Smarter Zoning. We’re going to have to actively plan for more residential density, and then implement those plans immediately. That means taller buildings, and more mixed use, across Portland and throughout the region. A good example is the Forest Avenue dust-up around a new drug store, well-described by Greg Kesich in the PPH, which leaves an obvious question unanswered. If there’s been a plan to build up Forest Ave. on a shelf in City Hall for four years, why didn’t someone change the zoning to implement the plan for more housing and denser development, with no more strip mall-like buildings? Heck, where was the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce? Or the Council? Or anyone? Nowhere. And so old zoning controls tomorrow’s land use, and opportunities are lost.
Better Transit. Workforce housing needs access to the workplace without the absolute necessity of a car. While we’ve seen recent improvements in our transit system, it still needs a major upgrade to support regular commuting for middle class workers. That means more frequent, more accessible transit options, including more busses, shuttles and even possibly trollies. Not everyone will be able to live on the Portland peninsula. Connecting denser housing opportunities with jobs around the region is essential.
Regional approaches. Where people live, and how they get to work, are regional questions that demand regional approaches. Workforce housing zones ought to be integrated across the region so transit strategies can be implemented side by side with denser residential developments. Regional housing and transit plans ought to be implemented by all our local governments together, not piecemeal in a town-by-town mosaic. It’s a perfect approach to a difficult set of issues. And we need it now.
One other thing we’ll need to make affordable workforce housing a reality. Public buy-in. Effective action will change the region. More people for new jobs. More traffic and old communities shifting under the energy of new arrivals. That can add up to a great future for us and our kids – it can also add up to real conflict if we don’t engage the entire region so we all own the outcomes.
Housing is today’s buzz … but the real challenge is defining our future and owning the changes that result.