Three conflicts were instrumental in Portland’s development into a progressive, vocal democracy: the Progressive Movement that rose in the wake of the industrial revolution, the suburban sprawl that necessitated urban growth boundaries, and the fight over the Mount Hood Freeway, which refocused Portland on developing public transportation and mending its downtown core.
The industrial revolution provided new systems to expend natural resources to create previously unseen amounts of wealth. By the time Oregon became a state in 1859, out-of-state financiers and land speculators had the run of the legislature and were consolidating control of the state’s resources to amplify logging and agriculture industries, and local loggers and farmers found themselves increasingly subjugated to industrial concerns.
This specific friction sparked the Progressive Movement, which by 1902 won several key reforms in the state government, including direct primary elections, a 10 hour workday for women and the Corrupt Practices Act. In the historical context of Portland, this early activism started a tradition of citizen-led participatory democracy and hearty defense of individual land ownership that perseveres today.
The Invention of Urban Growth Boundaries
Skipping ahead a few decades, post-World War II Oregon of the 50s and 60s had the same problem many growing cities did at that time: migration from rural to urban areas was creating unchecked suburban sprawl and withering downtown cores. In response, Governor Tom McCall, elected in 1967, introduced and oversaw the passage of three bills between 1969 and 1973 that built upon each other to fundamentally change the way the state governed land use.
The first bill, Senate Bill 10, required every city and county in Oregon to have a land-use plan to prevent sprawl from overtaking the state’s considerable natural beauty and local agriculture. With no explicit power to enforce the requirement, however, Senate Bill 10 was fatally flawed.
This shortcoming was the impetus for Senate Bill 100, passed in 1973, which created a seven-member Land Conservation and Development Commission to administer the adoption of city and county land-use plans. The commission set specific and comprehensive goals for air and water quality, economic development and natural resource protection to which every local land-use plan had to adhere.
The third bill, Senate Bill 101, also passed in 1973, required all Oregon cities to set urban growth boundaries, rezone urban land to create affordable housing and refine transportation networks to reduce the necessity of car travel.
Defeating the Mount Hood Freeway
In parallel to Governor McCall’s administration, a former Portland city councilman and newly elected mayor echoed many of the same principles locally. Neil Goldschmidt won the mayor’s seat on a pledge to defeat the federally funded Mt. Hood freeway, which drew the ire of Portland’s citizens for a construction plan that would bisect many established urban neighborhoods. After Goldschmidt was elected mayor in 1972, over freeway supporter Frank Ivancie, the plan was nixed. The federal money was reallocated to lay infrastructure for a new light rail system, improve bus lines and make repairs to arterial streets. This investment in public transportation led to the creation of TriMet, now an established symbol of the city’s livability.
One of primary intents of the McCall’s urban growth boundaries was the revitalization of Oregon’s downtown cores; Goldschmidt’s involvement in the adoption of the 1972 Downtown Plan embodied this goal even more explicitly. The plan aimed to overhaul the design of downtown Portland by actively consulting with citizen groups through advisory committees, which were open to all Portlanders. Their work led to the creation of McCall Waterfront Park, the continued development of a light rail system, a downtown bus mall, and the now familiar bonding of downtown with farther-flung neighborhoods via a four-quadrant city layout.