Meet Eric Engstrom, BPS’s new interim director

News Article
On May 15, Eric Engstrom officially took the reigns as the interim director of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS).

With a career spanning nearly three decades here at the City of Portland, Engstrom has seen and experienced many changes. Now in his new role, he’s poised to lead the bureau through its biggest change yet: the transition to a commission form of government.

Prepared for change

headshot of Eric Engstrom
Interim BPS Director Eric Engstrom

Thriving through change is nothing new for newly minted BPS Interim Director Eric Engstrom. For more than a decade, BPS has been a model of synergistic efforts, starting with the merger of two major policy areas: land use planning and sustainability. So, with the entire city facing a radical change in governance, Engstrom isn’t fazed.

“It’s not my first rodeo,” he quipped. “This is just one of many organizational changes I’ve been through working for the City. BPS has critically important work to implement and run and we have a great team to make sure that happens, even through moments of significant change.”

Portland proud

Born in Pennsylvania and raised in the rural wine country southwest of Portland, Engstrom attended Evergreen College and got his master’s in urban planning from Portland State University. He went to work for the City of Portland in 1996, starting in the Bureau of Transportation, eventually moving through several teams and bureaus as respective administrations made changes to the structures and functions across the City. Eventually, Engstrom landed in the Bureau of Planning just before the merger with the Office of Sustainable Development and has been a key player in the bureau’s success since.

As a principal planner he oversaw the development of The Portland Plan, an impressive amount of work and one in which Engstrom was able to combine his professional expertise with his passion for the City of Roses. Along the way, he led the West Hayden Island annexation project and other area and environmental planning efforts, capping his land use planning career with the adoption of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan in 2015, which laid a strong foundation for Portland’s infill policies.

After leading policy reform, Eric turned his attention to zoning reform leading important foundational efforts such as mixed-use and institutional zoning, transit-oriented development regulations for northwest Portland, and the West Portland Town Center area plan.

Since then, Engstrom has taken on other roles in the bureau, including deputy director, leading budgeting, operations, human resources, communications, and technology services. In 2022, he led the merger of BPS and the Office for Community Technology.

Throughout his 28-year career at the City of Portland, Engstrom has maintained flexibility and professional excellence — two skills that will serve him, the City and the community well during the transition.

Team leader

And so his distinguished career has led him to his newest role, interim BPS director, replacing Donnie Oliveira, who was tapped by Commissioner Rubio to lead the new Community and Economic Development Service Area as Deputy City Administrator.

“Now I’m wearing two hats because we don’t have a deputy director,” Engstrom mused. “But BPS has a great leadership team to keep everything running. And our internal services teams are also stepping up.”

While Engstrom has been repeatedly placed in leadership roles on big projects, “Often the team is doing most of the work,” he says. “Having a solid team of managers is critical, and BPS has no shortage of them.”

Engstrom notes that the presence of the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF) and absorption of the Office of Community Technology (OCT) has changed the bureau over the last several years, diversifying funding and giving the bureau a bigger role in helping the City meet its goals.

“As the services in our bureau have increased, so has our role in the City’s overall priorities,” he says. “From homelessness to livability and from community safety to economic prosperity, BPS teams play a critical role in improving the lives and lived experiences of Portlanders.” 

To name just a few examples, under Engstrom and Oliveira’s leadership:

  • The Smart City PDX team has been front and center in data management efforts, creating dashboards to support homeless service agencies and increase transparency.
  • The Planning team has updated the zoning code to allow outdoor shelters like the Safe Rest Villages and other shelter facilities.
  • The Solid Waste and Recycling team successfully implemented and increased both the public trash can and graffiti programs.
  • The Climate Team launched the Clean Industry Initiative to co-create pathways for circular industrial practices that can reduce waste, improve air quality, and develop inclusive economic opportunities for Portlanders who live on the frontlines of climate change.
  • The PCEF team has implemented the inaugural Climate Investment Plan, investing historic amounts into projects that increase resilience, improve livability, and create economic opportunity for frontline communities and positively impact all Portlanders.

Looking forward, leading the way

Across the vast expanse of change and time during Engstrom’s tenure, he’s played an important role in keeping projects, services, and plans moving along regardless of any change. His colleagues credit that to his flexibility and describe him as cool under pressure, unshakeable, forward thinking and the go-to person when you need something done. As Oliveira wrote in an email announcing Engstrom’s new role, “I have no doubt that Eric is the right leader at this time of change.”

All of us here at BPS couldn’t agree more and are grateful to have Engstrom and his steadfast leadership pointing the way.