A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Documentary Screening: [The Other] Portland: Quest for the Livable City

Here's something for your calendars:

This documentary is one of a series from Making Sense of Place Films, which has been airing on public television stations nationwide, and is coming to Maine thanks to the local office of the Trust for Public Land. Watch a preview here.

Conventional wisdom considers the other Portland to be one of the nation's most "livable" cities, but, as someone who lived there for five years and did quite a lot of work related to its land-use planning laws, I can personally attest to a lot of issues with the city and how it's run. The urban growth boundary preserves farmland outside of the city limits, but it also makes homes in the city less affordable, and it draws a literal boundary between "the city" and "nature" - two things which should not be segregated, in my opinion.

For most of the past decade, Oregon has also had terrible economic problems - Portland's unemployment rate is currently second only to Detroit among major metropolitan areas - and terrible partisan gridlock in its state legislature. These problems are not entirely unrelated to the state's land use laws, which are extremely politically divisive and haven't been substantively updated to reflect the state's economic transformations in the past 30 years.

After my time in Portland, Oregon, I spent a year in Houston, Texas - a city with very few land-use laws and a lot less natural beauty. Nevertheless, in Houston, I could find a rewarding job, live in an affordable apartment in a walkable in-town neighborhood, and go out to eat several times a week at cheap, delicious restaurants operated by the city's diverse hordes of immigrant entrepreneurs. By most measures that really matter, Houston was more livable.

Anyhow, I've been invited to comment on the film and the other Portland in a panel discussion after the screening, along with other planners and elected officials from the region. I hope to see you there!

No comments: