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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lister nails it

The former City Council candidate makes a great case in the O today for dismantling the barely legalized graft pit known as Portland "urban renewal."

Comments (13)

The only commenter over at the O who seems to disagree with Lister is Jack Roberts. Tells you something right there about who urban renewal's real constituency is.

I noticed that Jack Roberts stepped up to the plate and tried to defend UR (with a very poorly written comment).

Roberts basic take is that if the local know-betters didn't step in, then the inner city would continue to deteriorate.

The problem with this simple analysis is that any insider system, invariably falls victim to greed and power-tripping. Today's PDC is our Tammany Hall.

The only way I would support UR is if the process is completely open and subject to voter approval whenever a project is xx dollars large.

Jack Roberts would be right IF we actually used URD in dilapidated neighborhoods and built something besides luxury condos.

As it is, we're just lining the developer's/OHSU's pockets in neighborhoods (like the Pearl and SoWa) where City Hall had refused developer's privately funded plans for years in advance of URA formation.

Thanks for a great summation, Mr. Lister.

You sounded great on the Mark & Dave show too.

Of course Jack Roberts supports it. His meal ticket is economic development, which is UR for "business".

Dave, if you threw your hat in the vacated Leonard seat you'd have a good chance of beating Novick. The few debates would at least be interesting. When he goes global or national on you, just help him focus on Portland.

Carl Abbott on the O blog claims that Lister has his history half wrong.

I believe Dave met to write Albina URA vs. Coliseum URA. Albina was Portland's second URA that "razed" the mostly black neighborhood. But there have been several overlapping, reformed, different epochs of urban renewal in the area labeled: The Convention Center, The Lloyd District, The Coliseum.

Even Abbott has been cited in Portland urban renewal histories that Albina UR was a forced endeavor on a neighborhood. He said the bureaucrats devised it, then sold it. The neighborhood and city didn't ask for it.

I think Dave's point stands.

The "urban renewal" fad was not invented in Portland. Some still remember Boston's West End, the surround for the Boston Garden(s) -- the Celtics' home, not the Swan Boats':

"Urban renewal

By the 1950s, Boston's West End had turned into a working-poor residential area with scattered businesses with small meandering roads much like the North End. According to most residents, the West End was a good place to live at this time. The once overcrowded neighborhood was in the process of 'deslumming' and the population had dropped to around 7,500 residents. By the end of the 1950s, over half of the neighborhood would be completely leveled to be replaced with residential high rises as part of a large scale urban renewal project."

Nor did Portland invent the contempt for neighborhoods or the corruption exhibited by elected and appointed city employees:


The urban renewal of the West End has been attacked by critics for its destruction of a neighborhood and its careless implementation. One of the main criticisms of the project is that the neighborhood was not considered a slum by the residents, and instead had a strong sense of community. A later mayor of Boston, Ray Flynn, described the West End as 'a typical neighborhood' and 'not blighted.' The perception of the neighborhood as a slum was mostly held by wealthy outsiders and was enhanced by city policy. For example, the city stopped collecting garbage and cleaning the streets leaving the neighborhood a mess. A photographer for a local newspaper was even assigned to go to the West End, overturn a trashcan, and take a picture of it to create the impression of a blighted neighborhood."

But voting to terminate the designated "urban renewal" authority would surely be an achievement to which Portland residents could point with pride.

Didn't Very Katz say she wanted to make Portland into another Boston?

UR = urban removal

Look at how Moses used it in NYC, Daley (Richard J.) in Chicago, or the neighborhood formerly known as Western Addition in San Francisco.

It seems to always lack sufficient oversight and be susceptible to abuse.

Even with a vote, they need a definite end. Otherwise they keep slipping additions onto the project.

Re: "...more than 50 years ago, when a charter amendment created the Portland Development Commission and tasked it with urban renewal."

The charter amendment would seem to have created an open-ended authority, without either specific measures of goal achievement or, it appears, adequate public oversight. That is, in the absence of a nullifying charter amendment, the PDC will continue to do what it has been doing so objectionably, inventing for itself ever new and expensive endeavors.

Perhaps Mr Lister or a knowledgeable attorney could explain to the readers of this forum how the PDC's sovereignty over our neighborhoods and our purses can most effectively be terminated?

Menefree, maybe we don't eliminate it, but do what Clackamas Co. voters might do with Measure 336.

We should vote on whether to require county wide and/or city-wide voter approval of any new URA or any substantial change of an existing URA that exceeds $25 Million of value or any boundary of an existing URA exceeds 15% of present boundary size.

If an urban renewal idea is good, it will succeed. We control our debt obligation for now and for our future generations and help spare our tax funding for schools, fire, police, parks, and the general fund.

A couple of responses to the references above to my comment posted undeer Dave Lister's column (but really in response to some of the other comments posted there):

It's important to distinguish between the concept of urban renewal (and specifically tax increment financing) and the way urban renewal agencies operate in practice. Both are fair objects of criticism but the critcisms are different and should be understood separately.

My comment was intended to address the concept of urban renewal and why communities adopt them in the first place. I am aware of no example of a sucessful, much less idyllic, downtown area where urban renewal was adopted--and that most definitely includes Portland.

Urban renewal, by the way, in most cases is less an economic development tool than a locational development tool, i.e., a tool designed to restore blighted areas and, in effect, dedicate future property tax revenue for reinvestment in that area rather than simply placed into the common pool for general uses.

A critic of how this operates in practice, which is primarily what Dave Lister offered, is fair game and I wasn't really responding to his critique in my comment under his column.

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