Hales’ Legacy and Perils of Prosperity

Excerpt from Can Mayor Hales Jump the Shark and Lead Portland to the Promised Land? by Dr. Bruce Stephenson

Charlie Hales
Charlie Hales

… Cutthroat real estate speculation brought the country to the edge of economic collapse in both the Great Depression and the Great Recession. A skilled technocrat, Hales is the one person who can ensure that a new comprehensive plan will direct development for a future population (expected to grow by 200,000 in the next twenty years) on lines that will procure sustainability, equity and profit. There is a unique moral dimension at play in Portland, and Hales’ ability to navigate the perils of prosperity will play to a much larger audience than the city’s 660,000 residents.

This summer the Mayor attended the Vatican summit on climate change. Portland is a prototype of the Promised Land Pope Francis envisions, a city where carbon is in remission and nature is ascendant. Portland remains a work in progress, and reaching the Promised Land requires a leader who must convince citizens not to worship the Golden Calf. Has a Portland Mayor ever had a greater exit?

Dr. Bruce Stephenson is Rollins College Environmental Studies professor, his research and teaching reveal how history informs the intersection of regional planning, sustainability, and urbanism.  See his study of the North Park Blocks here.

Image credit: Charlie Hales in 2011 By Steve Morgan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0


Conditions in North Park Blocks Documented in Research Study

Dr Bruce Stephenson
Dr Bruce Stephenson

Dr. Bruce Stephenson is dedicated to the art of city planning. A Rollins College Environmental Studies professor, his research and teaching reveal how history informs the intersection of regional planning, sustainability, and urbanism.

He started studying the North Park Blocks in early June as part of a project to document the livability of the Pearl District. He used a systematic approach to assess public life by counting users and categorizing uses in the North Park Blocks in four activities

  1. Sitting on Benches
  2. Walking through the Park Blocks (along north / south  axis to experience the park, rather than along east / west axis to cut through park)
  3. Hanging Out
  4. Possessing Camping Gear

He also counted individuals playing basketball and bocci, and listed the number of children using playground equipment and the number of adults supervising them. His counts were made at the lunch hour (12 pm-1:30 pm) and the early evening (5:00 pm to 6:30 pm), and he also recorded the temperature.

North Park Blocks August 2015

His findings support the claims made by the North Park Blocks group regarding the behavior of park visitors. Dr Stephenson’s data shows the summer users with camping gear intensified, increasing by 29 percent from July 10 to August 30. The block between Glisan and Hoyt experienced no change, while the remaining blocks had increases that ranged from 20 to 100 percent. The blocks between Burnside and Couch, and Flanders and Davis Everett and Flanders had highest aggregate numbers, averaging nearly 13 users with camping gear.

He writes:

In sections where campers congregate, extremes tend to be the norm: loud voices, drama, and expletives.  Homelessness is not a crime, but city parks were not intended to shelter the indigent. Ideally, parks should function like a college campus, environments to better ourselves, attune our senses to nature, and engage in civility. … The North Park Blocks illustrate the issues a progressive city with a welcoming public realm encounter.  The solution to homelessness belies a single policy; it requires a civic investment that demands time, money, and resources.  In return, Portland can elevate its public life and public spaces—a manifest sign of a civilized people.

For Dr Stephenson full analysis, see his blog.
His Oct 6th editorial in the Oregonian.

KATU-TV: Park Drugs, Public Sex, Off-Leash Dog Attacks

KATU-TV’s Jackie Labrecque reports on the break down of the North Park Blocks – drugs, public sex, off-leash dog attacks.

Note: Aug 25th – In an attempt to restore order to the North Park Blocks, the city began to cordon off the park with barbwire-topped chainlink fencing. More

KATU-TV ~ PORTLAND, Ore. — Neighbors in North Park Blocks have had enough of people using drugs, camping out for days, and even having sex in the middle of a public park in broad daylight.

The area runs along the south part of the Pearl District, and neighbors are begging city leaders to do something about it.

“Just in the past couple of months, the influx of homeless has been crazy,” said Amy Mullen, who takes her son to the park regularly around the city. It is his favorite, but she would rather avoid it.

NPB Burnside / Nw Park 8-12-15
NPB Burnside / NW Park 8-12-15

“People are shooting up, just out in the open. People are having sex, people are drinking. People are camping, they’re littering,” said Tami French, who lives right along the park.

French is fed up, and to make matters worse, her dog was attacked Saturday by another dog.

“It was the most horrifying experience. I thought he was going to kill my dog. I could not get this dog off of Yogi.”

French filed a report with Multnomah County Animal Services, and snapped a photo they asked us to include in our video report. They hope it will help them identify the owner who took off. Neighbors say the man hangs around the park a lot and the dog is rarely on a leash.

“We stand at that corner and look to see, Okay, where is the safest place to walk our dogs because there’s illegal activity occurring all the time in the park,” French explained.

Neighbors are posting each crime on their website, and are continuously calling on city leaders to do something. Police say they are aware of the pictures neighbors are posting of people having sex and shooting up and are addressing the problem with regular patrols.

While out talking with neighbors, the KATU crew ran into Bruce Stephenson who studies city planning.

“I’m trying to figure out how the park blocks are used,” Stephenson explained.

The professor from Florida is writing a book about the Pearl District. Each day he observes the North Park Blocks.

“What I’ve seen over the last two months is an increase of people with camping gear in the park blocks,” he said.

The very spaces moms would love to enjoy again with their kids.

“It’s understandable, it’s an unfortunate situation,” Mullen said. “But it isn’t fair. We’re a little nervous having a small child here.”

“Definitely, I would like to feel safe taking my kids to the neighborhood park,” said Jennifer Vesbit, who was at the park with Mullen.