Portland had many lessons for Mayor Goldring. Two million bus riders and an 80% voter turn out impressed him

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON June 13, 2011 – The Mayor spent three days in Portland, Oregon last week and came back with a briefcase full of literature and a notebook filled with thoughts and ideas to follow up on.

“Portland is a much more different city than Burlington but I wanted to meet people there because they have a transit system that works and works well and they have an approach to solving their problems that made a lot of sense to me’, was his opening comment during our interview..

Burlington Mayor Rock Goldring with Portland Mayor Sam Adams.  Like minds meeting each other.

Burlington Mayor Rock Goldring with Portland Mayor Sam Adams. Like minds meeting each other.

Goldring met with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and with the Mayor of that city as well as the Portland Bureau of Transportation later in the same day. He also met with the Neighborhood Involvement groups and then with Portland’s BEST Business Centre (our BEDC) and then First Stop Portland

“They have their share of challenges” said Goldring “but what impressed me was the way they solve their problems – and he added “they run that city with a Council of five members.”

There was one statistic that really threw Goldring and that was their election turn out. In the United States voters first register, sort of the way we get our names on the voters list except that in Ontario the names of property owners are placed on the list automatically.

In Portland there is no list that is automatically created. Your name is on the voters list because you did something to put it there. In Portland – 80% of those whose names are on that voters list turn out to vote. Goldring came close to drooling when he quoted that statistic.

It isn’t exactly the view of Burlington from the Skyway bridge.  Tgis is downtown Portland Oregon where our Mayor went to exchange views and approacheds to developing a sustainable city.

It isn’t exactly the view of Burlington from the Skyway bridge. Tgis is downtown Portland Oregon where our Mayor went to exchange views and approacheds to developing a sustainable city.

What worked most for the Mayor was the way the Portland city administration and the elected Council in Portland managed to put a “different lenses” on things that came up for discussion. “They consistently look at things differently. When a problem crops up they go out of their way to look at it differently – they would put a different lens on their camera and try to see things differently and not get trapped in older, less successful ways of resolving problems.”

Portland has 95 neighbourhoods that are very well organized, explained the Mayor. “The city is a very ‘grass roots’ community with the neighbourhoods organized into seven coalitions that are strong forces within the community and are not only heard at Council but listened to as well. The neighbourhoods are engaged.”

Portland has 2 million transit passengers that use a system that has all the technology in place to tell people when the next bus is coming – real time. There is no traffic congestion in Portland. There is a fare free zone in the downtown core. Their downtown is vibrant with a Pioneer Square that is heavily programmed by the city with an amphitheatre and a speakers corner. They have bike lanes as well as lanes for people who use roller blades.

Portland is a sustainable city which is a large part of the reason the Mayor stopped off for three days on his way back from a short vacation and a family wedding in Vancouver.

“Portland does not have the challenge that Burlington faces – which is the need to retrofit suburbia’ explained Goldring. “That city is made up of clearly defined neighbourhoods that live up to the 20 minute rule – getting to whatever you need in 20 minutes. It is also a much more diverse community 26.9% of the population is described as diverse – Burlington has some distance to go on that level.

Portland wasn’t always a healthy city. In the 70’s their downtown core was decaying badly and the neighbourhoods were not as clearly defined and didn’t have as much of a voice at city hall. Portland is a city with basically three parts. S solid downtown core with healthy neighbourhoods on either side of a river that cuts through the city. But ti works because they changed the way the approached their problems.

There was a statement in one of the Portland publications that seemed to sum up everything the Mayor brought back from his visit. Expect him to read this out frequently as he goes about the city talking to different groups.

The remarks were made by a member of one of Portland’s city commissioner’s and an announced candidate for Mayor of Portland in their 2012 election. “Other cities build landmarks to put their city on the map, Portland builds them to make life better for those who live in the city. Other cities use transit primarily to alleviate traffic congestion. Portland uses transit primarily to support neighbourhood street life.”

Had Burlington decided that landmarks didn’t do much for a city in the late 90’s, we might not have the mess that exists along the waterfront. The structure that has been approved at the bottom of Elizabeth at Lakeshore, that is now stalled because the developer hasn’t found the right hotel partner yet, was to be the “landmark” that would put the city on the map.

At a Waterfront Advisory meeting last week, committee member Michael O’Sullivan passed around a copy of a 1994 – yes 1994, seventeen years ago, newspaper article of a development that was going to transform that part of the city. So far they haven’t even begun to dig the hole in the ground. All we have is a motel that is a disgrace to look at and probably needs a visit from the health department.

Staff` at city hall talked of a Mayor who had returned from Portland “buzzed and really pumped up” over what he had seen and heard. Expect to hear more form him.

“I basically ran out of time. There were other people I would have liked to have met with but – I had to get back to Burlington.”




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