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Making Sense of Place: A History of Smart Growth, Conservation, and Controversy in Portland

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We recently spent three class periods watching the documentary Making Sense of Place – Portland: Quest for the Livable City. The film detailed Portland’s system of urban planning, the history of the urban growth boundary, and the function of our Metro government. We learned that the urban growth boundary was instituted with the passage of state Senate Bill 100 in 1973, and Metro, a tri-county regional government that now regulates that boundary, was established shortly afterward. We came to appreciate how unique the Portland metro area is in its approach to planning. Few cities pay such close attention to the type of growth they want to see, nor is livability often such a high priority as it is here. The film touted the Portland’s planning as the force that shaped a city that people want to live in, with efficient public transportation, pedestrian-friendly multi-use neighborhoods, abundant green space, and well-preserved nearby farmland. It also described some of the contention around the ballot measures 37 and 49, illustrating the discontent some people have with the urban growth boundary and Metro’s system. Although proponents enjoy the healthy lifestyles and environmental benefits that dense urban planning encourages, others think Portland’s growth is too controlled. Some people feel that what happens to property should be up to owners’ judgment, not to the city. As enlightening as the film was, we did want to see more perspectives from people in lower income brackets who suffer from the high housing prices that have accompanied Portland’s urban planning. Almost no minorities appeared in the documentary, and its message was almost overwhelmingly positive. Overall, Making Sense of Place gave us a better understanding of how Metro and urban planning works, but left it in our hands to dig for a deeper sense of balance.

If you want to learn more, here are some links worth visiting:

http://www.lincolninst.edu/subcenters/making-sense-of-place/portland/ (information about the film)

http://www.metro-region.org/ (Metro's website)