Urban planning is to Portland what sharia is to Riyadh—the answer for everything.

Last week, city officials kicked off their latest update to the Portland Plan, which will chart the city's course for the next three decades. At least 10 city staff will work full-time on the three-year project, which will cost about $2 million next year.

How do the last big Portland plans—from 1972 and 1988—hold up? Pretty well, considering all that can change over decades. Aside from grumps like Cato Institute fellow Randal O'Toole, who believes "government planning always fails," most consider Portland's planners some of the best. But here's where their crystal balls fell short:

On TV: Fat Albert, Munich Olympics

Typical plan sentence: "Automobile traffic is noisy, smelly, and dangerous."

Grade: B. Ambitious and concise. Hostile to cars and tall buildings.


• "Keep the Willamette River free of pollution."
2008) River still full of shit. Fish still full of PCBs and mercury.

• "Reinforce the Oriental restaurant concentration along NW Fourth Avenue with additional entertainment facilities."
2008) Are strip clubs "entertainment facilities"?

• Calls for major emphasis on public transit, and downtown "traffic-free" districts where private car traffic and on-street parking are "eliminated."
2008) Cars are banned…during parades. This year's Plan drafters call the transportation goals of 1972 "unrealistic." Transit ridership is 50 percent lower than the 1972 goal.

On TV: Matlock, Iran-Contra

Typical plan sentence: "These are aspirations for greatness, aspirations that, if adhered to, can be achieved. This is how great cities come into being."

Grade: C. Less ambitious yet more grandiose. Made peace with cars and development.


• "Establish a World's Fair committee."
2008) Still time to bid for the 2020 Olympics.

• "Recognize that parking is an important element in the transportation system."
2008) So much for 1972's going "traffic-free."

• "Provide year-round shelter for the homeless."
2008) No—but we've got a 10-Year Plan for that, too.

• Develop "public restroom facilities such as pissoirs."
2008) Not yet—but you can pee in City Hall after dark.

• Study "alternative fuels for transit."
2008) TriMet still burns diesel. Some gas stations pump biofuels.

• Build a public aquarium as a major attraction.
2008) Go, Fish.

• Promote the growth of the brewing and distilling industries.
2008) Portland has 30 breweries—more than any city anywhere. Cheers!


The Planning Bureau hosts two public summits on the Portland Plan on Saturday, June 14, from 9 am to noon in the Floyd Light Middle School cafeteria and from 2 to 5 pm in PSU's Smith Ballroom.