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The Portland Edge in Context
Heike Mayer and John Provo
Portland is known as the "Capital of Good Planning" (Abbott 2000). For many urban planners the region has been the poster child for regional planning, growth management, and other innovative urban planning policies. While the following chapters examine a variety of issue areas in which the Portland region has gained this reputation, this chapter provides a broad context for that discussion. We begin by describing the region's demographic and economic landscapes as well as the evolution of some key policies dealing with urban and regional planning. We provide some comparative statistics on metropolitan Portland and a number of similarly sized regions across the United States. We conclude by highlighting key challenges facing the region.
The Portland, Oregon-Vancouver, Washington, Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area is 30 miles north of the 45th parallel and roughly on a line with Augusta, Maine, and Fargo, North Dakota. Surrounded by high mountains at the northern end of Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley, the region's temperate climate provides mild temperatures all year with a famously wet winter and a wonderfully dry summer. Spectacular mountain views abound throughout the region and inspire a connection with a rich outdoor culture that offers boundless opportunities to kayak, camp, hike, fish, and hunt.
Portland is also known for vibrant, diverse neighborhoods that cluster around commercially active neighborhood streets like Hawthorne Boulevard, Belmont Avenue, and Northwest 23rd. The city has an excellent transportation system that is anchored by extensive regional bus, light rail, and streetcar systems. These networks support transit-oriented developments like Orenco Station in the region's western suburbs and the trendy Pearl District, formerly a warehouse district adjacent to downtown that is now home to condominiums, restaurants, and specialty shops.
Portland residents and visitors alike spend hours at Powell's City of Books, the nation's largest independent bookstore. They can drink a pint at one of the region's many microbrewery pubs or drive just outside of the city for a pinot noir tasting at a world-class winery.
Things Look Different Here
Looking at the Portland metropolitan region through consumer marketing data and quality-of-life rankings in the popular press suggests that things really do look different here. Portlanders are more likely to spend their time and money on active outdoor recreation than observing team sporting events. They read more and they watch cable television less than folks in most places. The region ranks seventh in U.S. cities in newspaper circulation and it ranks third—after Seattle and San Francisco—in the absolute number of coffee shops (Cortright 2002). Travel and Leisure magazine ranked Portland high in safety, cleanliness, proximity to nature, and "getting around" in March 2003. In fact, getting around in Portland by foot is so much easier than in other U.S. cities that the American Podiatric Medical Association ranked Portland among the nation's best cities for those who love to walk. Other magazines and organizations rank Portland as the top market for wireless technology, as the leader for constructing ecoroofs, as one of the most literate cities, and as one of the least expensive cities on the West Coast to live (Portland Development Commission 2003). The cumulative impact of such accolades is apparent. In September 2003, Harris Poll ranked Portland number eight before Seattle and Denver as a place where most people want to live. Echoing this result was Money magazine ranking of Portland among the best places to live in the nation, second to New York City. For all that they do tell, these rankings offer only one kind of story about the Portland region. Data like these do not reveal much about the people who live in the city and how they make urban life work. In this chapter we present a thumbnail sketch of the region that goes beyond the questions in magazines.
The historic pace of Portland's growth has been described as temperate—more the tortoise than the hare (Abbott 2002). However, over the last three decades, the Portland region's population has grown larger and more diverse. The six-county metropolitan area counted a total population of 1,918,009 people in 2000. From 1990 to 2000, the region's population grew by 402,557 people, a 26.5% increase. The population almost doubled since the 1970s and as a metropolitan statistical area it ranks 23rd among all U.S. metropolitan areas. The Portland-Vancouver Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA) includes six counties. Five counties are in Oregon and one county (Clark County) is in the state of Washington.
At the center of the region is Multnomah County, home to the City of Portland and accounting for 660,486 residents in the 2000 census (see Table 1.1). The surrounding counties of Columbia and Yamhill make up the rural fringe of the PMSA, while Clackamas and Washington counties include both rapidly urbanizing suburban rings around Portland and large swaths of rural areas outside of the urban growth boundary. Of the six counties, Clark County, across the Columbia River in Washington State, has seen the highest percentage change in population growth between 1990 and 2000, at 45%.
Portland population growth has been primarily attributed to the region's economic success, especially in the 1990s. According to the 1998 Oregon Employment Department's In-Migration Survey, approximately 33% of the survey respondents reported coming from California (Oregon Employment Department 1999). In particular, the young, single, and college educated were attracted to the region. According to a census report, the Portland PMSA ranked fifth behind Naples, Las Vegas, Charlotte, and Atlanta in attracting the young, single, and college educated between 1995 and 2000 (Franklin 2003). The report also found that this demographic group is more likely to settle in central cities than in suburbs or nonmetropolitan areas. In the Portland metropolitan region the central county, Multnomah County, experienced the greatest influx of young people (see Fig. 1.1.) The "young and restless" still flock to Portland even though the region experiences high unemployment. In contrast with the invitation issued in the 1970s by Oregon Governor Tom McCall "to visit but don't stay," Governor Kulongoski quipped that today's new residents were welcome but should bring a big savings account and a picnic basket (Wentz 2004).
In 2000, the largest ethnic minority group in the Portland metropolitan area was the Hispanic or Latino group, which accounted for 7.4% of the total population. The Asian/Pacific Islander population in the region accounted for 6.2%. Other ethnic groups have a rather small presence. The 2000 census reported that the region's population included 3.4% African Americans and 1.9% American Indians. These figures represent a sharp increase, with the total nonwhite and Hispanic population almost doubling from 11% in 1990 to 19.5% in 2000. This was driven by the dramatic and largely suburban phenomenon of growth in the Hispanic population, which increased its share by 4.5% between 1990 and 2000.
In general, the region's poverty rates follow national trends, with rates across the metropolitan area increasing from 1980 until a period of decrease from 1993 to 1996. Since 1997, however, poverty rates in the region have increased while national figures show decreases. The latest data on poverty from the census indicate that poverty rates in the region as a whole have risen, from 9.2% in 1997 to 9.5% in 2000. Increasing suburban poverty has contributed to this change. In Multnomah County, which includes most of the City of Portland, the poverty rate has dropped from 13.6% in 1997 to 12.7% in 2000, while Washington County's poverty rate has risen from 7.1% in 1995 to 7.4% in 2000. Poverty rates decreased in Yamhill County (11.2% in 1995, 9.2% in 2000) and in Clark County, Washington (9.3% in 1995, 9.1% in 2000).
The Portland metropolitan economy has grown rapidly over the last decade. Underlying this growth has been a structural transformation of the region's economic drivers with the most striking change being the emergence of high technology firms. The region's economic history began with its success in trading natural resource products. Portland's proximity to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean was pivotal in its role as a trading gateway to the rest of the world (Abbott 1983). The region exported grain, lumber, and wood products. Consequently, the necessary infrastructure—grain elevators, wholesale operations, and warehouses—was set up in close proximity to the ports and the railroad. All this economic activity took place near Portland's downtown, and from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century the suburban counties in the region were part of the agricultural hinterland. In the latter part of the twentieth century, suburbanization and growth in the high technology industry changed the role of these suburban counties and most of them are now not only residential but also have a large share of the region's traded-sector industry clusters, networks of export-oriented firms and their specialized suppliers.
About 16% of the region's 1.2 million workers are employed in traded-sector industry clusters that include agriculture and forestry; metals, machinery, and transportation equipment; high technology; nursery stock; wood and paper products; and creative services (see Table 1.2). Even though there is only one company, Nike, that belongs to the Fortune 500 group, the list of export-oriented firms that call the region their home looks quite impressive: DaimlerChrysler's Freightliner manufactures trucks, Tektronix produces measurement equipment, Intel develops and manufactures high-end semiconductors, Adidas America and Nike are in the sports apparel markets, and Wieden & Kennedy produces TV commercials and advertising campaigns for companies like Nike, AOL, and Coca-Cola.
Portland's economic geography displays some distinct patterns. Most of the service- oriented firms, such as public relations companies, multimedia firms, insurance brokers, and banks, have their offices in the central city. High technology industry, in contrast, is concentrated in suburban Washington County. The nursery industry takes advantage of the availability of agricultural lands protected from development and locates at the edge of the urbanized region just outside of the urban growth boundary.
The region's traded-sector industry clusters benefit from geographic conditions and historical accidents. The nursery industry, for example, draws on the availability of fertile soil, relatively cheap agricultural land, and an urban transportation infrastructure. It also benefits from Oregon's mild climate with its wet winters and dry summers. The apparel industry can trace its history back to Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, whose athletic activities began in the Oregon college town of Eugene where he ran track and field for the University of Oregon. Adidas America was later drawn to the region mainly because of the availability of specialized labor in the sports apparel market. The metals, machinery, and transportation equipment industries have their roots in the shipyards here during World War II. Employment in this industry peaked in 1944 when more than 115,000 worked for the shipyards (Abbott 1983). And the high technology industry traces its roots to 1946 when two local engineers founded Tektronix to make electronic measurement instruments (Lee 1986).
Common to all of these industry clusters is that they are more innovative and knowledge-intensive today than they were just a couple of decades ago. In that time the economy in the Portland region transitioned from a natural resource-oriented economy to one that is knowledge based. One key measure of knowledge creation is patent registration activity. By this measure the Portland region has been highly innovative over the last decades. While patent activity from 1975 to 1999 in the United States grew annually by 2%, patents in Portland were registered at an annual growth rate of 6% during the same period. The large high technology corporations such as Intel and Tektronix have been the most prolific patent holders. However, other sectors of the region's economy have adopted innovative products and production processes as well. The region's nursery industry, a national leader in the field, for example, relies on sophisticated marketing and merchandising techniques to increase sales of their products, which are different from traditional agricultural goods such as potatoes and grain.
The Portland region flourished economically in the 1990s, driven by export-oriented manufacturing. By 2000, about 12% of the region's total workforce was employed in manufacturing industries. Between 1990 and 2000, the six-county metropolitan area added 22,871 manufacturing jobs. This growth is remarkable because during the period most regions in the United States posted a loss in manufacturing employment due to the migration of these jobs overseas.
These manufacturing gains centered on the high technology industry. Echoing other high technology regions, the area branded itself with the name "Silicon Forest" in the 1980s. Tektronix sowed the seeds for the growth of this Silicon Forest in the late 1940s. The company grew quickly and became the world's leader in oscilloscope manufacturing. At its peak in the mid-1980s, Tektronix employed 15,000 people in the Portland region and 24,000 worldwide. In late 1976, Intel set up its first branch plant in Washington County. Intel chose Portland because of the availability of cheap water and electricity and a less competitive environment for attracting talented employees as well as lower costs of living compared to Silicon Valley. The region never had a world-class research university, the commonly presumed prerequisite for high technology development. However, Intel and Tektronix compensated for this lack by functioning as "surrogate universities" (Mayer 2003). With Intel's move to the region, a host of supporting firms, suppliers and subcontractors, and competitors discovered the Portland location. Over time, a complex and innovative industrial cluster evolved that today benefits from close proximity to demanding customers such as Intel. Talented employees were attracted to the region because of the opportunities the high technology industry could offer and the high quality of life.
For the most part, the aforementioned industry clusters evolved without receiving much strategic attention from economic developers. Economic development policy has been characterized by a supply-side approach. During the region's high technology boom in the 1980s and 1990s, local and state leaders used tax measures to influence economic development. During the mid-1980s, the state repealed the unitary tax and during the 1990s instituted a tax break program—the Strategic Investment Program—for capital-intensive industries such as semiconductor manufacturing. Most of the jurisdictions in the region have economic development plans but a regional consensus on where the economy should head in the future has yet to emerge. Regional discussions about economic development mainly revolve around issues related to the availability of industrial land and the ability to grow knowledge-based industries. The latter has become a discussion topic because business, higher education, and economic development leaders are realizing the role higher education institutions can play in economic development.
Historian Kimbark MacColl (1979), chronicling Portland in the first half of the twentieth century, described an unambiguously conservative civic landscape. This was expressed in rural values, a belief in the sacred nature of private property, a deep-seated Anglo-Saxon bias, and an overriding desire for stability in the neighborhoods (see Chap. 5, Johnson). This was perhaps at odds with Portland's reputation as a wide-open port town, where sailors were warned against the risks of involuntary impressments through a series of "shanghai tunnels" along the waterfront red light district (Lansing 2003).
Excerpted from The Portland Edge by Connie P. Ozawa. Copyright © 2004 Portland State University. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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