Scrapping plans to develop West Hayden Island shows Portland’s lack of leadership


Tom ChamberlainBy Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president

Livability has been a buzz word of the last two decades. The ability to encourage and accommodate various forms of transportation defines a city: buses, light rail, cars and bikes. Maintaining green space, while encouraging development that increases population density, has put Portland on the map as a premier city. Magazines rank cities by activities, museums, public art, and great schools. Locally, Portlandia, Grimm and various movies and television programs have increased our national profile and increased the city’s reputation as a great place to live, raise your family and retire.

People are moving to Portland.  A recent report found that in 2013 more people moved to Oregon than any other state. Those new Oregonians’ final destination more often than not is the Portland Metro area.  By 2060, the Portland Metro area population is projected to double.  In just 46 years the population in the Portland area will be equivalent to Oregon’s current population of 3.9 million.

With two rail lines, one on each side of the Columbia, a deep-water port, and two freeways, Portland is often the gateway to Oregon, and, more importantly, Oregon’s economy.

Oftentimes the City of Portland is so focused on improving Portland’s national reputation that it forgets its responsibility to plan and grow our region, state and northwest economy.  We claim rightfully deserved victories as small high tech firms move to the Pearl District. But those small wins are not enough to grow a middle class economy.  Portland’s ability to create and maintain a thriving middle class is tied to its history as a manufacturing city. Portland makes things — from streetcars to trucks, medical equipment to microchips, solar panels, and aviation parts.   Most folks would be surprised to find that Portland is Ford’s only West Coast export facility to Asian markets.

Meeting the challenges of a region that will see its population double in the next half-century will require long term planning and leadership:

  • Leadership that understands that the gentrification of Portland’s intercity neighborhoods has forced communities of color and the working poor into the only affordable housing that is left — east of 82nd Avenue, far from services and jobs;
  • Leadership that understands that a middle class job is the answer to the low-income housing shortage and the path to a quality education system;
  • Leadership that knows a job decreases the crime rate, and increases revenue for the state and city.

We cannot answer Portland’s, Oregon’s or this country’s problems until we increase employment, and grow high-wage jobs.

Portland’s lack of leadership was never as apparent as in its recent inability to find reasonable solutions to the development of West Hayden Island after years of work. For decades this area has been identified as industrial land earmarked for Port expansion. It is the only site that the Port of Portland can develop as a new deep-water facility. The construction of the facility would employ hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers, while the facility would employ 400 longshoremen and others, not to mention jobs created for truckers, railroad workers, and service sector workers.

The expansion of the Port would not only add jobs but give farmers and manufacturers access to a port that keeps up with their expanding needs.

A good job is the real key to livability. Portland lacks the leadership to continue our race to be the most livable city in the country.

Yes, we have great parks, locally-made streetcars, and a wonderful view of mountains and rivers and of the city itself. But without long-term planning for the creation of middle-class jobs, we are creating a city where working people have poverty with a view.

That just doesn’t work for our side.


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