Let's protect our county's neighborhoods
Clackamas County is a beautiful part of the Oregon we all cherish. Whether we walk, bike or drive around the urban areas of the county we can find beautiful neighborhoods that have lush yards and an abundance of trees. Many suburban neighborhoods date back to the early 1900s, and are rich in history. The fabric of a community includes history, the multigenerational families and those local citizens that help build relationships in a neighborhood.
Clackamas County is a mixture of suburban and rural, with urban cities and corridors filled with a typical mix of commercial businesses. The Metro 2040 plan however has more metropolitan designs in store for our region, including Clackamas County. We have many examples of that unfolding in Portland, much to the dismay of neighborhoods coping with outcomes not of their liking nor expectation. The "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) reaction, known as nimbyism is occurring all around Portland as a result of all the development. In Clackamas County, we also have neighborhoods that are coping with unwanted development.
Development comes in many forms, good and not so good. Development often spurs increases in assessed value, but rapid gentrification causes alarm. The awakening that many in Portland realize is that their beautiful neighborhoods, especially suburban, are threatened with higher-density metropolitan structures. Concerns then arise as homes are torn down, especially in well-established neighborhoods, particularly to make way for higher-density multistory development. When long-established businesses are faced with higher rents, they are edged out as land values rise. When businesses are lost, so go the paychecks, often to local residents who find themselves suddenly unemployed. These newer buildings command higher rents, and many native to the area find themselves amongst strangers, sandwiched between tall buildings, with hardly any surroundings that resemble the community they once knew. Some can afford to stay in the community, others cannot.
Of course some planning wonks will tell you this is the new norm, but not everyone can afford it or like it. Many feel that the quality-of-life changes are dramatic when the Oregon experience is transformed into a metropolitan reality that few longtime Oregonians are willing to accept.
This new wave of transformation has also created community activists who are finding themselves embroiled in land-use and zoning regulations. These active citizens are discovering that their local city or county elected leaders are in charge of those land-use regulations they believe are working against them. They do not like the results, nor do they want their community ripped apart by gentrification pressures as they watch their friends and neighbors economically forced out to other areas. This economic forcing-out is called "displacement," and the lack of affordability begs the question: Who is best served when suburban areas are transformed into high-density metropolitan centers?
While there are those that can afford the change and choose to live in that setting, others move farther out, to other suburban or rural areas, and some move well outside the metro area. I for one recognize that high-density developments are here, with more on the way; the question is where. Downtown areas of cities are better suited for higher density; it is when neighborhoods are targeted for redevelopment that legitimate concerns arise.
There are communities, however, that have chosen to stay and fight for their quality of life, their piece of the American Dream, their community and the neighbors they enjoy. They chose to live in their neighborhoods, their cozy communities where neighbors watch out for each other and where their kids can safely play in the yard.
As a county resident and Clackamas County commissioner, I am often asking local citizens, especially those who live in areas targeted for high-density metropolitan development pressure, "Do you want your community to be suburban or metropolitan?"
My involvement over the last 20 years began when I became active in my local community issues. Since then I have strongly encouraged community involvement. Without your voice and the voices of your neighbors, your local government elected leaders will assume their plans are your plans.
In the coming weeks and months I will be out speaking to local community organizations and hosting discussions on this very topic, stay tuned.
For more information or to get engaged, feel free to contact me at 503-312-1379
Paul Savas is a Clackamas County commissioner. Savas recently announced that he will be running for a third term in the 2018 election.