Twenty years ago, I don’t think anybody could have anticipated the degree to which Portland would grow and thrive, that we’d have so many people moving here, bringing increased diversity, energy and new businesses.
In the next 20 years, roughly 200,000 more people will have moved to Portland – for jobs and lifestyle choices, because of climate change. And that raises the question: How will all of us get around? What kind of transit systems will be in place?
The Green Loop will be a 21st-century answer to that question: how our community works, how it thrives, how we move through our city … to jobs, schools, activities and back home – as well as for recreation and fun.
Bringing us together
I’m eager to help develop an active transportation system that orients to the Willamette River. For so long it has divided our community into East and West. But now, with the Central City 2035 Plan, we have a concept for a linear park around the river that will connect us with the landscape, the community and each other.
People may think of the Green Loop as an infrastructure program, but it’s much more than that. It’s a new way to experience the Central City without a car. It’s about bringing people together around a safe, inclusive, attractive, dedicated pathway for walking, biking, rolling and strolling all around the Central City.
The heart of the city
It’s deliberate where the Green Loop is located; the Central City has the region’s largest concentration of housing, jobs and cultural attractions, as well as social services for those in need. By placing this community asset squarely in the heart of the city, we ensure that the greatest number of residents, workers, students and visitors will be able to enjoy it. And our most vulnerable community members will have a safe way to get home, access healthcare or go to a new job.
But this is not an either/or proposition. We can – and should – make similar investments in other parts of Portland, particularly East Portland, where so many community members, particularly communities of color, have suffered from lack of public dollars and civic attention.
The Lents Green Ring is what I would call a sister project to the Green Loop in the Lents neighborhood. The City has partnered with community organizers and supports the planning efforts for this new community asset in East Portland, which will connect to the Green Loop via a network of greenways and help us meet health, resiliency and prosperity objectives.
Present vs future investments
The investments we make today in the Green Loop will be relatively small and incremental, but they’ll pay in spades down the road. The economic multiplier effect of this visionary initiative – the value it will bring to neighborhoods all over the city, the degree to which it makes our community more attractive to innovation and technology companies – will bring huge economic benefits for the entire community and region.
But any time we consider new public development, large or small, we need to think first: How will people who are affected by that development benefit from it? Does it improve the space in which they live, make it more livable? Does the project help connect them to the kinds of services, jobs and institutions that make their lives and their community more robust?
Nobody wants to live in a city without access to open space or active transportation, and Portland has a long tradition of commitment to both. With no more room for additional streets and cars in the Central City, we can repurpose existing rights-of-way to create a new way to get to work, a quiet place to eat lunch or a spot to meet friends. The Loop also provides an affordable way to access regional and cultural attractions like the Portland Art Museum, PSU, OMSI, the Oregon Convention Center and Moda Center.
The City of Portland is advancing in many exciting ways. People are moving here from all over the country, all over the world. In part because of the speed at which our economy is developing and the relatively lower housing costs. They also like our access to arts, culture, music and good food, and all the things that come with living in Portland, Oregon.
But as our city grows, we will be challenged to continue to keep that small, livable feel. We will need to keep innovating to meet our climate action and equity goals. The Green Loop addresses these issues by creating a walkable, bikeable and safe community asset. I think this is exactly the kind of big vision that Portlanders can get behind.
As with any big vision, there will be challenges; nothing this important ever comes easily. But other communities around the country and around the world are already doing this: New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, even Denver is getting ahead of us on this one.
I think the Green Loop will bring us together as a community. If there’s one thing we need in America today, perhaps more than anything else, it’s figuring out how to close our computers, put our phones down, turn off the Facebook and Twitter, and get out into the community and meet each other again. And that’s maybe my greatest hope for the Green Loop. I think it’s going to make us a community again.
Mayor Ted Wheeler