New Partners for Smart Growth Conference Report

Mary Kyle McCurdy and Greg Holmes
Thu, 02/25/2016 - 3:00pm

Takeaways and Tools

The 15th annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference was held in Portland from February 11-13, 2016.  1000 Friends staff and Board members played key roles in organizing and presenting in several of the conference workshops, trainings, and tours.  The NPSG conference exists to integrate issues of smart growth, health, equity, environment, active transportation, climate change, affordable housing, cultural resources, and more.  It brings together non-profit groups and elected officials; professionals in many fields; realtors, developers, bankers; advocates for equity and environmental justice, Native Americans, youth, older adults, walking and biking; labor, and more.

The 2016 conference theme was “Practical Tools and Innovative Strategies for Creating Great Communities,” emphasizing implementation partnerships, tools, strategies, and new technologies.

One theme explored in various ways throughout the conference was affordable communities -  how to integrate affordable housing, accessible transportation, and public and private investment. 1000 Friends of Oregon’s Policy Director Mary Kyle McCurdy was part of a three hour presentation and training session entitled "Techniques for Providing Diverse, Equitable and Affordable Housing Options.”  Mary Kyle joined four other panelists from around the country.  Her focus was on inclusionary housing – what the tool is, how it contributes to inclusive and thriving communities, and why small cities and rural towns throughout Oregon would like to use this tool, also called “inclusionary zoning.”  She focused in particular on why communities in central Oregon, the Coast, the Gorge, and in southern Oregon would like to have the tool of inclusionary zoning legally available to them. 

Other panelists presented new research on the causes of displacement and tools to try to get ahead of it.  Information and experiences on effective techniques for discussing infill and density was exchanged. Local Portland builder Eli Spevak of Orange Splot presented examples of alternative housing he has built, in particular types that fit the “missing middle” of many housing markets – cluster and cottage housing, rowhouses, smaller single family housing, accessory dwelling units, and more. The presentations provoked lively discussions on the affordable housing crisis facing communities across the country, what other places are doing to address it, the challenges of economic displacement, and frustration over how even the most robust land use and related tools can address only some of the causes and consequences.

To see Mary Kyle’s PowerPoint presentation, click here.  You can learn more about inclusionary zoning here.

Oregon is currently one of only two states in the nation that bans the use of inclusionary zoning. 1000 Friends joined with affordable housing advocates and environmental organizations in making lifting the ban – and restoring this tool to cities – a priority for the 2016 Oregon legislative session. We will continue to make an easy to use IZ tool for future sessions.

Food Systems work was also prominently featured at the conference. 1000 Friends of Oregon’s Food Systems Program Director Greg Holmes was part of the national planning committee that put together an entire pre-conference afternoon of “extra” food systems programming. . About 60 people came in from around the US and Canada a day early for a series of discussions on food justice, rural wealth generation through food systems, and linking public health with economic development. Among the speakers for the closing session was former 1000 Friends of Oregon Outreach Director Tara Sulzen (now with Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s staff) talking about better food and agriculture policy through smart growth.

On the opening morning of the conference, Greg joined three other speakers in front of a standing room only crowd to talk about some of the amazing food systems work happening in Oregon, and how it can nourish smart growth initiatives. Greg talked about the Rogue Valley Food Systems Network, and it’s leading model for Oregon. Sarah Sullivan, Executive Director of Gorge Grown, and High Desert Food and Farm Alliance Board Member Katrina Van Dis presented  food systems work being done in other regions around the state.  Lauren Gwin, the Associate Director of the OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, moderated the discussion and introduced the audience to the Oregon Community Food Systems Network, which will formally launch soon. (Watch here for details.)

All of the speakers emphasized how growing robust, regional food systems help to keep farmland in production and grow local economies. The overflow audience was also interested in how these four different efforts from around the state helped bring people together to accomplish many goals at once, and how  to use these organizing models with other smart growth initiatives. You can view all of their slides here.

On Friday morning, Greg joined Julia Freedgood, Assistant Vice President of the American Farmland Trust, Jeremy Madsen, CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Greenbelt Alliance, and Kathy Macpherson, Vice President of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation in Ontario, Canada, to share strategies for preserving agricultural land near urban areas. In addition to land use regulations, each presenter shared work their organizations are doing to help farms and ranches be more economically successful. You can view Greg's presentation here, Kathy's here, and Jeremy's here.

This conference was a great opportunity for us to showcase 1000 Friends of Oregon’s successful housing and food systems programs to a national audience, and to learn from others doing cutting edge work across North America. We learned a lot and look forward to applying new knowledge and strategies to our own work here in Oregon.