Challenges we must meet

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Professor Myron Orfield speak at Portland State University’s “What’s the Big Idea?” Lecture Series, co-sponsored by Coalition for a Livable Future.   Professor Orfield teaches at the University of Minnesota and was a former Minnesota State Legislator.

Professor Orfield titled his talk “Creating Successful Communities: Sharing the Benefits and Burdens of a Growing Region.”  He spoke about all of the many things Portland has done well, from an urban planning perspective – our success with an urban growth boundary, controlling sprawl, concentrating housing and jobs in the inner city and along transit lines. He repeatedly called Portland an urban planners “utopia.”  This is high praise indeed – and it’s true, Portland has done a good job of all of these things.  We have created and have to date maintained a successful urban growth boundary.  We’ve worked to build mass-transit options, and we’ve built in-fill housing and even managed to place a significant percentage of our affordable housing in the urban center and on transit lines.

Unfortunately, Portland isn’t a utopia for too many of our citizens.  We have a shortage of safe, decent affordable housing and increasingly, communities of color and poor communities are being pushed away from jobs and transportation options in search of affordable places to live.   Professor Orfield demonstrated this last problem in particular – providing data on the significant increase over the past few years of minority students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunches in suburban schools.  The increase has been fast and significant, and is likely to continue.

While Portland faces many challenges, creating opportunity for all of its citizens is a critical one we must choose to address.  Fortunately, there are ways we can address this challenge.

Myron Orfield spoke about one solution we have talked a lot about in recent years. We can address this challenge in part by increasing the supply of affordable housing across the metro area.  Increasing the supply of affordable housing throughout Portland will ensure families have more choices about where to live – and where to send their children to school.  Housing is needed near transit lines, employment centers and schools throughout the region.

He also spoke about a policy I haven’t thought much about, but which I would love to explore further. He argues that we can also address this challenge by considering changes to our school districts and enrollment policies.  Other municipalities such as Louisville, Kentucky and Raleigh, North Carolina have made improvements to ensure integrated schools.  These changes address both racial and economic integration and have increased access to opportunity for children while stabilizing neighborhoods.

Its time to move forward in creating opportunity for all Oregonians.

Read the Oregonian’s article about Professor Orfield’s visit to Portland.

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