Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Failed Plans in Portland

Judging by the number of tributes to Portland, Oregon on the City of Madison website, it appears Mayor Dave Cieslewicz simply adores their municipal planners and lusts after implementing those left coast ideas here in the Midwest. Whether the idea is streetcars or urban rail or biking or green energy, if Portland does it, then Madison should too. This much love tends to blind the infatuated to the flaws of the desired so it is worth keeping an eye on what the locals have to say about themselves.

Commuter Conundrum: Metro, the regional government charged with managing growth in most of the tricounty area, is trying to make commutes such as Durgan’s less necessary. Its 2040 Concept calls for new development to occur in clusters that include housing and employment. The plan relies on a simple but radical new way of thinking about congestion: Instead of building or widening roads to reduce bottlenecks, why not also bring destinations closer together?

Fighting a losing battle. The Metro approach is based in part on a 1991 state regulation called the Transportation Planning Rule, according to Sy Adler, a Portland State University urban studies professor. That rule requires urban areas to reduce the number of miles traveled by the average resident by 20 percent over time. “Metro has embraced the rule with both arms,” Adler said.

While he likes the idea of compact urban areas, Burton said the notion of living near where you work has limits. “It’s a little too simplistic to think that’s going to solve things,” he said. “I think these ideas were built on the concept of what a city was in the ’60s, ’50s and ’40s.” Today, he added, “People change jobs, what, seven times in their lives?”

Indeed, data from WorkSource Oregon, the official name of the state employment department, show that despite the agency’s efforts to curb sprawl, people like Loftus may remain in the minority. “People decide where they want to live based on their values, where their friends live, where they go to church. Then they figure out how to get to work,” Durgan said.

Indeed, the New Urbanist ideal of loud and crowded living guiding the City of Madison Comprehensive Plan is simply not being embraced by the free citizens of Oregon.