Winter 2019

Greetings from the Publisher, Winter 2019

Welcome back to Metroscape!

What makes a city livable? In this issue, author Liza Morehead highlights changes afoot in riverfront parks along the Columbia, Willamette, and Sandy Rivers. In September 2018, the City of Vancouver opened Waterfront Park on the Columbia River, part of a high-density, mixeduse urban redevelopment project. At thirty-two acres, Waterfront Park is a small part of the more than 736 acres of riverfront parkland in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Clark counties. Activating riverfront spaces is essential for improving the region’s livability.

Our cover story looks at Hillsboro, Sandy, and other municipalities investing in broadband internet to improve internet accessibility. Data from the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) show that, although more than three-quarters of Americans have internet access, accessibility is lower for older individuals, persons of color, and individuals of lower socioeconomic status. For example, just 52 percent of individuals residing in households earning less than $25,000 have internet access. Eavan Moore raises an important policy question: are local governments ready to institutionalize the internet as a public utility?

This issue’s Atlas illustrates how light imaging, detection, and ranging— “LiDAR” for short—is an essential form of mapping technology. As Justin Sherrill explains, LiDAR data are being used to advance climate change research, study and predict landslides, and measure and assess the health of urban tree canopies across the region.

In an interview with several farmers from Gales Creek, Oregon, a small hamlet in rural Washington County, Nathan Williams explores land-use, zoning, and economic issues critical for farmland preservation. As local journalist and interviewee Chas Hundley notes, “in order to afford working on the land, you also have to have a day job.”

Living adjacent to the Cascadia Subduction Zone means we are at increased risk for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, lahars, and other natural hazards. Portland State planning students Sabina Roan and Jaye Cromwell explore how local emergency management officials are integrating equity into disaster preparedness planning.

Finally, we explore the local dynamics of life expectancy. Between 1990 and 2016, life expectancy increased by more than three years in Oregon (76.3 to 79.5 years) and Washington (76.8 to 80.2 years), according to an April 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As always, if you have ideas or comments about issues that you’d like us to explore or how we can better serve our regional partners, reach out to us at Many thanks!

Jason R. Jurjevich, Jason R. Jurjevich, Acting Director Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies

Equity in Emergency Management

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and many other surrounding cities, killing over 1,800 people, displacing more than one million, and causing immeasurable property damage. (1) The magnitude of destruction and the disproportionate effects on people of color, people with low incomes, and those with physical or mental disabilities attracted global attention to the disaster. These groups were systemically unprepared to withstand the disaster, and their communities suffered the most loss and received the least emergency support. (2) The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local emergency management entities received sharp national criticism for their failure to plan for the needs of people with systemic barriers and for their slow response to resource requests. (3)

In the decade following Hurricane Katrina, advocates fighting for the rights of people with disabilities changed the field of emergency management. Their pressure on FEMA led to the establishment of legal and planning precedents to include the needs of the whole community in emergency management.(4) There is now a national, legal requirement to plan for people with disabilities and access and functional needs. Despite this important victory for people with disabilities, there have been no direct legal or policy actions that address the disproportionate response along racial and socio-economic lines. (5)

The theory of social equity has its roots in social justice, health care, and education. (6) The fields of urban and regional planning and community development have begun to integrate these theories into their work, but progress has been confined to pockets of change in grassroots organizations and within departments in regional and local governments. The Portland metropolitan region is an exception—in the last eight years, equity has become an institutionalized planning principle within much of the City of Portland and Multnomah County. (7)

There is still limited understanding of equity among people who work in emergency management at the local, regional, and national levels. There is particular confusion about how planning for equity differs from FEMA’s requirement for planning for people who have disabilities or access and function – al needs. Hesitancy by emergency manage – ment professionals to address equity in their work may be linked to the lack of a clear definition of equity, an uneasy understanding of how to incorporate equity into on-theground programs, and the militaristic ethos of the field of emergency management.

Failing to address equity has serious consequences; the needs of the most vulnerable people may be unmet if those people do not fit into FEMA’s definition of people with disabilities and access and functional needs. The projected increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters means this situation is becoming dire. Fully integrating equity planning principles into all phases of emergency management will help emergency managers better understand the needs of the whole community and how to create pro – grams, policies, and procedures that fulfill those needs.

In this article, we synthesize current discussions of equity to create a working definition. We go on to discuss why equity is difficult to incorporate into emergency management, and how it is different from FEMA’s definition of access and functional needs. We discuss why equity principles should be incorporated in all aspects of emergency management planning. Lastly, we use the example of the Community Emergency Response Team effort in Portland, locally named Neighborhood Emergency Teams, to demonstrate successes and gaps in integrating equity into local emergency management.

Defining Equity

The vision of social equity as the best way to incorporate a community’s needs into decision making has gained broader acceptance across the nation in the last eight years, including in the Portland Metro region. Despite growing attention on the topic, there is no single, clear definition of equity to work from. We believe this is partly because of the community-specific and subject specific nature of equity, and partly because the theory evolved from grassroots efforts, instead of from top-down, coordinated national policy.

In our attempt to give a working definition of equity, we synthesized concepts from literature in the social justice, health, education, and planning fields; equity frameworks and policy documents from the city of Portland and Multnomah County; presentations from the 2018 PolicyLink Equity Summit in Chicago; and interviews with academics and regional professionals working in the field of emergency management. Our key understandings are that equity is:

1) Both a process and an outcome. Equity is a way for people to be involved in deciding what they need to achieve, as well as the determined outcomes, whether those out – comes are support, resources, or decision making control.

2) Enriched by people. The slogan “nothing about us without us,” championed by American disability advocates in the 1990s, encapsulates how those with pertinent experience need to be valued as experts.

3) Different than equality. Equality focuses on equal access to resources. Equity focuses on creating a process that ensures everyone gets what they need to achieve the stated outcome.

4) Community and place specific. An equity approach considers the demographic make – up of the community as well as the physical attributes of an area.

5) Composed of structural and physical elements. An equity approach strives to address all barriers that a person or community might face, from structural and institutional racism to physical infrastructure.

6) Confusing by nature. There is no universal way to “achieve equity,” because its success is based on the outcomes of specific communities, the involvement of people within those communities, and the specific barriers they face.

Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and former director of PolicyLink, a national think tank for equity policy, describes how their organization defined equity at their start.

“We saw equity as the antidote to structural racism and social and economic disparities across the nation….Equity is different from the formal legal equality conferred by landmark laws such as the Civil Rights Act. Equality gives everyone the right to ride on the bus, in any seat they choose. Equity ensures there are bus lines where people need them so they can get to school or the doctor or work…. It means policies that dismantle destructive barriers to economic inclusion and civic participation, and build healthy communities of opportunity for all.” (8)

Blackwell highlights a significant piece of equity: that an equity approach is key to addressing structural racism and economic disparities. This concept is important in emergency management, because the field is inextricably intertwined with systemic issues faced by communities across the country. In the example of Hurricane Katrina, the hurricane exposed the racial and economic inequities already present in the city, from the racialized opportunity structure that favored white people’s access to education and high paying jobs to prioritizing maintenance and upgrades of roads in upper class, white neighborhoods, to the racial disparity between homeowners and renters, which affected people’s ability to rebuild their lives in their own communities. (9)

Just as understanding of the definition of equity varies, concepts of what equity looks like when operationalized vary. The City of Portland and Multnomah County, whose jurisdictions and operations often over – lap, each have a department that monitors equity and develops equity policy. Because the departments are separate, their work may not sync. This problem is amplified within emergency management when FEMA requirements that tie emergency management entities to disability-specific language do not match language used by county and city jurisdictions that are also held to local equity standards. In the next section we look more in depth at some of the barriers to incorporating equity into emergency management.

Barriers to Incorporating Equity in Emergency Management

Incorporating equity into emergency management is difficult for several reasons. One of the most impactful is that the grassroots development of social equity theory, and its requirement of a collaborative, community-based structure to implement solutions does not integrate well with the militaristic background, ethos, and structure of FEMA. FEMA was created in 1970 to centralize emergency response efforts and improve coordination of responders. (10) In the wake of 9/11, the newly created Department of Homeland Security absorbed FEMA, where it is currently housed along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service. Because of its beginnings as a relief agency, FEMA traditionally concentrated on post-disaster aid and resource dispersal.

The primary goal in emergency management plans, policies, and procedures is to ensure life safety, and FEMA relies upon hierarchy and standardized coordination through systems like the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to ensure that all emergencies are handled in the same way. Because of this hierarchy, emergency management does not appear to immediately mesh well with a community and collaboration-based equity approach.

Disability-Focused Definition of Equity

Another challenge is that FEMA has not yet broadly embraced the term equity, and uses, instead, disability-centric language, such as the term “people with disabilities and access and functional needs.” FEMA describes addressing access and functional needs as “including individuals who need assistance due to any condition (temporary or permanent) that limits their ability to take action.” (11) The term was developed to address the whole community by shifting from a “list-based” understanding of people’s needs, where emergency managers made a list of disabilities based on their own knowledge, to a “function-based” approach to planning for disability, which looks at what people need to accomplish functions like walking, eating, and getting from one place to another.

While the focus on people with disabilities and access and functional needs does place people’s needs at the center of disaster planning, it does not address race as a systemic barrier that impacts every aspect of a person’s life. A comprehensive equity approach accounts for barriers on all levels, individual, institutional, and systemic. Planning for equity means also addressing structural racism and intergenerational poverty.

Broadening Equity Considerations

The realities of more frequent and more intense natural disasters, along with high profile emergency management shortcomings, such as in the case of Hurricane Katrina, have now brought urgency and diversity into the field. Professions not previously involved in emergency management, such as urban planning, community development, and education have started to consider the need for an emergency management plan. Schools and office buildings now have active-shooter protocols, and senior care facilities and hospitals are legally required to have emergency response plans.

The broadening of emergency management elevates the question: when recovering from disasters, what are we recovering to? The traditional model of emergency management is complicated by the consideration of diverse needs and the realization that re-establishing pre-disaster norms often perpetuates inequities. Examination of what we are recovering to suggests that emergency managers need to do more to build resiliency within communities. A national focus on cultivating equity in emergency management programs could help communities recover to something better than they were before.

Sabina Roan is a student in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University. Her hometown is Los Angeles, where she spent four years working in transportation and land use planning. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography from Magill University in Montreal, Canada.

Originally from the US Midwest, Jaye Cromwell holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Community Development from the University of Oregon and is a current student in the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University.

1. CNN Library, “Hurricane Katrina Statistics Fast Facts” (August 2018), us/hurricane-katrina-statistics-fast-facts/index.html.

2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, “Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin, Greater Impact: How Disasters Affect People of Low Socioeconomic Status” (July 2017); Kristen Lavelle, “Hurricane Katrina: The Race and Class Debate,” Monthly Review (July 2006); National Council on Disability, “The Impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on People with Disabilities: A Look Back and Remaining Challenges” (Washington, DC: 2006),

3. PBS NewsHour, “FEMA Faces Intense Scrutiny” (September 2005),

4. Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Planning for the Whole Community” (Presentation, April 2001),

5. Harry Jones, “Equity in Development: Why It Is Important and How to Achieve It” (London, UK: Overseas Development Institute, November 2009),

6. Website of the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, “Mission,” index.php/about-pids.

7. Website of the Multnomah County Office of Diversity and Equity, “Workforce Equity Strategic Plan,”; Website of the City of Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights, “Our Mission Statement,”

8. Angela Glover Blackwell, “Equity is…” PolicyLink (blog), October 5, 2016,

9. John Powell, “New Orleans Opportunity Mapping: An Analytical Tool to Aid in Redevelopment” (The Kir – win Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, 2015), NOLAOppMapping.pdf; Lisa K. Bates, “Post-Katrina Housing: Problems, Policies, and Prospects for African Americans in New Orleans,” The Black Scholar 36, no. 4 (2006), 13–31.

10. The website of Technical Response Planning, “The Evolution of Emergency Management and Disaster Response” (December 2, 2013),

11. The website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Lesson 1: Introduction and Course Overview,” IS-0368—Including People with Disabilities and Others with Access and Functional Needs in Disaster Operations, https://emilms.

12., “Community Emergency Response Team,” Community Emergency Teams, https://www.ready. gov/community-emergency-response-team.

13. Website of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, “Portland NET Program Dashboard” (November 2018),

14. US Census Bureau, 2012–2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Retrieved from American FactFinder, xhtml?pid=ACS_16_5YR_B03002&prodType=table; US Census Bureau, 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Retrieved from Census Reporter, portland-or/

Geography in Laser-light: Using Lidar to Map the Metroscape

Chances are that at some point in your life, without even knowing it, you’ve been hit by a laser. It may have been mounted on an airplane, helicopter, or even a satellite. Your dwelling, your car or bike, perhaps even your pet may have also been hit. The fact that you’re still here to tell the tale is because the laser used was far too weak to damage you and was part of a system known as light imaging, detection, and ranging—“lidar” for short.

Whether orbiting the earth, circling the skies right above us, or just trundling down a road in the back of a pickup truck, lidar equipment has been put to use by engineers and scientists (and sometimes even artists) for projects ranging from the mundane to the monumental. Like almost all technologies, it’s hard to keep pace with the rate of improvements and changes to lidar, but every increase in its fidelity allows our region to know more about our resources, risks, and opportunities.

Figure 1. Source: BLM, Esri, DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Earthstar Geographics, CNES/Airbus DS, USDA, USGS, AeroGRID, IGN, and the GIS User Community

This issue of the Periodic Atlas will look at the rising prominence and capabilities of lidar, and how local researchers are using the technology to change the way we see, measure, and manage our region (figure 1).

Figure 2. A 3D rendering of a lidar point cloud, here looking at the western end of the Marquam Bridge. Flat surfaces such as roadway and rooftops are rendered in red, while likely tree locations are in green.

First developed in the 1960s in conjunction with the invention of the laser, lidar is an active sensing system that functions on the same principle as its cousins, sonar and radar, firing a pulse of energy in the form of radar waves, sound, or light, and measuring the time it takes to bounce back. If you know the speed of that pulse of energy, then measuring the time it took to bounce back to you will give you the distance to your target of interest.

In lidar’s case, a laser operating in the infrared, visible, or ultraviolet spectrum is fired at the target. (In reality, thousands of beams are pulsed at the target.) A sensor unit mounted with the laser detects the reflected beams, measures their time of flight along with their energy intensity, and returns what is called a point cloud (figures 2 and 3).

This point cloud represents the first, rawest form of lidar-derived data, containing millions, or even billions, of points, each one representing the three-dimensional coordinates of laser reflections. With current technology, the accuracy of a given point is usually within fifteen centimeters vertically, and forty centimeters horizontally.

However, from their raw form, point clouds are often far too large and complex to be used by anyone but specialized analysts or engineers. Most often, the point cloud is simplified into a raster or pixelated image. Each pixel of this image represents an averaging of hundreds or even thousands of individual lidar points, depending on its resolution. The most common of these rasters are “digital ground models” used for measuring the elevation of the natural or built environment (figure 4).

Figure 3. A 3D point cloud rendering of Ladd’s Addition, with treetops in green and rooftops in red.

Given the high labor and material costs of collecting lidar data, public sector users have tended to pool their resources into consortiums to purchase large, high-resolution data sets. In Oregon, the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) has led the Oregon Lidar Consortium since 2007, managing procurement, establishing and maintaining quality standards for the data, and hosting the final products on the web for all members of the public to use.

Here in the region, lidar data has been an essential component of an ever-expanding spate of research projects, many of them focusing on sustainable solutions for managing climate change and new development

Figure 4. Lidar digital ground models (right) is a massive improvement over older, usually radar-derived elevation models (left). For years, the usual resolution for digital elevation models was 10 m. x 10 m. With lidar, that resolution is now improved to 3’ x 3’. That means being able to see ever more detailed features of the landscape, like being able to see individual oxbows of the Sandy River that give their name to Oxbow Regional Park.


One of lidar’s most common uses has been the study and prediction of landslides. According to DOGAMI, tip-offs include “scarps, tilted and bent (‘gun-stocked’) trees, wetlands and standing water, irregular and hummocky ground topography, and over-steepened slopes with a thick soil cover.” With finer resolutions and improvements in the ability to interpolate terrain beneath forest canopies, geologists and environmental engineers are using lidar to spot those tip-offs, as well as evidence of historic landslide activity that may not be immediately visible to the naked eye

Earlier in 2018, DOGAMI released a report and accompanying data sets detailing the landslide risks faced in western Multnomah County (Figure 5). Using lidar along with existing tax lot and census data, DOGAMI determined that $1.65 billion in land and buildings and almost 6,700 people are located on existing landslides, twenty-nine thousand residents are at direct risk of a shallow landslide, and eight thousand at risk of a major deep landslide. The majority of those at risk are located in and around Forest Park, where elevation, soil, runoff, and vegetation health all combine as determinants of landslide risk.

Figure 5. DOGAMI’s 2016 landslide risk assessment for central and western Multnomah County. DOGAMI estimates that 21 percent of the surveyed area is at moderate risk of a shallow landslide, while 16 percent is at high risk. Deep landslides (those likely to be triggered by an earthquake) are more damaging than shallow, but cover a smaller area—around 7 percent of the study area is at high risk of a deep landslide. (Data source: DOGAMI)


While the Portland region has long enjoyed the reputation and benefits of being one of the most verdant urban areas in the nation, measuring the health of urban tree canopies has either relied on aerial observation and a lot of guesswork, or tedious on-the-ground investigation. With the introduction of lidar, researchers have gained a powerful tool that opens the door to new ways of measuring the health and density of trees across the region.

Figure 6a. A high-resolution lidar raster of downtown Oregon City, with tree biomass colored green.

Figure 6b. The same section of Oregon City, but overlaid with tree-top points and building footprints. Spatial analysts can use advanced statistical algorithms to sift through lidar data and spot the abrupt changes in height other patterns that indicate a tree or a rooftop.

Researchers from PSU’s Sustaining Urban Places Research Lab and Metro’s Data Resource Center have used canopy height data from lidar in conjunction with spectrum data from aerial imagery to produce new datasets that can estimate the total biomass of the region’s trees (Figure 6). Going further, researchers used statistical analysis of the lidar data to identify individual tree crowns, which in turn allowed for the identification of particularly tall, old-growth trees around the region. Going forward, this data could allow local tree-preservation advocates and agencies to more accurately allocate their limited resources.


Ecoroof development has taken on greater importance in the region, especially in light of Portland’s recent inclusion of an ecoroof mandate and targets in the Central City 2035 Plan. While specific incentives have yet to be decided, the city plans to add 408 acres of ecoroofs to the city by 2035. Portland State researchers and faculty took part in analyzing current regional lidar data to determine which existing buildings may already be good candidates for adding ecoroofs (figure 7a and 7b). Using high-resolution lidar, researchers were able to identify candidate buildings across the region, analyzing not only the overall aspect and slope of roofs, but their flatness as well (e.g., building roofs without excessively bulky HVAC units on them).

Figure 7a. For an investment in a green roof to pencil out, let alone be feasible, the planting area needs to be big enough and free of obstacles like large HVAC units elevator winch housing that lidar is perfect for identifying. Above is a green roof suitability analysis of buildings in Portland’s city center. Suitability has been calculated using a combination of rooftop area, angle and evenness. (Data source: City of Portland, Lone Fir Labs)

The projects discussed in this issue of the Periodic Atlas represent just a glimpse of what lidar data has allowed researchers to do so far. Moreover, these projects exist in the growing area of overlap between lidar data and sustainable policies and investments. As the capabilities of lidar become more known among local decision-makers, entirely new ways of analyzing and planning for a sustainable region could be quick to follow.

Figure 7b. Oblique view of potential green roofs along the Willamette River near downtown Portland. (Data source: Metro, Lone Fir Labs)

Researchers within IMS and PSU are increasingly depending on lidar data to improve our understanding of the region, but the data still have limits. First among these is the static nature of the data—with the rapid growth and change occurring within the region, every day that passes means the most recent lidar survey from 2014 loses a little bit of its relevance. The scope of the data is also limited as it does not include complete coverage, often leaving out rural areas and small towns. While there is certainly interest among researchers in procuring a more exhaustive survey of the entire MSA region, and the benefits of lidar data are becoming more and more evident, local elected officials and agencies will have to find a way to share in the investment and management of future surveys.

Figure 8. A 3D point cloud rendering of the Tilikum Bridge (in blue) from a lidar survey taken during construction. The crane barge is visible in the lower left, at the foot of bridge’s western tower.

Justin Sherrill is a research assistant with the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies and a graduate student in the Masters of Urban & Regional Planning program at Portland State University, where his focus is on public transportation systems and data visualization.

The Nuts and Bolts of Broadband

“Broadband” generally refers to any Internet connection faster than dial-up. The FCC currently defines it as download speeds of 25 Mbps or more and upload speeds of 3 Mbps or more.

DSL and cable options run over copper telephone wires and television cables respectively. They can achieve 25 Mbps, but cannot compare with fiber optic cable, which has tens or hundreds of times the capacity. Fiber optic cable is comparatively expensive to install and expensive to repair; the actual costs vary greatly depending on what infrastructure is already in place and whether the installation is overhead or underground.

There are two steps in fiber-to-the-premises installation: first, laying the distribution network, and then, going back and connecting specific houses or businesses that have signed up for service. To build an underground fiber optic network, it is necessary to lay hollow pipes (conduit) that the fiber optic cables will run through. In South Hillsboro, construction workers are digging trenches for this and other underground installations. In alreadypopulated Sandy, the method of choice was to use an underground boring machine that drills a chain of rods through the ground; the conduit is hooked onto it and pulled back through the hole, allowing workers to cross streets and driveways without cutting trenches. Another option, one that will be used where possible in Hillsboro, is to use existing overhead utility lines.

One of the cost considerations for a municipality creating an ISP is relatively new: a dearth of available IP addresses. Until 2015, it was still possible for an ISP to request as many IP addresses as it needed and receive them for free. But the organizations that assign IP addresses have now run out of new numbers to assign. A new provider now has to buy IP addresses from another organization with extras.

Making the Connection: Municipal Broadband Meets a Need in the Portland Metropolitan Area

Internet access has become critical to participating in modern American society, yet the private market is no closer to serving low-income and rural Americans.

In May 2018, the City of Hillsboro announced it would go ahead with a publicly owned and operated, affordable, gigabit-speed Internet service for the entire city. Multnomah County Commissioners voted for a feasibility study of their own in June. The Port of Ridgefield, Washington, has big hopes for its own fiber optic project. Meanwhile, the city of Sandy, Oregon, has been running its own municipal broadband service for the last six years.

What’s driving this wave? A big part of the answer is that Internet access has become critical to participating in modern American society, yet the private market is no closer to serving low-income and rural Americans. The recent repeal of net neutrality rules only threatens to widen the so-called “digital divide.”

Some of these problems are as difficult for municipalities to address as for private companies: providing broadband to rural areas is expensive, and it represents only a small part of the work happening in the Portland metro area. But for urban areas, the technology and the financing are essentially solved problems. The question is political-philosophical: Are local governments ready to treat the Internet as a public utility, and will telecommunications companies wage war on the idea here as they have elsewhere in the country?

Source: Federal Communication Commission, Metro, Washington State and Oregon State


By the time Hillsboro greenlighted broadband, it had already successfully built out a fiber optic network that connected city offices and stepped up its cooperation with the local school district. In the meantime, the FCC dropped net neutrality from its standards, giving urgency to the conversation about information access. “We are in the information age,” said Greg Mont, Internet services director at the City of Hillsboro, “and future thriving communities are going to need access to consume and to share information.”

In recent years, other developments have made city administrators more confident in taking on this project. “We saw some success in [Colorado] and other areas around the country that were starting their implementation at the time,” said Mont. The city of Longmont, Colorado, had projected that 36 percent of potential subscribers would take up its municipal broadband service, but the city actually arrived at 51 percent in short order.

One key opportunity for Hillsboro is the fact that it is has a very cost-effective place to start laying fiber: South Hillsboro, a 1,400-acre planned community in its beginning stages of construction. The new district will include a mixed-use town center, a smaller village center, about eight thousand homes, and 333 acres of parks, trails, and natural areas. The development will provide prime opportunities to install conduits for fiber optic cable at little extra cost, in trenches that have already been dug for electric and sewer lines.

SandNet utility workers Chris Krieger and Peter Light install a new connection for a residential customer

The other area at the front of the line is in Southwest Hillsboro. Low-income residents there have the lowest connectivity rates in the city, according to a recent Brookings Institution analysis of FCC data. This same area has been designated an “Opportunity Zone” under the Trump administration’s new federal aid distribution scheme.

Exactly how affordable the service will be is still in question. The city’s rough estimates of subscriber fees are $50 a month for residential service and $70 or more for business customers. Low-income customers will pay around $10 a month. However, after its current seven-year funding plan, the city intends to cover operating costs with subscriber revenue.

For the first seven years, the project will be funded using Gain Share revenue: a portion of the extra state personal income tax revenue generated when local governments offer tax deals to job-producing companies through the Strategic Investment Program. Hillsboro and Washington County together receive $16 million in Gain Share a year. The projected cost of building Hillsboro’s new network is an annual $4 million.

Fiber optic cables in the SandyNet data center. Each yellow cable can support up to thirty-two households. In the background: Greg Brewster, Assistant IT Director at the City of Sandy.

Municipal Broadband

Why should the city be the entity that invests in expensive fiber optic cable installations? One answer is that the municipality has a funding advantage: It isn’t expected to turn a profit, and it doesn’t have shareholders that expect immediate returns. “A national carrier will want a return on investment within forty months,” said Duke Dexter, program coordi – nator at the Clackamas Broadband Exchange (CBX). “But a municipality can take that same exact cost and spread it out over ten, maybe even up to twenty years.”

A city that has a proven record of deliver – ing services to residents also meets a certain amount of positivity right off the bat. Mont said that he had seen overwhelming enthu – siasm from Hillsboro residents. “Every time I meet with somebody they show me where their house is and ask when we’re going to get there,” said Mont.

Patrick Preston, Hillsboro’s public affairs manager, was participating in the phone conversation. “I’ve not heard anybody argue against having the option of affordable high speed Internet access,” he said. “I don’t know what argument they would make.”

Leaders of Municipal Broadband PDX. From left: Roberta Phillips-Robbins, Michael Hanna, Noah Fontes, Colin Nederkoorn.


The city of Sandy, Oregon went that route in 2015, when it started installing a fiber optic network for municipal broadband. The result – ing service, called SandyNet, has signed up 66 percent of its potential customers within city limits.

The major construction phase did bring growing pains. Joe Knapp, Sandy’s IT direc – tor, spent nine months fielding angry phone calls about torn-up yards or other disrup – tions. “I just had to remind myself every morning that I know, in my heart of hearts, that what we’re doing is going to benefit this community for the next century,” he said. (Confirming his belief, SandyNet is now sign – ing up customers who had publicly declared in protest that they would never subscribe to the service.)

The percentage of potential customers who subscribe is called a “take rate” in the tele – com industry. Sandy had estimated an initial take rate of 35 percent. Reality: 50 percent. Compared to larger cable companies, that was remarkable. Soon after the service went online, Knapp shared his story at a telecom – munications conference and had telephone company executives coming up to him after – wards asking how SandyNet had managed to pull it off.

One reason Sandy’s take rate was so high is the same reason that Sandy’s city council felt driven to become Internet service providers, first with DSL in 2003 and now with fiber: there was very little else available. Even City Hall couldn’t get a DSL line installed.

SandyNet also prides itself on providing good service to the community. Knapp comment – ed: “I tell our customers all the time, ‘It’s very likely that I’ll bump into you at the grocery store, or if you have a problem and you’re unhappy with the service that you get from us, you can come to a city council meeting and talk directly to my controlling board.’”

The SandyNet fiber project was entirely fund – ed by a $7.5 million revenue bond. Knapp wishes the city had borrowed more money. So many customers signed up that SandyNet has borrowed twice from other city funds just to keep building. “We didn’t anticipate hitting 50 percent take rate until year five, and we’re only in year four right now,” he said.

SandyNet cost modeling built in small rate increases every five years, mainly to account for inflation. Eventually, Sandy’s city council intends to move to a service model similar to water and sewer, where the price of the ser – vice is more directly tied to projected costs of building and maintaining the network.

Sandy has received dozens of inquiries from other cities interested in doing something similar. Knapp reminds them that Sandy started off with ten years of running a DSLbased ISP. Thirty percent of residents were already using that service when Sandy started investigating fiber to the home. “For a com – munity to start from zero, I think, is a little bit of a harder reach for a council,” he said.

Official van parked outside SandyNet’s office in a former high school building.


SandyNet’s service relies on a fiber optic backbone built by Clackamas County using an Obama-era economic recovery grant. Dexter said the county had recognized major gaps in its connectivity. “In small communi – ties like Molalla, Estacada, Colton, and even the city of Sandy, everyone has some form of co-op or cable company, but they weren’t integrated,” he said. “It really lacked continu – ity from one region to the next.”

So the CBX was created with Dexter at the helm. It spent 2010 through 2013 building 180 miles of fiber backbone through both urban and rural areas. This was dark fiber— not associated with a service, but available for service providers to use if they chose.

CBX is funded entirely by leasing its fiber to other entities, and Dexter said it has never run in the red. The majority of users are pub – lic institutions like the Clackamas Educational Service District, which now uses the CBX network to provide Internet to all public schools in the county. Colton School District had previously cobbled together $10,000 worth of 100 Mbps service from four or five different telephone companies every month. Through Clackamas Educational Service District, it is now paying $255 a month for 1 GB service. Altogether, the county’s schools are saving around $750,000 each year.

The county had presumed that commercial providers would be a larger proportion of the users, but right now they account for only 10 to 15 percent of connections. Dexter speculated that was mostly because companies like to possess their own network; it offers more control and it pays off over time. But commercial providers also, he thinks, held back out of spite: till then, public institutions had been anchor tenants for commercial providers.

LS Networks, a commercial ISP serving government and educational customers, did decide to lease fiber from CBX. “The benefit to us is improved access,” said Bryan Adams, director of sales and marketing. LS owns much of the fiber in its three-state service area, but leasing more allows it to expand without heavy upfront capital expenditure.

Multnomah County

LS Networks is headquartered in the Pittock Block, a hundred-year-old building in downtown Portland that evolved into a fiber optic hub for the region in the 1990s. In the basement, fiber optic trunk lines channel most of the Internet traffic in Oregon. On the top floor, every first and third Tuesday of the month, Colin Nederkoorn takes a break from running tech company to host a meeting of the Municipal Broadband PDX campaign at his office.

On one sunny Tuesday evening in October 2018, the meeting had five participants: Nederkoorn; Michael Hanna, co-founder of the coalition; Noah Fontes, a software engineer at Puppet; and Roberta Phillip-Robbins, former executive director of MRG. Julia DeGraw, a recent candidate for Portland City Council, joined by phone. The meeting focused on progress on the most recent municipal broadband initiative: a $250,000 feasibility study announced by Multnomah County in June.

Getting the county to sign off on the study is the first success by Portland’s municipal broadband coalition. The name of its recently formed 501(c)4 nonprofit, Municipal Broadband Coalition of America, reveals larger ambitions. “The only way we’re going to build out our fiber optic infrastructure in the United States is bottom-up,” said Hanna. “It’s not going to come from the top.”

In this, he sees a “100-year echo” of the same municipal socialism that led to public water and electric utilities in cities across the country. Portland bought out its privately owned water company in 1886. “We’re going to do the same thing for our digital infrastructure and our renewable energy grid that we did one-hundred years ago,” said Hanna. “Broadband is actually the low-hanging fruit.”

If Multnomah County does invest in public broadband, it would be the biggest urban area in the United States to take this on. “As a county of this size, we would be a real leader in developing a system like this,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who first proposed the feasibility study.

Internet access is the type of broadly felt, high-impact issue that interests Meieran. “One of my other priorities is mental health, and I see that as somewhat analogous,” she said. “That’s something that transcends any of our different departments or programs or services.”

But it wasn’t on her radar until the grassroots activists came to call. “I’d never heard of municipal broadband, to be honest,” she said. “I was approached by someone from Municipal Broadband PDX who came to my office to talk about it. And it’s like a light bulb went off.”

The Opposition

In October, the City of Portland was conspicuously absent from the list of Multnomah County municipalities that had voted to contribute to the feasibility study. Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, and Wood Village had already committed.

MBCOA’s steering committee considered possible explanations: Was someone in the mayor’s office trying to avoid a repeat of the Google Fiber debacle two years before? Was the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) lobbying against municipal broadband? Comcast, CenturyLink, and AT&T all have representatives on the PBA’s board.

“Is this the beginning of telcos trying to interfere?” wondered Nederkoorn.

“That’s what we don’t know,” answered Hanna.

The PBA did make a statement at the time of the vote, questioning whether the county should consider investing in broadband infrastructure “at a time when the top priority for Multnomah County residents clearly is addressing the community’s housing and homelessness crisis.” And Comcast did register its disapproval when Hillsboro City Council voted to go ahead with its broadband plan. Tim Goodman, government affairs lead at Comcast, wrote the mayor of Hillsboro a letter defending its speeds and prices and asking for more face time.

Looking at the lead-up to successful municipal broadband efforts in similarlysized cities, it’s a little surprising that there hasn’t been more opposition here. The Longmont project passed despite $300,000 in opposition spending by the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association and allies. The CCTA put $816,000 against a similar ballot initiative in Fort Collins. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Comcast sued the Electric Power Board to prevent it from building its own network.

Asked for thoughts on the subject, Comcast spokesperson Amy Keiter wrote: “The city of Hillsboro and most of the Portland metro area is deeply penetrated with top tier broadband providers—probably one of the best-served metro areas in the country. There is not a sensible argument for why another broadband network is needed in Hillsboro, or Multnomah County, particularly at the expense of taxpayers.”

In fact, there is. In Southwest Hillsboro, only 20 to 40 percent of residents have broadband access. Throughout the metro area, the availability of broadband doesn’t lead directly to high subscription rates.

“We’ve talked with another school district in Oregon,” Mont said, “where they recently equipped all of their students with laptops to take home and use for homework and they found a significant portion of their students don’t have Internet connectivity and couldn’t use the laptops at home. So it was definitely one of those things where we’re trying to fill an important gap.”

Sidebar: The Nuts and Bolts of Broadband


Opposition to municipal broadband isn’t merely reactive: in twenty states, it’s preemptive. This isn’t a widely advertised fact; Jennifer Redman, a Master of Urban Studies candidate at Portland State University, learned it only after starting research for her thesis on municipal broadband, despite a twenty-year career in IT. “The fact that state legislatures would pass laws essentially written by the ISPs and telecom industries to prevent municipalities from building their own fiber infrastructure was very surprising to me,” she said. “I don’t think the control private telcos have over state broadband policy is widely known by constituents affected by those statutes.”

Washington state law allows public utility districts to build broadband infrastructure and lease it, but explicitly prevents them from offering Internet services themselves. Ports have the opposite restriction: they can offer their own service, but are only allowed to lease access to one ISP at a time. Until March 2018, only very low-density rural ports were permitted to sell fiber access.

The legislature amended the law under pressure from, among others, the port of Ridgefield in northern Clark County, which plans to build twenty-four miles of fiber around the “Discovery Corridor,” the stretch of I-5 between Washington State University Vancouver and a new casino built by the Cowlitz Tribe in Ridgefield. One day Ridgefield hopes to fill in the space with biotech firms and other sources of skilled jobs. But similar efforts on the part of, say, the City of Vancouver are banned.

Rural Access

Ports aside, how this technology will manage to reach and serve residents of truly rural communities is still an open question. LS Networks— which is owned by five rural Oregon electric cooperatives and the Coquille Indian Tribe—is one of the providers deliberately serving rural areas, and even it has trouble justifying building fiber out to small-town residents. Its successes came through creative deal-making and government support, such as the public-private partnership that recently combined $100,000 from LS Networks with a larger state grant to install fiber in the city of Maupin.

Electric cooperatives have a long history of providing services where it seems impossible. They began as a New Deal project, with farmers using federal loans to build their own grids all across the United States. Some evolved naturally to providing high-speed Internet access as well. As of December 2016, there were eighty-seven cooperatives offering residential gigabit service, out of around nine hundred total.

“I think broadband should be treated like a utility,” said Dexter. “I think that the city of Sandy and the city of Hillsboro are making good choices to ensure connectivity and bandwidth for their communities for years to come, and I think it’s only going to pay dividends in the future for them. I would love to see different counties do the same thing not only in their urban areas, but also in their rural areas.”

Eavan Moore is a second-year student in PSU’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program and a graduate research assistant for Metroscape.

Preserving Small Farms in Gales Creek, Oregon: An interview with Gales Creek residents

Nathan Williams: Can you tell me about yourselves and the work you do in Gales Creek?

Anne Berblinger: Rene and I have Gale’s Meadow Farm. We grow organic heirloom vegetables on about seven acres, with woods and hedgerow that are devoted to wildlife. We sell directly at farmers’ markets and to restaurants. Almost all of our employees have been aspiring farmers. We’re a learning farm; for the past three years we’ve had interns through the Rogue Farm Corps

Chas Hundley: I’ve lived in Gales Creek all my life. My family has been in the Gales Creek Valley since 1881. I’m a journalist. I run a local paper in Gales Creek and one in Banks and surrounding communities.

Sue Vosberg: I run Forest Grove Tax Service, and specialize in helping farmers, foresters, and small businesses. We bought our place here in 1976. We had a solar design business. In 1988 we started the nursery. We specialized in things that didn’t need a greenhouse and that wouldn’t be competing with Colombia and Ecuador, stuff that liked Oregon, like phlox, solidaster, peonies, and berries. Now my husband’s semi-retired and still growing half a dozen things that we sell through a friend.

Aurora Parras: I did the Rogue Farm Corps program last season and I loved it so much and I love Oregon so much. So, I came here to live and pursue farming and I’m trying to start my own baking and pastry business now.

Joyce Sauber: My family came here in 1864. I live next to the family farm, not on it. I’ve been here for eighty-three years. I do Gales Creek history and I volunteer at the school. I have an acre of ground and grow a big organic garden. I’ve seen a lot of history in Gales Creek, seen a lot of buildings and people come and go, and I fought for a lot of things. I never thought I would protest on the steps of the capitol, but I did.

Lis Monahan: My husband Steve and I operate Fraga Farmstead Creamery. We purchased the farm ten years ago, and we’ve been going at the current scale for six years. We make eight different kinds of organic goat cheese; we’re the only certified organic goat cheese in Oregon and possibly the West Coast.

Anna Lund: I’ve moved and come back. I really like the Gales Creek community. I was drawn here to study in Forest Grove. I’ve lived in a lot of places, but I’m glad to call this area home. I live in Hillsboro now, but I work and play here.

Chas Hundley: I helped start the Gales Creek Chamber of Commerce in my teens. I’m chamber president and I run our local citizens participation Preserving Small Farms in Gales Creek, Oregon An interview with Gales Creek residents by Nathan Williams organization, a program through Washington County. It’s neighbors discussing livability issues and connecting with elected officials. We’ve met with state representatives, Metro councilors, the fire board, and others. We meet once a month here and in Verboort.

Covered rows reduce water usage. Photo: Nathan Williams

Nathan Williams: I’m a Portland State University student studying urban planning, so I’m interested in the planning issues in Gales Creek.

Anne Berblinger: I can talk a little bit about that. You’re familiar with the 2050 process, where a few years ago urban reserves and rural reserves were set up in the three core metro counties. At the first public hearing, they had a map with one color for urban reserves, another color for incorporated cities, one for urban reserves where the cities could expand, and another color for rural reserves that were supposed to preserve farm and other resource land. But the whole Gales Creek Valley was white. I asked the Washington County planner why, and he said, “It’s all a flood plain, it’ll never develop, so we’re not going to pay attention to it.” Several people testified and it turned into the color for rural reserves.

It’s the greatest place to grow trees, and should be preserved as farmland. Having the land use restrictions is important but not sufficient. Land use laws and exclusive-farm-use zoning, held land values down and allowed ordinary people like us to buy land here in 1991. But the value now, even exclusive-farmuse land, has gone through the roof. It means that owners are older than the average age of Oregon farmers—over sixty. Access to the land for young people is really limited. It’s a really big problem. In order for a farmer to pay a mortgage on land, farming has to be a lot more lucrative than it has been.

Nathan Williams: What do you think the biggest challenges to farmland preservation in Gales Creek are?

Anne Berblinger: I think the price of land is one, and the reluctance of farmers’ offspring to go into farming. On the other hand, there are people, like Aurora and Anna, who are just really excited about going into farming. We’ve probably had fifteen or more young people, not from farming families, who have worked on our farm, under the Rogue Farm Corps or otherwise, who really want to be farmers. But opportunities like we offer are few and far between.

Lis Monahan: But even people who are from farming families, including big farming, are trying to get land here and can’t. One young farmer put a mobile home on his parents’ property to save money. But they’re not feeling hopeful, because the closest large property is $600,000, and even if you’re a big farmer with big combines it’s too expensive. That’s a thing I find shocking. I always think, “We little farmers, we’re struggling financially, but maybe the big guys are doing okay.” But you talk to them and find out they can’t go on vacation and have to do all their own welding because they can’t afford to use a machine shop.

So the financial rewards of farming are another problem. In other businesses, if you rent retail space, the price is going to have some relationship to the business opportunity, to traffic flow, or estimated sales of that retail space. When you go into farming, the land price stands in no relationship to the land’s likely yield.

We’re just outside of the metro area, but we’re still going to have the new minimum wage. It’s going to be difficult for farmers to hire help. There are downsides to being close to an urban area. Short drives to the farmer’s market, that’s good, but the land prices!

Anne Berblinger: Our booth at Hollywood is surrounded by farms from outside the metro area that are not paying the same wages we are. At Cannon Beach they’re a rural area, so they pay the minimum of the new minimum wage. We try to compete on the quality of our prod – uct, because we can’t compete on price. We’ve got to charge more than the other guys.

Chas Hundley: I think another threat to continued farming out here is that many farms are multi-generational. It’s always been that way. You’re more likely to become a farmer if your parents were farmers. But out here, when you grow up and marry, you can’t say, “I want to continue farming with my family, ” because you have to find somewhere to live, and you can’t just build a house out here, because the land is zoned for exclusive farm use. It’s incredibly difficult to build another dwelling. And even if you do, the costs are astronomical. But you can’t afford to just go out and buy property near the farm. My family’s been here for 140 years and I can’t afford to live in my own community. Now imagine being somebody who wants to continue farming but your parents are still around, still using the house, you’ve got three or four siblings. You can’t all live there. What are you going to do?

Lis Monahan: On a farm you are allowed to have an additional dwelling for the retiring farmers. But it has to be immobile. I mean there is that opportunity

Chas Hundley: In order to afford working on the land, you also have to have a day job. We have that kind of mixed economy; it has made it possible for us to be here in the first place

Sue Vosberg: Yeah, that was our case too, and we pulled money out of our IRAs back in the day, just to make it. It’s tough, especially the first ten years or so. So I think that’s a trend that’s been going for a long time.

Nathan Williams: Very few families get their income solely from the farm.

Sue Vosberg: I would say that’s really true. Forestry’s even worse, because you’re talking fifty years. Everybody asks us, “Well, when are you going to make money off those trees?” We didn’t do it just for the money, obviously. One of the reasons we did it is to help the watershed here, for the creek to come back. But it’s not a get-rich-quick thing.

Joyce Sauber: I think really until the 1950s or 1960s people could make a living off their farm. But after the war, things began to change.

Nathan Williams: Is there anything else for that question, challenges for farmland preservation?

Sue Vosberg: It would be an interesting study. There have been creative ideas like land trusts and ways to go through Adelante Mujeres like our neighbors, who leased land to a married couple. And I know the forestry people have talked about trying to get carbon credits worked out, because when you plant a forest you’re sequestering carbon. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t they have some kind of a thing outside Paris where farms with small holdings are subsidized? Maybe we need to do that as a society—just have a bigger vision

Anne Berblinger: Portland State and others from Rogue Farm Corps and Oregon State University actually did a whole study about farmland in Oregon. All of the things people are saying are in that study, but we do need creative ideas. I had the concept that Metro should issue bonds and buy farmland to lease long-term to new farmers.

Sue Vosberg: There you go.

Lis Monahan: Friends of Family Farmers did a forum on that issue. I remember that there’s an eighty-eighty rule. You have to have eighty acres to establish your residence or $80,000 in net farm sales. So, potentially, you could farm land but not live on it. That was a sore point with aspiring farmers. One speaker said, with the increasing value of land, lawyers and dentists would buy the larger parcels and turn around and lease the land to beginning farm – ers. Someone piped up in the audience, “That’s serfdom!”

Anne Berblinger: And when has that even happened? Instead, retired executives buy land and plant grapes.

Aurora Parras: Or trees, I’ve seen people plant trees—huge swaths and a mansion. “Oh, what a waste!”

Sue Vosberg: I do think the vineyard land prices are having an impact.

Anne Berblinger: We believe that the property next to us, which was a nursery, is going to be a marijuana growing operation.

Sue Vosberg: That’s a growth industry.

Anne Berblinger: I wasn’t paying attention at all when they did the land use laws, but that’s an industrial process. It should be in industrial parks. It should not be on farm – land, because they pave it over and build buildings. They use a lot of electricity and water, too.

Craig Lund: There’s a whole bunch of buildings in Forest Grove zoned industrial that are empty or barely used. They would be perfect for that kind of thing. But instead they’re using prime areas that should be used for food or lumber production.

Rene Berblinger: And many of these mari – juana growers are coming from out of state with big money.

Joyce Sauber: Another issue in Gales Creek is water rights. You guys have had your water shut off mid-summer—we all have. My water right goes back to the 1930s, and they still shut it down. So you have to won – der how the people growing marijuana will water it.

Rene Berblinger: We’ve got a three-thousand-gallon tank for our little spring here, because we got cut off.

Anne Berblinger: It used to be that the water wasn’t shut off at all, or not until the end of August, which wasn’t a problem. But two years ago it was shut off in June. The crops aren’t even established by then.

Rene Berblinger: Now we do drip irrigation almost exclusively. We’re allowed to use our well, and we have the spring, so we collect water.

Anne Berblinger: There are a lot of advantages to the drip irrigation. It would be really nice if there were some rewards for conservation.

Nathan Williams: I originally became interested in the story in terms of Forest Grove and the expansion of their urban growth boundary and how development is moving in this direction. So, how do you feel about that?

Sue Vosberg: The water limitations will prevent it from moving toward Gales Creek. My understanding is there’s no chance of getting a water line up the valley

Gales Creek Community Church of God. Photo: M. O. Stevens, Creative Commons

Anne Berblinger: On other sides of Forest Grove, expansion is a big issue, and there is a whole other story there. And part of it is, again, making farms economically viable. There’s a project going on now called Tuality Plains Great Grains. It’s spearheaded by Charlene Murdock and Richard White, who live in Forest Grove and have a one-acre farm inside Forest Grove. They’re working with a third-generation farmer who has 600 acres right on the city limits. He’s always been a conventional commodity farmer, but he wanted to start growing things people could actually eat and enjoy. He connected with Charlene, and last winter he planted six acres of red fife and some kind of barley. Charlene has hooked him up with bakers, a brewery, and a distillery in Forest Grove who use his grain locally. So this is another agricultural innovation that may make it viable to keep a farm going right there on the edge of the city.

Craig Lund: The urban growth boundary may not be moving just due to logistical and state law issues, but it’s really jarring to drive over David Hill Road and suddenly see a new town where farms, fields, and forests used to be.

Lis Monahan: It’s coming. They’ve done the infrastructure for the last three years and now all the houses are popping up.

Craig Lund: We say that they won’t come out here, but then I get that the cold sweat when I’m driving over David Hill. Suddenly Forest Grove is a lot closer than it used to be. My dad grew up in Gales Creek; areas that people used to call Gales Creek are now Forest Grove. He was close to the city limits and it just grew up around him.

Lis Monahan: You can take a different vantage point on that too. For the small farmers to be viable they need to grow crops that are locally consumed and marketed directly to consumers. So, maybe a return to farm stands. Farm stands would be frequented by people who live in big developments. Also, if you have an aspect of agritainment—and while I think none of us want to host weddings on our farms and we hope that nobody ever starts doing that—I think Gales Creek might benefit from an influx of new residents and new paychecks in Forest Grove, people who spend their money locally.

Craig Lund: Go ask David Hill Winery how their business is doing since the development there. It is packed every day that they’re open. Lis Monahan: And they just called me this week asking to carry our cheese. The perfect example.

Craig Lund: There are definite positives. But it makes me nervous, because they keep pushing out. Right now they’ve stopped and they say they won’t move, but what happens in thirty years?

Sue Vosberg: Well, I think if you look at the geology, for instance David Hill, and the fact that there’s no water. It’s very expensive to build there. In the 1970s the lower lots were cheaper there, but as they moved up the hill, more water pumping was needed and the lots got more expensive. So from an urban planning viewpoint, the land use laws, and the logistics of infrastructure, I don’t think the expansion is going to happen in my lifetime.

Craig Lund: It’s my problem; I’m twenty-two and I’m going to be here until I die.

Sue Vosberg: I hope it doesn’t happen, because this area should stay rural.

Joyce Sauber: At one time there was a dam planned for across where Cox Road is. It would have flooded the whole valley. People were really concerned. But then they put in Highway 6, and the dam wasn’t viable.

Craig Lund: Yes, there’s too much stuff out here now for them to feasibly flood the entire Gales Creek Valley

Nathan Williams: Well, thank you all for taking time out of your busy day to talk with us.

Photo: Nathan Williams

Riverside Parks

In September 2018, Vancouver, Washington, celebrated the opening of its new Waterfront Park. The 7.3-acre park sits on the Columbia River just west of I-5 and south of down – town Vancouver. The park is part of a highdensity, mixed-use urban redevelopment project. Built on the site of a former lumber mill, the total project spans thirty-two acres on twenty-one city blocks. New streets con – nect the park with downtown and manicured underpasses to make the trip attractive to visitors. High-end office, apartment and condominium buildings with ground floor restaurants line the park. The new residents can overlook the manicured lawns and play – grounds and gaze across the river to Oregon

Three of the major rivers in the greater Portland region, the Columbia, Willamette, and Sandy run through the greater Portland region. There are more than 12,736 acres of riverfront parkland along those rivers in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Clark Counties. Many of the state, federal, and regional parks were developed to protect natural lands and wildlife from encroaching development. Parkland along the Sandy is mostly natural, providing visitors’ access to the water. Beaches along the Sandy are popular for swimming wading, and tubing. Regional, state, and federal government operate these parks on the Sandy. The same is true for most of the riverfront parks in the region. Less than 15 percent of the riverfront acre – age is in municipal parks.

Riverfront parks run the gambit from unimproved natural areas to fully planned and managed urban parks. They reflect our changing relationship to the rivers and the varying ways we enjoy and participate in nature. Many of the region’s smaller river – front parks were created in the face of rapid residential and commercial development. Vancouver’s Waterfront Park is the latest in a series of parks built on reclaimed industrial land. Like Vancouver, Portland and Oregon City are working to redevelop industrial lands into new parks and open spaces. The redevelopment of Oregon City’s Willamette Falls is underway and Portland released a plan in 2017 to redevelop the east bank of the Willamette River between the Marquam and Hawthorne Bridges.

The new parks are a valuable part of the infrastructure that allows individuals and communities to reconnect to the rivers. When the region’s economy was closely tied to the extraction, processing, and shipment of natural resources, the rivers were important sites of commerce. As we’ve shifted away from a natural resource economy, local governments are able to redevelop the river – banks as public parks.

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is an estimate of the average age that a person can expect to live. Within the United States, life expectancy has increased since 1900 by roughly thirty years due to public health interventions (e.g., sanitation, vaccinations) and medical advancements.(1) However, life expectancy can vary significantly even within small geographies due to differences in our social and physical environments. Where we live, work, and play is equally, if not more, important to our health and well-being than our individual choices and access to health care.(2)

Using Center for Disease Control data, we can visualize the spatial distribution of life expectancy estimates. For reference, the life expectancy of an average adult within the United States born in 2016 is 78.6 years.(3) In the Portland Metropolitan region, 34 percent of the population lives in tracts with an average life expectancy below the United States average. These tracts are clustered largely in east Portland and Gresham. Future research should consider exploring other factors related to life expectancy such as race, income, and education.(4)

1. David Cutler, Angus Deaton and Adriana Lleras-Muney, “The Determinants of Mortality,” Journal of Economic Perspective, 20 no. 3, (2006), 97–120.

2. Theodor R. R. Marmor, Morris L. Barer, and Robert G. Evans, Why Are Some People Healthy and Others Not? The Determinants of Health of Populations (Social Institutions and Social Change), (New Jersey: Aldine Transaction, 1994).

3. Jiaquin Xu et al., “Final data for 2016.” National Vital Statistics Reports, 67 no. 5, (Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2018).

4. Robert A. Hummer and Elaine M Hernandez, “The Effect of Educational Attainment on Adult Mortality in the United States,” Population Bulletin 68 no. 1 (2013), 1–16; US National Center for Health Statistics, Report No.: 2012-12322012, (Hyattsville, MD, May 2012).

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Baldock Restoration Project

On a winter night in 2010, 109 men, women and children slept at the Baldock Rest Area on I-5 south of Wilsonville, Oregon. Approximately one third of them had set up camp in back parking lots, away from the stream of visitors who stopped at the expansive rest area to take a break from driving. They were the chronically homeless, the self-named Baldockeans, the people whose lives revolved around the community at the Baldock. Some experienced physical or mental disabilities or addictions. The Baldock was their home, their refuge, their community.

The long-term resident population had formed a complex, self-regulating community. . . 

The other two-thirds slept near parking area lights, where they felt safest. They were the “shadow people,” the transitionally homeless. Their lives had hit a bad patch—the loss of a job, major debt from medical costs, divorce, domestic violence—and they had found themselves without sufficient income to stay in their homes. They did not identify as being part of the alternative world of the homeless; instead, their goal was to remain part of traditional society and regain their former status. During the day, they hid their homeless state, leaving the Baldock to work or spend time in libraries and other public places.

The long-term resident population had formed a complex, self-regulating community, with shared meals, organized shopping expeditions and delineated roles and responsibilities. One man had called the Baldock home for 17 years, and St. Vincent de Paul, a social services agency, had provided weekly hot meals there for several years.

The Baldock north and south bound rest stops off I-5 near Wilsonville, Oregon.

Some of the features that made the Baldock an attractive area for visitors also made it attractive to people without a permanent place to live. Hot and cold running water, toilets, picnic tables, water fountains, shady groves of trees and plenty of space were important amenities to people with only a vehicle, tent or camper as a home. It also provided privacy, with three parking areas on each side of the highway. For some, the steady stream of visitors provided a remunerative panhandling opportunity, and a few may have engaged in a grey market in prostitution or drugs. Others travelled to work from the Baldock. The rest area is just 14 miles south of Portland, with its urban services, and even closer to Canby. A truck stop a few miles to the south had showers, laundry facilities, a small market, a gas station and a restaurant. In short, the combination of amenities, relative privacy and location made it an attractive place to live for those with vehicles but no traditional homes. 

That winter, the lives of the people sleeping at the Baldock were about to change. On January 1, Oregon Travel Experience (called Oregon Travel Information Council at the time) had assumed management responsibilities for five rest areas in the state, including Baldock. In anticipation of this new role, in the fall OTE had organized a local business and public sector advisory committee to develop a vision for the Baldock Rest Area, and the group had expressed concerns about panhandling and other problems associated with the homeless community. On January 1, OTE was faced with the delicate decision of how to proceed.

OTE Executive Director Cheryl Gribskov chose hot chocolate.

Homelessness and Transportation Agencies

Although the homeless community at the Baldock Rest Area was unusual in its duration and sophistication, homeless encampments or urban campgrounds commonly occur on public land. In a national survey of state transportation agencies conducted by Bassett, Tremoulet and Moe in 2011, 70% of respondents (representing 25 U.S. states and British Columbia) said that they encountered homeless encampments as part of their routine work. Any major public land owner with conveniently-located sites with some measure of privacy and shelter is a likely candidate for experiencing challenges with homeless individuals.

Upon learning of these research results, Emily Badger, a writer for The Atlantic Cities, commented, “This means that public agencies better equipped to run trains or pave highways must often act as the first responders to homelessness. It’s a sad commentary on how we handle these populations—in a society that doesn’t treat access to shelter as a right—that the task falls to the front-line employees of transportation agencies untrained to do anything like this.”

Hot Chocolate

OTE was not the first agency that had attempted to deal with the homeless encampment at the Baldock Rest Area. Round-the-clock stays were against rest area rules, and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) had, upon several occasions, called Oregon State Police to clear the area. However, neither the state police nor ODOT had sufficient resources to remain at the rest area on an ongoing basis, and thus the Baldockeans gradually returned. This cycle was repeated several times, creating a culture of distrust between the residents and state police.

Instead of leading with an enforcement-only approach, OTE decided that the agency needed to have a better understanding of the situation before proceeding. On New Year’s Day 2010, Executive Director Gribskov and a community volunteer showed up at the rest area with hot chocolate to greet the residents, introduce themselves and listen to their concerns. Gribskov quickly realized that her agency alone could not solve the complex social, economic and political challenges underlying the presence of the Baldock community, so she sought help. She enlisted not just ODOT and Oregon State Police, but also state, county and local social service agencies, homeless advocates, local law enforcement, community leaders, and the county district attorney’s office. 

Executive Director Gribskov and a community volunteer showed up at the rest area with hot chocolate . . . 

At fortuitously-timed Problem-Oriented Policing workshop sponsored by the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office, the basic strategy took shape in a committee comprised of social service and community justice representatives. The strategy involved intensive outreach and one-on-one assistance to provide opportunities to make changes that would enable them to move on from the Baldock to better living conditions. This was the “pull.” It also involved changing the conditions that enabled Baldockeans to stay where they were. This “push” included changing the rest area rules and developing new methods of enforcement.

The period of transition would have to be a carefully orchestrated ballet. 

The period of transition would have to be a carefully orchestrated ballet of pushing and pulling, with the professional partners presenting a humane but united front. The strategy came together in February 2010; the partners set a goal of clearing the rest area and beginning a higher level of enforcement on May 1, before the seasonal influx of new residents. It was a tall order, and initially there were no extra resources available to make it happen.

What made it happen was the personal commitment of the key partners involved: Ronell Warner of the Canby Center; Bill Stewart of the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office; Fred Testa and Dan Swift of Oregon State Police; Liz Bartell and Linda Fisher of Clackamas County Social Services; Karla Keller of Oregon Department of Transportation; Mary Carroll of Oregon Housing and Community Services; Amy Cleary and Cyndy Heisler of Clackamas County Domestic Resources Center and Cheryl Gribskov of Oregon Travel Experience. Eventually, a small amount of one-time-only funding —funds not available today— was found from state and county sources for enhanced case management, and local non-profits and donors chipped in with donations of cash and supplies. 

Implementing a Push-Pull Approach

On the pull side, social service agencies met with residents willing to accept assistance. They helped each person imagine and build a path to what they wanted for themselves. This could involve addressing old debts, obtaining a new social security card and identity papers to replace lost ones, taking responsibility for one’s behavior to reunite with family, finding and accepting steady employment (no matter how hard), reinstating a commercial driver’s license, enrolling in an in-patient substance abuse program, or any number of things. While the additional funds covered the costs of one-on-one case management, the pull partners creatively managed existing resources—classes, assessments—to bring services to the residents and tailor them to their needs.

The push-side partners developed new rules and enforcement procedures to dislodge the long-term community and ensure that a new one did not take its place. They tightened up Oregon Administrative Rules that governed behavior in rest areas and made failure to comply a Class B violation. The Clackamas County Community Court was poised to take on criminal cases if they arose and divert offenders to rehabilitative services as an alternative to serving jail time, if warranted. OTE made plans to refurbish the rest area and staff it with both a site team and volunteers to promote its use as a visitor resource. They also allocated funds to pay for enhanced police patrols after the enforcement date of May 1 and through the rest of the summer to discourage visitors from staying more than the allowed 12 hours during a 24-hour period. 

The professional partners soon discovered that implementing a push-pull approach also required forging new levels of trust among themselves—social service agencies and law enforcement do not always see eye-to-eye on matters involving both their professions—and with the Baldockeans, who, until this point, had had little reason to believe that anyone cared. The professionals learned to trust each other’s judgment and be flexible about enforcing the rules. They came to have each other’s back, to be attentive to each other’s safety and to show up if needed. For the Baldockeans, trust meant believing that these people were sincere about both the opportunities and permanent change at the Baldock. They began to believe that this time was different.

Moving Day and Beyond

Moving day, April 30th, 2010, was quite an event. The preceding 48 hours had involved a flurry of activity, with volunteer and paid mechanics working to get old vehicles road-worthy and the remaining Baldockeans packing their possessions. For those who had no other place to go immediately, the county had arranged temporary camping at a nearby state campground. Beyond that, they would do “in-and-out” at the Baldock, staying no more than 12 hours at a time, until a more permanent solution was found.

Moving day was not picture-perfect, but it was successful. A state trooper who had not been involved with the project showed up unexpectedly and began ticketing the Baldockeans. Chaos ensued, and trust built over months of hard work was nearly destroyed, until the situation was sorted out by other state police who had been involved.

In the short term, half of the 20 people who had accepted county help found other places to camp, 30% did in-and-out at the Baldock, 10% found permanent housing, 5% went into detox and treatment, and 5% found other solutions. Approximately sixteen months later, half of them were in permanent housing and 15% were in transitional housing, waiting for a permanent spot to open up. Only 35% were in unstable living conditions. Given the circumstances, a long-term housing retention rate of 65% for this population is considered to be very good.

The Baldock is now a lovely, wellmaintained visitor resource. The restored Grove of the States provides a walking path for those needing to stretch their legs. The back area sports a new solar array. While most who stop are there for just a short while, parking is also available for up to 12 hours a day to truck drivers and others (including former Baldockeans) who need a place to stop and sleep. There is no evidence of the long-standing community that once lived there.

Learning from the Baldock

Thus, homelessness is a messy, complicated societal problem with many spillover effects. 

The economic, social and political choices made as a nation over the last decades haves ensured that our country will have an ongoing population of homeless individuals. Local housing and social services networks are, in most cases, struggling to keep up with the demand for services. Thus, homelessness is a messy, complicated societal problem with many spillover effects, some of which are likely to continue to affect the maintenance and operations of our shared public land.

Perhaps there is an opportunity for those with the land and those with the services to sit down together with representatives or advocates of people without permanent housing to develop new approaches that accommodate the ongoing and permanent reality of homelessness in our communities today. The Baldock Restoration Project is one such example of that occurring. The solution reached was humane displacement.

The solution reached was humane displacement. 

In some cases, more long-term arrangements have been reached. Dignity Village, a self-managed homeless community, has a lease with the City of Portland for Sunderland Yard near the Portland airport. Over the last ten years, tents have been slowly replaced with small structures which must meet basic building codes for camping structures. Dignity Village is guided by a set of democratically-created rules, including no drugs, alcohol, disruptive behavior or children (for the children’s safety). Residents must participate in weekly village meetings and contribute time and labor to maintaining the community.

In Eugene and nearby communities, St. Vincent de Paul manages an overnight parking program for homeless people with vehicles. They work with faith communities, non-profits, local governments and businesses that volunteer sites. St. Vincent de Paul provides garbage disposal and portable rest rooms. In 2011, the program assisted 81 individual adults and 27 families with 41 children.

In King County, Washington, the selfmanaged Tent City 4 rotates from one location to the next every ninety days, so that no one community absorbs the impact permanently. It is associated with the non-profit SHARE/WHEEL. Currently, Tent City 4 is located in a church parking lot across from the police station in the prosperous town of Kirkland. Their self-imposed rules require that they be respectful neighbors, as they are often located in residential neighborhoods. Loitering outside the camp, parking nearby and loud noise are prohibited, as well as drugs and alcohol. They work with law enforcement to screen new community members.

Perhaps the ultimate challenge for collaboration was issued by a Federal Highway Administration official from the Midwest. At a January 2012 national transportation conference, where a case study of the Baldock Restoration Project was presented, he posed this question: What if transportation engineers started designing facilities such as overpasses or bridges to accommodate the needs of homeless people instead of chasing them away? Perhaps the sites could be maintained by social service agencies or self-managed communities. That solution would certainly represent a new kind of thinking about how to respond to the issue and require a new level of collaboration and trust among public agencies and the people whom they serve.

There is little question that living in a car, camper or tent in make-shift accommodations is far from the perfect longterm solution to the nation’s intransigent problem of homelessness. But it may be a practical and humane one that is hiding in plain sight.

Andrée Tremoulet is a research associate for the Center for Urban Studies at Portland State and owner of Commonworks Consulting. Ellen M. Bassett is an Associate Professor at the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia. Allison Moe is an Associate Planner with McCool Development Solutions in Denver, Colorado.