own city. It's not so much the physical changes - that's been ongoing. It's more a sense that the city government no longer serves all its citizens (your posts about skewed city priorities are a great example) - just those that scream the loudest or pay the most. City government has become Big Business with all the worst connotations of the term.

Meanwhile, the effect of planning, Portland-style, IMO, has been to disrupt the sense of community that, while not perfect in the past, at least was obvious to both natives and visitors. That, perhaps, is the unkindest cut.

Other than moving out of the country entirely, it is difficult for me to imagine living anywhere but Portland. (although I have to confess that Hawaii sounds tempting in the dead of winter) Certainly other cities on the left coast (Seattle, San Francisco, L.A.) may have us when it comes to the whole sophistication thing, but there is a whole superficial self absorbed vibe (not to mention cost) that comes with that type of lifestyle. Portland still has a small town egalitarian feel to it. People value soulful involvement and respect diversity as opposed to materialistic cool detachment. Portlanders are nerdy geeks who place a high value on quality of life issues, and I like it that way.

I like most of the above posts but want to add another perspective.

I tend to look at places/cities from a topographic/physical bearing-of what did nature create for a place before man has decided to occupy that place.

I see our Space as a major conjuntion of two major rivers with a magnificant southern valley and connection of an inland empire to the east. There are significant hills/range to the west and volcanic peaks in our east and distant mountains in several directions. The scale of spaces are tight, intimate for a major city. The rivers are tremendous assets because of signifance of what "water" means to our psychic, besides the transportation, commerce benefits.

But what I don't see happening in the past few years is acknowledgement of this "sense of Space". I am a third generation Oregonian. I am not sure, but I suspect that this may have something to do with what I fear about our last few decades of "Planning". There are those who are not recognizing this scale of "Space". Are they "outsiders"? I am afraid some of them are, but those of us here that recognize this are not shouting enough and taking legal action to enforce what some of our "planning tools" attempt to recognize this "Space".

For example, we have the Oregon and City Greenway Zone. How is having 325ft. high building right on the banks of our river recognizing the scale of Portland? It is even contrary to the Greenway Regs that requires the "stepping down" of buildings to our river and even to the west to our foothills like in NW Portland and Goosehollow.

We have Neighborhood Plans that require "compatible scale" of new development to existing. The list goes on in planning jargon of making these attempts. But we are failing, and most planners are not listening.

We are losing our "Space"; the recognition of how we occupy our place on this planet Earth. Sure, those at the top of 32 story building get to see the distant features, our distant mountains, curvature of the earth, but those in the depths are just in any American city.

Sesame Doughnuts? I'll second that. Voodoo Doughnut too. Portland's a good town for fried bread.

I live in Portland but am currently having to spend extended periods of time in LA. Being in LA has made me value and appreciate Portland so much more than I ever did before. Portland its issues and problems, certainly, but in my opinion it is an infinitely more livable place than LA and many other cities. Portland is easy to navigate, there isn't too much traffic, not a lot of smog, wonderful neighborhoods to walk or bike through, it's not too expensive a place to live, and it never takes too long to get anywhere (even in rush hour). The people are friendly and unique, and so are the shops and restaurants. Even with its challenges, I think Portland is a fantastic and really unique place, and with all its concerned and engaged citizens (as evidenced by this blog & its posters) it can have a bright and positive future.

I'm a transplant from Southern Cal, and I share Cam's perspective on how much more livable Portland actually is than other cities that have its amenties. I've spent some time in cities like Boise and they fall short in many attributes I desire in a city, such as cuisine, political awareness, and pride in where you live. Moreover, Portland isn't even close to as difficult to navigate as a city like Seattle or SF, much less the giant pileup that is the east coast.

I agree with other commenters who have talked about the neighborhoods. This is my favorite thing about any city: the unique districts and neighborhoods.

I enjoy spending time in Albina, Alameda, NW, downtown, Hawthorne, Belmont, Multnomah Village, 82nd's new chinatown, and more I'm forgetting. All of them have something distinct to offer.

Most of the above resonates with me. I was thinking that, ironically, I was drawn to Portland by tales of "visionaries' from the native peoples to Thoreau to Lewis and Clark to the back-to-the-land hippies in the 60s and 70s and by Ken Keesey's prose. Now I can hardly stand the persistent denial of fairly obvious problems that plague this place.

Portland has problems, and serious ones (as do all cities, everywhere). But where I think we're most in denial is not in facing up to our current problems, but glossing over the ones in our past.

When I moved to Portland, in 1975, next to downtown's Meier & Frank was a butt-ugly parking lot...that had replaced a torn down historic hotel. (Anybody think that would happen today?)

Memorial Coliseum had long since been built over the broken bones of the Black community. South Auditorium Urban Renewal? The destruction of working class and Italian neighborhoods.

We weren't dealing with Combined Sewer Overflow into our rivers, we were just flushing our toilets into the rivers.

Political corruption? When a city commisioner stepped down mid-term, there was no special election...a new one was appointed for us. Police were openly on the take. The DA's office turned a blind eye to organized crime.(Do some of you folks ever read Phil Standford?)

Want to eat out? There were no ubiquitous Vietnamese, Thai, French, Northwest, wood-burning-oven, free-range, organic, locally sourced, vegan, wine bar, mico-brewed options. You had the Canlis atop the Hilton. Trader Vic's. Rose's. A few others. A croissant? What is that? (though you could get an awesome pizza at Pierri's on SE Powell...now replaced by a strip mall). The Bagdad was a falling down duplex (no Bagdad Ale then!) and you stood in puddles of pee at the Paramount to take a leak.

Yeah, I remember when housing was cheaper. I bought my house in SE when it was...that was when the cheap housing was disappearing from previously run-down Northwest Portland and I was priced out of that market.

There's good and bad to growing older. You get the benefits of maturity and the acculmulation of experience. But you don't run as fast --if you're running at all-- and life's just different. You can bemoan the fact life's changed, wish you were sixteen again, and forget the miseries of being sixteen. Or you can appreciate the benefits to growing up.

I think, for the most part, we keep a good perspective, we Portlanders. We stop to smell the roses --and the free-range coffee-- as we have a secret smirk over knowing we live in one of the best places to live in the universe.

Oh...there's developers who think they own our city government? Jeez, that's never happened anywhere before, has it? Problems with unions? (And union busters?) No city's ever had those issues before. Not enough money to fix potholes? Pension-funding issues? Racism? Immigration issues?

The coolest thing about Portland is...we talk about this stuff. And, unlike the nattering nabobs of negativism who toss spitballs from afar-- I think we're not just talking about these things, but also trying to deal with them.


I don't think the trouble with the police and the DA is in the past; the tradition continues. And yesterday, I got a notice mailed to all members of the real estate section of the bar that there is a temporary opening for a lawyer in the Oregon Department of Justice's department that deals with condemnation issues. I might consider applying for that if the head of the department weren't someone I can prove has been involved in a major land scam in SW Portland. Who is going to investigate that? Schrunk won't touch his scammy lawyer friends behind the scenes. Most with investigative authority parrot the lame argument that the Separation of Powers doctrine PREVENTS checks and balances. What to do about it Frank? Since we are so enlightened. The joke will end up being on us if the state is out scamming in our name.

I was born in Portland and have always lived here, except for a short time in Eugene. There is a lot that is good about Portland but it is not the city I valued anymore. Yes the geographic location is ideal, the weather is tolerable, the neighborhoods are a treasure. But overall the city has developed this smug, self-righteous attitude that I cannot stand. People used to always ask me why I still lived in Portland and I would say name me a better place. Now all I can think about is finding that better place and I know it exists (although it may be like trying to find the Land of Green Ginger).

Everytime I get out of here my spririts soar for a while.

Maybe you should take the hint.

I was born in Emmanuel Hospital 58 years ago and got out of Portland as soon as I turned 18 because it was the biggest small town in the world. Then I came back in my 40s because I liked being in the biggest small town in the world.

My contemporaries who think Portland was a better city back in their youth than now are dreaming of better days that never were, and may be xenophobic to boot. Portland started getting its act together in the early 70s when the Mt. Hood Freeway got stopped and a lot of neighborhood activitism bloomed. It probably peaked in the mid-90s, though some things, like ethnic restaurants and biking are getting better. Portland in the 50s and 60s was boring and yet pretty corrupt, not to mention very racist. Some of you assert that our current city government is corrupt because of some bad economic decisions, but that's bad judgment by people who are trying to do well, not corruption.

The best thing about Portland is there has always been a culture of courtesy here--people are nicer to each other here than in most other cities I've lived in. When some jerk honks his horn at you because you didn't accelerate the microsecond the light turned green, you know it's somebody from out of state--probably California.

When I ride my bike home at night through Southeast Portland, I have to cross Powell at 37th Ave. There's a cross walk there and no matter the density of traffic, cars always stop within a few seconds to let me cross. This happens every night and it truly amazes me.

Most with investigative authority parrot the lame argument that the Separation of Powers doctrine PREVENTS checks and balances. What to do about it Frank?

I agree we need better checks and balances, Cynthia. Outside auditors and other professionals who are truly outsiders. We need more diversity of opinions, and more diversity period.

I think of living in a city like being in a marriage. It ain't all great all the time, and nothing about it is perfect --and maybe we'll even admit sometimes some of the problems are with ourselves-- but, overall, do you love this person, or not?

Do you love this city or not? I do.

(Just as I love my wife who is perfect, of course, I was just being theoretical.) :-)

The Long Island, NY, I grew up in is not the Long Island of today. Nunley's Happyland is gone, as is Nat's Luncheonette where I bought my Superman comics. It seems "smaller" when you go back. I got to use Levittown's community swimming pools despite only living next to Levittown because the African-American teacher my Dad hired didn't, wouldn't, --maybe felt he couldn't-- use his pass and so gave it to me every year. We were awfully white back then.

We're not so awfully white anymore in Portland, and I think we're better for it, though, yeah, Waddles is gone, and Jantzen Beach used to be an amusement park, not a shopping center. The same fate that befell Nunley's Happyland.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Survey says:

» Got a second? from Jack Bog's Blog
We got a pretty nice response the other day when we opened up the floor for discussion of the first of the four questions on the City of Portland's "vision" questionnaire. So here's Question 2, which in some ways is an easier one to answer. The main c... [Read More]

» Question No. 3 from Jack Bog's Blog
One of our earlier posts in support of Portland Mayor Tom Potter's "vision quest" survey actually made the news the other day -- a slow news day, to be sure. Anyway, I like the way the conversation is going, and so it's time to pop the third of the fou... [Read More]

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