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Making 'Vision PDX' Into A Reality

At the same time that Portlanders are coming to grips with Mayor Tom Potter's announcement that he's not running for re-election, his pet project is at a turning point. His “Vision PDX”  sought out as many Portlanders as possible to help guide the city's growth for the next 20 years or more.

The effort fell far short of Potter's enormous outreach goals. But the results seemed to suggest a consensus of sorts around some core values.

Translating those values into actions could prove troublesome, though, as Rob Manning reports.

Tom Potter campaigned for mayor in 2004 on a platform of re-engaging the city with its citizens. His clearest attempt at doing that, has been the outreach and planning effort called “Vision PDX.” In his State of the City address more than a year and a half ago, Mayor Potter set an ambitious goal.

Tom Potter: “When I say that I want to hear the voices of 100,000 Portlanders in this process over the next year, even my own staff gets a little nervous.”

100,000 people is more than all the men, women, and children living in the city of Beaverton. Vision PDX fell at least 80,000 people short of that goal, but Potter says he has no regrets.

Tom Potter:  “When I said that I wanted 100,000 Portlanders engaged, I meant that.”

Vision PDX gathered 13,000 questionnaires. Several thousand more people attended meetings. But Potter says who  responded  was at least as important as the numbers.

At the Vision board's last meeting,  members reflected on the two-year effort.

Pietro Ferrari of the Hacienda Community Development Corporation represented the Latino community.

Pietro Ferrari: “I want to thank you, Mayor, for putting together this whole process, even though it was two years in the making but I appreciate the sense of community. This gave us the opportunity to come together, to be heard, especially voices that are not normally part of the process.”

Vision PDX involved non-profits, rather than  consultants, to scour the city for diverse opinions. For instance, city staffer, Cassie Cohen, followed the non-profit, Girls Incorporated, to a juvenile detention center.

Cassie Cohen: “From the perspective of being young and wanting, more maybe after-school activities, or better schools, so it was unique to them, but as with all of the other groups we talked to, there were many, many common themes, which was kind of neat, because that's where you can find you can move to action.”

Cohen says the girls' input provided support for at least one of Mayor Potter's short-term action steps: making it easier for adults to help kids.

Tom Potter: “I am asking our Bureau of Human Resources to change the rules, how employees can volunteer, and I'm going to give the opportunity for every city employee to volunteer four hours a month."

But translating input into action has had its problems. Board members found demographic gaps in the surveys, last summer, and changed course, as a result.

Data entry and analysis took longer than expected. And, Vision PDX project manager, Stephanie Stephens the project meant investing time in relationships as well as gathering feedback.

Stephanie Stephens: “Because we worked with underrepresented groups, it's important to be able to go back and say 'is this what you said?'. 'No?' OK, then revise it, because if you don't, then they don't feel they have ownership of the product.”

Stephens says some of the priorities from minority groups were familiar - like education and accessible health care. But she says above all, people want to be heard.

Mayor Potter says he'll spend his last sixteen months in office following through on the Vision PDX  recommendations. But he says the twenty-year future that it's intended to guide will depend in large part, on the city's planning office.

Tom Potter: “We want to turn it into a long-term strategic vision for the City of Portland, and we're calling it the Portland Plan.”

The man who coined the term “Portland Plan” is the city's planning director, Gil Kelly. He says Vision PDX may  result in an overhaul of how the city does business.

Gil Kelly: “Because that is the future face of Portland, in many ways, and it's sort of having the effect of radicalizing the planning process and the planning bureau. We have to sustain that effort.”

Vision PDX staffers say that city planners and Portlanders already agree on the problems: like global warming and growth, for instance. But when it comes to particular actions, Kelly's job doesn't get any easier.

A recent telephone survey found opinions split on whether to allow taller buildings for instance in order to  battle sprawl. Kelly's not surprised.

Gil Kelly: “Those are the kinds of specifics we'll be testing in the next phase, by putting some choices out, so people can tell us what makes the difference for them.”

City commissioners are expected to approve short-term steps on Wednesday. The longer term “Portland Plan” won't lead to specific policies, until 2009.

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