“Build more roads, watch out for liberal ideas.”
That’s the advice that Portlander John Jagosh gave to the city of Boise last month, in a letter published in the Idaho Statesman.
John blamed progressive ideas like light rail and legal marijuana for “essentially [ruining] my town,” and he warned Boise residents to avoid the same pitfalls, lest “your beautiful parks and walkways [become] filled with tents, debris and human waste.”
John was expressing a view that’s shared by plenty of Portlanders — but it’s hardly a majority opinion here in Portland.
So we asked Bridgeliner readers to fill in the gaps that John missed. Here’s what they told us:
Listen John, I hear you. Portland isn’t perfect. We face many complex challenges and the process of solving problems can be messy and consistently disappointing – on that we agree. Your recent letter to Boise residents reeks of nativism and exclusion.
Your attempts to evoke fear in hopes of encouraging them to be close minded and to resist change is both an unsophisticated approach and honestly, insulting. My hope is that the people of Boise see through your short-sighted rhetoric and instead embrace the next chapter of their growth with courage and hope instead of buying into your self-righteous, acrimonious advice.
Portland’s not as full of “liberal ideas” as you might think. A dark history of racism in housing exists in all U.S. cities but presents itself differently. We see that legacy in the plight of houseless people across the city, who are more likely to be people of color. “Liberals” might react with a moral claim of the right to housing, and “conservatives” might resist spending government dollars serving the houseless. It turns out they could agree on the solution: the cheapest way to end homelessness is to provide housing. Portland isn’t there yet, but we’re tackling these issues from a number of angles—some are “liberal,” like requiring landlords to pay moving costs when their rent increases displace families, and some are “conservative,” like removing regulations that hamper housing supply.
IMHO, Portland leadership has been too focused on the minority of roadway users: cyclists. In Seattle they reduced car lanes for bicyclists. This caused a lot of the congestion in the core of the city. I see this happening here and it is disheartening…. Ask the public where the funds should go and my guess is it’s toward improved roadways. What happened to the government supporting the majority of its citizens? I recall when Portland was one of the most livable cities in the country largely due to an average 20 minute commute. Anyone try to get to Wilsonville at 5 o’clock lately? I often feel like Portland city leaders determine “what is best for us” instead of what we want as citizens.
Counterpoint: Our city hasn’t actually done that much for cyclists in the last 50 years. Portland still has way fewer bike lanes than cities like San Diego, Tucson, Philadelphia, and Fresno, and the current spending spree is about playing catch up, not putting cyclists first.
But here’s another question: Do people really want more/wider highways, or do they want less traffic? If it’s the latter, perhaps we should be embracing tolling or congestion pricing, which research shows would do more to reduce traffic in the long run than building new roads or lanes.
Ultimately, I trust the public to tell public officials what they want — but when it comes to turning those wants into public policy, I think the urban planning wonks are worth listening to.
—Ben DeJarnette, Bridgeliner director
Dear Boise, you’re a pretty city in a lovely setting, but you are about to become the next Portland. Here’s some advice: Don’t sneer at Californians. Everyone is from somewhere.
Embrace progressivism. I know it’s Idaho but come on. Grapple with those big ideas: affordable housing, climate change, public school funding, infrastructure, the arts.
Love your neighborhoods.
Have a form of city government with council members representing districts.
Ignore the advice of people like John Jagosh, who called Portland “my city” when he doesn’t even live in the city itself. Listen to all the diverse citizens within your own city limits.
[My advice]: Recognize and acknowledge past systemic oppression, and commit to specific remedies. Invest in affordable housing so neighborhoods can be diverse and people can live where they work. Invest in public transportation that is simple to use, with express lines connecting major hubs.
Harmful gentrification will occur unless Boise actively creates policies towards better ends. Decide how extra revenue from growth will be used before you are in the middle of a boom. Hold up values that benefit all residents, and indicate which groups are actively engaged in fostering those values.
I think Josh belongs in a red state, like Idaho is. With those beliefs, he doesn’t align with the community culture here, and there is no way he can fight it. He looks backward, nor forward, and any progressive-thinking city will someday be where we are, if they want to attract the highly educated workforce that delivers the prosperity cities cherish. Surely there are problems here, but better to manage challenges in a prosperous city than one fighting continuous poverty.
Decide what Boise needs to be 10 & 20 years from now, and build an insightful bridge to that future.
Many of us Portlanders came from places like Boise: towns where auto use is more important than humans using the city; where sacrificing immediate needs to build a better environment for our families, friends and everyone else is mocked; and where simply riding a bicycle as an adult is considered evidence of madness and immaturity. In Portland we are building a city that is different from all of those others. I don’t understand why people are angry at Portland trying to be different. If you want to live in a city where you have to drive everywhere, you have plenty of options and I suggest you go there.
I was just in Boise two weeks ago, and I was really impressed by what a great job they’ve done with their riverwalk, a network of bike paths that stretches for over 15 miles along the Boise river. There are several beautiful parks along the riverwalk, where I went running twice during my stay, including once during the Boise Marathon. I also stumbled upon a frisbee dog contest, a thriving farmer’s market, cart pods, a standing wave park for kayakers and surfers, a lot of outdoor live music venues, and a moving memorial to Anne Frank.