Today’s central topic was that of urban renewal, specifically in relation to Portland’s own agency, the Portland Development Commission, or PDC. We discussed whether urban renewal truly is beneficial to a community. After a mere matter of minutes, it became apparent that there is no one clear answer, as different people have different perspectives on whether changing a neighborhood is mostly beneficial or harmful. While an entrepreneur seeking a place to house their business may experience quite positive effects, as they receive funding from commissions such as the PDC and grow their business, a low-income family might be unable to pay their increased rent, and must therefore move to a less desirable neighborhood where rents are more affordable. Additionally, we saw that often these new businesses going in are not for the existing community, but are rather there to service those on the outside. Expensive boutiques and dining options in neighborhoods formerly deemed “struggling” clearly are not within the reach of the existing, primarily low-income residents. On the flip side, new money coming in does make neighborhoods safer, as well as providing funds to improve schools, for example. However, if we circle back to the idea of gentrification discussed earlier, we see that this improvement does not necessarily benefit the original residents. So, we are not left with a definitive answer, but instead a realization of the complexity of urban renewal; it is not a question of whether it is good or bad, beneficial or harmful, but who it benefits and why, and if these gains outweigh the drawbacks, or if we need to reevaluate our seemingly good intentions.
Our morning activity involved the viewing and discussion of a documentary on Portland’s unique approach to land management and planning. Produced by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the video went through the history and methods of urban planning in Oregon before addressing the pros and cons of its practice today. Our subsequent discussion was primarily focused on the difficulties strict land-use policies pose to developers and rural citizens and the justification of imposing these hardships.
In the afternoon, we were fortunate enough to meet with an urban planner associated with the Portland Development Commission, Lew Bowers, and talk to him about the future of Portland’s growth. This involved both bringing larger companies to the city and encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors. After Mr. Bower’s presentation, we asked question related to the Commission’s agenda and the problems addressed in our morning film.