Storm damage recovery

How can Portland work toward a thriving recovery from COVID-19?

News Article
Screenshot of Zoom call participants
Outcomes of the second Thriving Cities Initiative workshop focused on the concept of using Doughnut Economics to create a thriving city, even amidst a global crisis.

In March 2020, COVID-19 stopped the pilot program just before delivering the second TCI workshop in Portland. Unfortunately, the impact of the pandemic has been far greater than we expected, disrupting all parts of society and exacerbating multiple other crises, including climate change, racial inequities, and an economic meltdown. So, it's even more evident that a participatory process for cities to transition to safer, more equitable, resilient and sustainable communities is necessary.

To sustain the TCI momentum during the pandemic, the City of Portland hosted an interactive online workshop on Sept. 17, 2020, to explore how Portland could integrate the Doughnut Economics framework and become a thriving city in the wake of current crises.

Representatives from a variety of City bureaus gathered together to strengthen mutual connections, reflect on the impacts of the current crises, and envision the way forward. Participants were introduced to the City Portrait and used it to consider how the City can re-think and reform its economic recovery strategy and policy development to ensure they improve equity and foster sustainable living for all. 

The online session consisted of three parts:

Part 1: Introducing the City Portrait and its holistic thinking.
Participants from various City offices were introduced to the Thriving City concept and the City Portrait with an introductory video.

Part 2: Understanding the current state of the city through the City Portrait; its ecological and social, local and global lenses.
A guided activity increased understanding of the current crisis (health, economic, social, ecological) as well as the City Portrait and its four interconnected lenses. Participants explored the synergies and dynamics of the city in the local and global context.

Part 3: Reflecting on practical steps toward a green and just recovery.
Participants discussed the foundations needed to support a thriving recovery. Ideas, values and practical actions were shared, which will inform the City’s recovery efforts and who it needs to work with.

Diagram of the parts of the online session

Outcomes: Practical steps toward a green and just recovery

Participants worked in four groups, each one focusing on a different aspect of the City’s COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts. Working independently, the groups explored new insights and thinking that could be brought to a particular recovery strategy, sharing their findings with the whole plenary session. Interestingly, there were a number of common insights among the groups:

Common themes

  • Equity-focused support for communities that have the least and are most vulnerable to the many consequences of the pandemic. Targeted support for BIPOC communities through the recovery strategy was emphasized as a crucial component of a green and just recovery.
  • Green local businesses to boost the local economy, while reducing environmental damage created by globalized supply chains. Many of the groups identified the opportunity to support sustainable businesses and initiatives through Portland’s COVID-19 recovery strategy. 
  • Cross-bureau collaboration as a key to tackling citywide challenges. Participatory governance with communities and businesses is critical to grow industries in a way that meets the needs of the community and supports a green and just recovery.
  • Citywide performance measures designed to reflect the holistic nature (citywide and cross-bureau) of the current challenges that Portland is facing.

Insights per group

During the online session, each group discussed Portland’s COVID recovery strategy in relation to one of four core themes, including practical steps to realize a green and just recovery. Key insights from each group included:

Group 1: Economic Recovery – Small Business Support

Mix of people sitting on benches outside of Posie's Cafe in N Portland with bikes parked along the street

Economic recovery lies at the center of a green and just recovery for Portland. Participants noted that the City is still primarily in response mode to the economic impacts of COVID-19, prioritizing immediate relief for individuals and businesses that are most impacted by using a racial equity lens. City staff are working with businesses and industry groups to understand their needs and develop long-term recovery strategies.

The group discussed opportunities to strengthen the green economy and create shared economic prosperity by expanding apprenticeships, training, and re-skilling programs for jobs in green local businesses. Participants agreed that collaboration is vital to ensure economic recovery strategies address the needs of local communities and industry, as well as building capacity to implement the ideas that come out of collaboration. What’s more, designing a limited number of targeted performance indicators with community input can communicate progress on community priorities and help decision-makers create thriving recovery strategies.

Group 2: Housing and Household Stability

Streetscape showing a house with mixed-use buildings in background

The pandemic has emphasized the need for housing and household stability in Portland. The group acknowledged the importance of providing additional housing units to increase household stability throughout the city, as well as the possible environmental footprint of such activities.

Conversations highlighted possible tensions between the pursuit of green practices (which could potentially be more expensive in the short term) and the affordability and quality of housing units in Portland. Yet, there is an opportunity to support the creation of more affordable, smaller rental units, which use less material and energy than larger units. And to ensure benefits are equitable, it's important to provide support for smaller landlords and developers to increase the pool of BIPOC landlords in Portland.

Group 3: Safe Streets Initiative

View of S Park Blocks with many tall green trees on left, cars parked along the street in the middle, and brick building on right

The Safe Streets Initiative was implemented as an emergency response to the pandemic. So far it has provided a more livable environment, both ecologically and socially, by allowing more space in the streets for businesses to operate and for biking and walking.

The group discussed how the Safe Streets Initiative presents an opportunity to reimagine the use of the city’s streets for a more thriving future. For example, more streets could be dedicated to providing social services. Participants discussed how the City could utilize existing forums to engage with community on future opportunities, as well as to understand and identify relevant metrics and benchmarks to define success of the initiative.

Group 4: Sustainable Consumption

Person applying compost from a small bag into a raised bed with plants growing

A number of Portland’s COVID-recovery strategies have focused on the digital divide and sustainable consumption strategies, such as providing laptops and technology kits to households, and promoting repair and reuse.

The group focused on food access and local production, including opportunities to support local businesses and communities to produce more seasonal and local food, including  training to local community-owned collaboratives. To address rising food insecurity, it's crucial to center disadvantaged communities, such as BIPOC groups, through financial support. The group noted the importance of supporting the local economy while reducing consumption-based carbon emissions. 

Participating organizations

The following departments and organizations participated:

  • Portland Housing Bureau
  • Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
  • Bureau of Development Services
  • Bureau of Transportation
  • City Budget Office
  • Mayor's Office
  • Office of Management and Finance
  • Prosper Portland
  • Bureau of Emergency Management
  • Office of Equity & Human Rights


Eden Dabbs

City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

Kyle Diesner

Climate Policy Analyst