When is equity achieved? According to the Portland Plan Progress Report, it is “when identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation has no detrimental effect on the distribution of resources, opportunities, and outcomes for group.” (Sustainability, 2017). Regions with greater inclusion and smaller racial income gaps attain more economic growth, yet most communities of color in the Portland metropolitan region experience the worst economic and social disparities (Metro, 2016b). Portland’s racial equity journey started with the Portland Plan 2012 which was initiated in 2009 and published three years later (Anne Green et al., 2017). Later came the Comprehensive Plan 2035 which incorporated the Portland Plan and then the Climate Action Plan. All three were released by the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), and to parallel these documents, Metro published the ‘Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity and Inclusion’ which set five main goals to achieve racial equity. All of PBS’ plans have racial equity goals and released a progress report in 2017 entailing which goals were on the path to being met and which ones were at a standstill. Correspondingly, each bureau in the City of Portland has a five-year racial equity plan with specific steps to achieve their goals.
The Portland Plan 2012 included a ten-page section solely about racial equity and set a list of goals to “close the gaps” regarding racial inequity. The objective was to collect data to better understand the challenges faced by communities of color, then apply it to assess equity impact on policies, investments, and public services in order to tailor approaches to reduce racial disparities (Portland, 2012). These same goals are applied in the plan’s Five-Year Action Plan in addition to enforcing the City of Portland Civil Rights Title VI Program Plan, which calls for the removal of “barriers and conditions that prevent minority and low-income groups and persons from receiving access, participation, and benefits from city programs, services, and activities.” (Portland, 2012). Another aim is to build the skills and expertise to address institutional racism and general racial inequity (Portland, 2012) which both Metro and BPS have been diligently working on.
Policy 3.1 in the Comprehensive Plan, uses an urban design framework as a guide to create inclusive places; like so, Action 18 of the twenty equity actions in the Portland Plan, uses an equity roadmap that was designed to identify and eliminate discrimination while promoting equitable outcomes (Sustainability, 2017). Goal C of the Strategic Plan strives to promote equity lens training. Equity would be perceived as a top priority by employees and provide mandatory racial equity training for all staff (Metro, 2016b). Metro created the Committee on Racial Equity (CORE), to advise Metro staff on implementing the Strategic Plan successfully (Metro, 2020). Additionally, Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) initiated the Racial Equity Committee, who is in charge of ensuring the bureau is following and implementing an equity lens flawlessly (Portland, 2020c). Chris Smith relayed during the interview that the Planning Commission had equity training but is shifting towards an anti-racist lens that would be a more intense lens. He added that it is a learning process because it is difficult to dismantle the institutional racism in place even with new policies written using an equity lens.
Both the Strategic Plan and the Comprehensive plan aim to implement policies, procedures, and infrastructure decisions that advances racial equity and allocates equitable resources and investments to communities of color (Metro, 2016b, Portland, 2020a) and make decisions based on awareness of how past decisions have affected equity (Portland, 2020a). In contrast, the Portland African-American Leadership Forum (PAALF) felt that setting equity goals is not enough to end the racial problems (Forum, 2017). The organization published The People’s Plan to show what the inclusion of Black people looks like and how it should be done. Local municipalities promised to implement racial equity in their work but they have fallen short in achieving meaningful change for the Black community (Forum, 2017). As seen in the progress report, equity inclusion had not changed since the Portland Plan was released. Out of the twenty equity actions initiated by the city, five percent have not been started and the rest are in progress, meaning that even though some are underway, none have actually been sought through (Sustainability, 2017). Furthermore, survey respondents expressed that the city keeps talking equity, but no real efforts have been made to implement it. Forty-two percent of respondents agreed that current planning policies aid in further marginalization of POC residents and some felt that the city still favors the White population.
Community engagement played a significant role in shaping equity goals by using feedback from non-profit organizations, businesses, and residents. The Portland Plan held dozens of workshops, hundreds of meetings with community groups, and received 20,000 comments from residents, local businesses, and non-profit organizations before releasing the plan in 2012 (Portland, 2012). Similarly, Portland 2030 was created by asking 17,000 people what they wanted for PDX’s future. A number of values were set which included: community connectedness and distinctiveness, equity and accessibility, sustainability, safety, accountability and leadership, inclusion and diversity (VisionPDX, 2008). Portland moved towards a bottom-up approach where community organizations have more say instead of the city taking the lead (Anne Green et al., 2017). Adding on, the Strategic Plan aims to break down social, historical, and institutional barriers while improving practices to better engage communities of color (Metro, 2016b); likewise, the Comprehensive Plans’ community engagement goals align with the Strategic Plan as seen in the whole of chapter two of the Comprehensive Plan and expands into further detail regarding the representation of vulnerable communities in decision making processes by acknowledging the exclusive historical past to better understand the conditions of the communities the plan is trying to represent and put forth more culturally appropriate processes through consulting with communities of color (Portland, 2020a). Subsequently, the City of Portland won an award in 2015 from the International Association for Public Transportation, for the equity and community focus on their Powell-Division Transit and Development Project (Sustainability, 2017). Furthermore, Policy 2.27 in the Comprehensive Plan aims to identify the demographics of possible affected communities when starting a planning project (Portland, 2020a). The city followed through with this promise by commissioning a study called, “Walking While Black” in which communities of color were interviewed to procure a visceral picture of what it is like to be a pedestrian with dark skin. This study was done out of the PBOT and used to redo their pedestrian masterplan (Chirinos, 2020a) as well as engage the POC community into the city’s plans. Moreover, Metro recently had a steering committee of about thirty people, including representatives from the Urban League of Portland and Coalition of Communities of Color, who helped develop the project list for allocating investment to communities that were traditionally under-served who mainly consisted of POC and low-income populations (Chirinos, 2020a).
Aside from wanting to engage more diverse groups, Portland’s planning departments also wanted to facilitate accessibility to the meetings for communities of color. Metro’s goals A and B from their Strategic Plan proposed different methods as to how they will meet their vision. “Goal A: Metro convenes and supports regional partners to advance racial equity” (Metro, 2016a) consists of gathering public, private, and community partners from the Portland region and to collaborate on how to advance racial equity and address a number of issues such as improving access to government services and decision making processes (Metro, 2016a). Goal B’s mission is to engage communities of color meaningfully by breaking down institutional barriers, reducing obstacles that obstruct POC from attending meetings, and continue to polish culturally informed practices (Metro, 2016a). Policy 2.34 of the Comprehensive Plan and Goal B in the Strategic Plan both state that accessibility to meetings will be improved in terms of time, location, language, and childcare services (Portland, 2020a, Metro, 2016a). However, Anahi Segovia Rodriguez expressed during her interview that the system was set up against those who could not afford to skip work for a public meeting, in other words, they needed to work to survive. She continued to express that the commute can be lengthy for some, parking is hard to find and it has to be paid for which put low-income POC at a disadvantage, and even if the meetings could be accessed online, there were no alternative language options. Overall, Rodriguez felt that community leaders intended to listen to these groups of people, but their real intention was to gather their support and push their political agenda.
Environmental Justice and Accessibility
Parks and greenspace are very important to Portlanders, but so is accessibility to services and amenities, mainly if they can be reached by bicycle or walking which is explicitly mentioned in Portland 2030. By the year 2030, the people would like to see Portland have public transportation that better connects neighborhoods to each other and the city center, goods and services are easily accessible in every neighborhood, and everyone has equitable access to community gardens, parks, and greenspace (VisionPDX, 2008). The public’s demands seemed to have been taken into consideration since both the Comprehensive Plan and the Climate Action Plan set aims and objectives to fulfill said needs. The Comprehensive Plan’s Policy 8.22 states that public facilities will be provided to alleviate service deficiencies in places facing these disparities (Portland, 2020a). The Climate Action Plan sets several goals to achieve environmental justice and recognizes that these goals cannot be achieved without addressing existing disparities and advancing equitable outcomes (Portland and County, 2015). Ongoing institutional racial bias and historical discriminatory practices consequently led to the inequitable distribution of resources and access to opportunities for communities of color (Portland and County, 2015).
Communities of color have been pushed out from Northeast neighborhoods like Alberta and Cully into the outer eastern part of Portland due to high housing prices and discrimination. Thirty-eight percent of East Portland residents are POC and twenty-five percent of the city’s population resides in this area, yet they lack frequent transit service and indicators of a complete neighborhood (i.e. bike lanes and sidewalks) due to poor investments (Portland and County, 2015). Equitable access to public transportation and greenspace is essential to the resilience of these communities (Forum, 2017). If these factors were improved, carbon emissions would be reduced. Communities of color already face higher respiratory and mental health problems due to their neighborhoods being closer to freeways, brownfields, and other hazardous areas (Forum, 2017), but the air quality, noise pollution, and temperature would be reduced if more greenspace was added (Portland and County, 2015). Households of color are disproportionately more likely to be in a “heat island” as found in a study conducted by Portland State University in 2019. Heat islands are areas that are significantly hotter than others because they consist of more concrete and asphalt than greenery which would help keep the place cool (Williams, 2020). The study found that in Portland, the cooler areas were a result of intentional investment in parks, trees, and transportation and housing policies that yielded “cooler services” which coincided with wealthier and White residents, yet the neighborhoods that experienced higher temperatures were historically subject to discriminatory housing policies (Williams, 2020). Some heat islands in Portland are the inner SE industrial area, inner NE along the I-5 Corridor, and the 82nd Avenue Corridor between I-84 and Foster Road (Williams, 2020). This systemic pattern suggests than Portland’s planning system has been negligent of the affected communities and prioritizing richer and whiter communities. Fortunately, city councilors adopted changes to the city code in 2019 where new development to allocate greenery and parking lot size limitations are required. Communities groups have been active in planting more trees and expanding greenspace by using the heat map [figure x] to target areas needing these amenities (Williams, 2020). Hopefully, the city can implement more green buildings and ecological sound developments in Black neighborhoods as well, as it is something Black Portlanders would like to see more of (Forum, 2017). According to PAALF, a sustainable city is both ecologically, socially healthy and places greater emphasis on environmental justice (Forum, 2017). However, the Climate Change Act warns that investments that help relieve these environmental burdens attract new residents to these communities which would increase gentrification and displacement (Portland and County, 2015), therefore, planning departments must include anti-displacements plans to ensure that these new investments do not create further displacement (Forum, 2017).