Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Some Civic Brainstorming

On September 28th, 2002 The Oregonian published an essay by Carl Abbott, a well-known PSU Professor. Here is a snippet:

Portland could build stronger connections with the lower Columbia and the northwest quadrant of the state. Tillamook, Astoria, Hood River, Redmond and Portland all share a common market for many goods and services, ranging from fresh food to medical specialists.

Voters in this larger area are often in tune with those in Clackamas and Washington counties, and sometimes even Multnomah County. Let's think of a regional economy where these smaller cities develop specialized manufacturing and services that dovetail with the metropolitan core.

As a way to kick-start this process, let's return the Columbia River to its natural role as a unifier by redrawing state boundaries.

Why not pretend we're Bob Whitsitt and pull a three-way trade? Give the Idaho panhandle to Washington (and unite Pullman with Moscow, Lewiston with Clarkston). Compensate Idaho with the Snake River counties of Oregon (Malheur, Baker, Wallowa, Union) and shift Washington's Skamania, Clark, Cowlitz, Wakiakum, and Pacific counties into Oregon. With this new map, we might leapfrog the fruitless debate about port investments in Astoria versus Portland by creating a unified Port of Portland-Longview to better satisfy environmental and economic needs.

I salute Professor Abbott's creative ideas! He closed his essay with:

As much as I value Portland's history, we need some civic brainstorming. We can't rely on a reputation forever. It's time to extend the legacy of the past 30 years with a new generation of creative ideas.... Who'll be the first?

A sidebar indicated HOW TO RESPOND. I wrote a response, limited to 500 words. It finally appeared as an on-line Guest Commentary, on October 28th, 2002. Carl & I corresponded a little on this — the more ideas the better he said. Here is an un-edited snippet of my 4-year old response to the above:

We need a new pattern language in order to express our unique Northwest culture. We suffer daily from jurisdictional confusion and inefficiencies — fighting fires and building byways across arbitrary straight state and county lines. Portland is surrounded by four contending counties complicating the simplest planning efforts, perhaps the worst such situation in the Northwest.

Why not do away with states and counties altogether, instead of trading counties between states? We are the Northwest, a region of distinct rural, marine and urban areas. For example, we have the Columbia Gorge, the Cascades, and Willamette Valley rural areas. The Puget Sound islands make up a marine area. We have the Portland-Vancouver urban area.

Urban areas are, in turn, constellations of towns, towns have communities, communities have villages, and so on, down to the grass roots of home and business.

Why not morph our man-made mess into a natural pattern of geography and demography? We should re-organize all appropriate systems (schools, libraries, courts, emergency services, transportation, and so on) along these geographic scales, from the local watch group to the regional or national level.

End of what I wrote in 2002. Carl threw out a number of whacky ideas in that essay — buying a University from Russia and putting it in the Hayden Meadows shopping complex. He was really "mixing it" up!