Authors: Carl Abbott
Fannie Mae Foundation

Portland, Oregon is often cited as an example of successful regional governance and planning. The metropolitan area appears to match many of the precepts of the popular "compact city" model of urban growth and to also demonstrate the capacity of local and state government to shape growing metropolitan regions. Given this reputation, it is important to evaluate the relevance of the Portland experience for other communities, distinguishing unique local circumstances from generalizable characteristics. This analysis explores the spatial character of metropolitan Portland in the 1990s, summarizes the politics of regional planning, examines weaknesses in the Portland approach, and offers suggestions for other metropolitan areas. The study finds that many of Portland's accomplishments center on urban design, but that the region's most distinguishing characteristic is its attention to political process. The discussion concludes with suggestions about the value of extensive civic discourse, incremental policy making, and institution building.

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