Still, the growth boundary has not changed the basic pattern of development.
Housing, stores, and employment have developed mostly in separate zones. As
they have, people have been driving more; total miles driven in the Portland
area jumped 55 percent during the 1980s. A regional air-pollution
problem attributable to motor-vehicle
exhaust is in the making.
Potential solutions are being debated and also enacted. Many planners believe
that if a number of sizable mixed-use centers, incorporating offices, stores,
housing, and parks, are built—dense, walkable, and connected to public
transit—people will have more choices of how to get around and the region can remain compact. Construction will start next spring on a second segment of light-rail transit, a twelve-mile
line from downtown Portland to the western suburb of Beaverton. Whether and how
to organize development more densely along the current and future MAX routes is
now the subject of much talk.
The high public costs that result from a conventional, dispersed style of
development may become crucial to the unfolding debate. Many states, counties,
and municipalities can no longer afford an ever more extensive network of
roads, bridges, utilities. Tom Walsh, the general manager of Tri-Met,
estimates that it would cost $100,000 per household to build all the
infrastructure that has been proposed to continue the Portland area's current
somewhat disconnected form of development. If a more tight-knit
form of metropolitan development would cut the cost substantially and offer
benefits as well, the Portland area might move toward it.
But persuasion will be required. Charles Hales, who was the governmental-affairs
director of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland before he
resigned to run for Portland city commissioner, says, "The power base of a
suburb is single-family
homeowners." These people typically want to live in homogeneous, entirely
residential neighborhoods even if they "have to drive everywhere to do
everything." Much suburban development continues to take the form of sprawling
office parks, which are at odds with the notion of a compact region.
The stakes for the downtown and the city are high. When metropolitan areas grow
in a conventional manner, the cities typically become burdened with extensive
blighted areas, sometimes including the central business district, sometimes
not. Portland officials believe that if the downtown and the city are to
thrive, 20 percent of the region's job and population growth must take place in
Portland may well depart from the American norm in metropolitan growth. The
sense of common purpose, the easy communication among the area's leaders, and
the longstanding conviction that Oregonians should conserve the good life, even
at the sacrifice of some self-interest,
point toward an outcome at variance with that in Los Angeles and most other
American cities. In his wooded office park near an interchange of the Sunset
Highway, Richard Porn, a local developer, told me that a large number of
complicated issues will have to be worked out, but concluded with a judgment
that nearly everyone in this soft, green region appears to share: "If any place
has a chance to do things differently and get it right, Portland is it."