It was great to see so many new faces at last night’s River Terrace open house.   The project is beginning to take shape, and over the coming months, it’s essential that Tigard decision-makers and interested citizens understand the opportunities and challenges ahead.   I spent a little time last night sharing some ideas from this quarter’s Oregon Humanities magazine essay by Brian Doyle, about the suburbs.   Mr. Doyle’s essay is the fifth one down at this webpage, and the other stories from the issue are worth reading as well http://oregonhumanities.org/magazine/fall-winter-2013-features/

My remarks from last night are below.   Thanks for stopping by!

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The fall/winter issue of Oregon Humanities Magazine is all about Cities.   The issue this month includes an essay by Brian Doyle, one of the editors, about the suburbs.  Carol Krager, our Deputy City Recorder, sent it to me.

“Why do we sneer at suburbs?” Mr. Doyle asks.   “Why do so many films and novels generally portray them as soulless, colorless, bland prisons for mindless automatons?”   (He’s talking about you guys, you know?  And me too!)

Mr. Doyle’s essay is in fact, a defense of the suburbs – home to 122 million Americans in 2010 – three times the number of people who live in urban cities.

His list of suburban virtues is appealing:  More animals and plants.  100 people in his one-block circumference, including teachers, coaches and attorneys.   Enough density to feel safe, without feeling overwhelmed.  Easy access to the big city, and to thickets and farms.  Some privacy, but not isolation.

It is this neither/nor quality that the best suburbs have, that make them so successful.  Like gardens, says Doyle (quoting Michal Pollan), which are “not farms, not wild growth, but a sort of negotiation with plants, in which we provide labor and they provide food or managed beauty.”

Our job, all of our jobs, in RT, is to get to that state of “managed beauty.” Yes, it’s like gardening.  Because not all suburban neighborhoods achieve this neither/nor balance.  As you look at the slides behind me, and as you think about your own neighborhood, you can ask yourself – do these environments balance our needs for privacy and neighborliness?  Are they natural enough to invite wildlife, but domesticated enough to let the animals know that they’re just visitors?  Do they feel safe?  That’s always a balance of just enough eyes around.  Not too many, and not too few.

Not all suburbs achieve this in-between state.  I would say that many fail.  In Tigard, we have suburban neighborhoods of many types, and some achieve this balance better than others.  On that, you are more expert than me.

In River Terrace, we have the unique opportunity to get it right-right from the start.   All we’re doing in this project is trying to learn from our past – from the construction of neighborhoods in Tigard and elsewhere, that have supported people in their lives, and which have frustrated people in their lives.

There are no easy solutions.  If it were possible to build enough road capacity to eliminate congestion (which it isn’t), then no one would ever dare trying to cross the giant streets with speeding cars on foot.   But If we ignore the car as the still-principal mode of transportation, then we might as well just replant the fields and start growing crops again.  No roads, no cars.  No cars, no development.

And that wouldn’t be good for Tigard.  In September, the National Association of Home Builders published their model results from an examination of the one-year metro area impacts of building 100 single family homes.  That construction, according to the study, brings more than $20 million in income to the regional economy, along with $4.6 million in taxes and government revenue, and more than 300 jobs.   That’s just from the construction.  There are ongoing economic benefits as well, resulting from the occupancy of those new homes.   In RT, some of these dollars will flow into the City, and then out again in the form of public goods and services for all Tigard citizens.

But it won’t happen without infrastructure.  And infrastructure won’t happen without public investment and solid working partnerships with land owners, home builders, and nearby neighbors.   Or I should say, it won’t happen well.   We have far, far too many examples of where development has happened, but not happened well.

Thank you for coming tonight to help us do this job well.   River Terrace can teach us a lot about who we are as a city.  It can be a place to learn how to make the best kind of suburban neighborhood.  It can even be a place where those of us who live and work elsewhere in Tigard, go:  to eat, to stroll or to visit with friends.

Part of our responsibility, as citizens and public officials, is to work with the way things are, and not as we’d wish them to be.  Tigard is growing because the region is growing.  Just today our Community Development Department is preparing for about a half dozen preapplication conferences for subdivisions that will likely be built next summer, all over town.   The region has averaged almost 1000 building permits a month in 2013 – a level not seen since 2009.

This is good news!  When you’re gardening – growth is what you want.    Please enjoy yourselves tonight, and thank you again for helping us shape the future of Tigard.