Gaining Ground: Portland’s Robert Liberty

May 22, 2008 at 12:50 am Leave a comment

I took up David Chard’s invitation and attended the reception for Robert Liberty last night at the Gaining Ground Summit at the Laurel Point Inn.

Liberty is a Portland Councillor (re-elected this week) who knows a lot about urban sustainability.

The Times Colonist’s Carolyn Heiman profiled Liberty in yesterday’s paper:

“I hate to disillusion people in Victoria,” […] “We are making progress, but we’re not Oz.”

Every day when he rides home on his bike, he sees people sleeping under bridges. Liberty will be in Victoria today and tomorrow speaking to the third annual Gaining Ground Sustainable Urban Development Leadership Summit. Instead of offering Victoria advice, he’ll be talking about Portland’s struggles and responses.

Liberty is also going to address the importance of public spaces in a world where “we need to reduce our consumption per capita.” He thinks Victoria is doing a better job than most American cities.

“Americans,” he says, “can always be counted on to do the right thing once they have exhausted other opportunities.”

I was impressed with Liberty–he was under no illusion that dealing with densification and homelessness is easy. His main piece of advise to those that would like to streamline the process was to ignore individual motivation and focus on the idea. Portland (and Victoria) needs to ask, what is it we would like to acheive? When this is done we might find that the traditional opponents have more in common than they might think, and that even though they might not agree completely, we cannot risk scuttling important initiatives simply because there isn’t total consensus.

This is important advice we must heed as we struggle to come to terms with some of Victoria’s most controversial proposals: the Ellice St. Shelter, the needle exchange, a safe-injection site, a Community Court project, sewage treatment and affordable housing initiatives.

Most interesting was the story of a Portland developer claiming that his mix of for-profit mixed housing (market and non-market) was better than the not-for-profit affordable housing being produced. Lessons for Victoria?

Also worth noting was Liberty’s claim that fully one-third of Portland’s homeless have jobs.

All in all, it was a great event–good food and a chance to chat with some of Victoria’s politicians, developers, planners and architects. Kudos to Dave Chard and Gene Miller for bringing everyone together.

Entry filed under: media, social issues, urban design.

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