Thursday, January 6, 2011

things look different here: metro's new president is a real bootstrap kinda guy

(Thanks to Jonathan Maus of for bringing this to my attention.)

This week, lots of newly elected officials took their oaths of office and settled into their new seats in municipal, regional, state and federal government offices across the country. Here in Cascadia, The new president of the Metro Council (one of the first regional governments in the country, with an emphasis on land-use planning and management) is one Tom Hughes, former mayor of Hillsboro, Oregon and a strong supporter of business growth.

Much of the gist of his opening address can be found here:

For those with short-attention span this morning, I'd highlight just two things:

“We are the descendents of pioneers. We can grab ourselves by our bootstraps and make this region a better and more prosperous place,” Hughes said. “I believe that, I think you believe that and that’s the message we’re going to deliver to one and all as we go forward.”

Really? Mr. Hughes, with this unfortunate remark, really displayed some serious ignorance. We should all remember that not all of us are the descendants of pioneers. Some of us are descended from indentured servants or slaves. Some of us are descended from people who didn't worship the same God, or worship God in the same way as the majority group. In all of these cases, we're talking about people who didn't get a lot of shoe leather to work with in the first place. Any of them who managed to succeed anyway were often the subject of scorn and derision even after they pulled themselves up by whatever means were available to them.

The history of Oregon -- and of Portland in particular -- is a history of laws passed and/or gentlemens' agreements made over drinks and behind closed doors to help ensure that the children of slaves and servants would have a tough time making Oregon their home. Anyone who knows the history of redlining in Northeast Portland, or who is living in a neighborhood where little government aid trickles in and the homes and schools are ratty and crumbling, knows what I'm talking about.

Mr. Hughes goes on to insist that the CRC -- the Columbia River Crossing project which aroused so much anger with its original 12-lane design -- is a MUST:

“The CRC has to move forward, and we have to show progress in that this year if we’re going to hope to have, anywhere in the foreseeable future, an end to that gridlock that is rapidly causing our opportunities in Rivergate and the Port of Portland to disappear,” Hughes said.

When you talk about opportunities in this context, you are not talking about a good balance between growth and public safety, between growth and livability, between growth and sustainability. You are pretty much just talking about growth, and whatever cost is paid on an individual or collective human scale is of little consequence.

Don't believe me? Watch what happens if the CRC behemoth is approved and built. Within a year or two of its completion, every one of those ten to twelve lanes will be jammed full of cars and nothing will have been done to address the new gridlock -- and sprawl -- that will surely result. Kids will have a harder time walking or biking to school safely in the neighborhoods closest to a 12-lane bridge. The elderly will have a harder time safely accessing services within reasonable distance of their homes, and as a result they will lose their independence and freedom of movement sooner than before.

If you build a 12-lane bridge you will have to expand and enlarge the freeways that feed it, and I suspect that this has been the unspoken part of the plan all along. Expanded freeways -- and the growth in consumerism-based commerce that they will bring about -- will do nothing to improve the true, long-term quality of life in our city or our region. But those expanded freeways are coming and those of us who care about sustainability will be pretty much powerless to stop it. We are witnessing the beginning of a sea-change as regards transportation, infrastructure planning and growth; and we should all be prepared to see some of Portland's "smart growth" policies slow to a halt, at least for awhile. The pendulum swings both ways, after all.

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