Oregon Cities Making Progress Toward "Complete Communities", Report Finds

Once again Oregon communities are receiving high praise from a national source. This time it’s a new report from Reconnecting America, examining American communities’ progress toward creating “complete communities.”

The report from Reconnecting America, entitled Are We There Yet?, describes “complete communities” as “places where people can live, work, move, and thrive in a healthier, more equitable, and more economically competitive way.” This definition is remarkably similar to what 1000 Friends calls “Cool Communities,” which we believe is possible and desirable for Oregon communities of all sizes.

Through careful compilation of data related to how people travel, work, and live in America’s 366 metropolitan areas, Reconnecting America makes clear how Oregon’s six metropolitan areas—Bend, Corvallis, Eugene-Springfield, Medford, Portland, and Salem—are doing in their efforts to be healthy, prosperous, and livable for all residents.

The answer: Oregon cities are doing very well. For the most part.

The analysis breaks down into four parts: Living, Working, Moving, and Thriving. Regions are measured under indicators from a variety of sources, like transit access for workers and homes, overall affordability of housing plus transportation costs, retaining and attracting new regional talent, access to grocery stores and parks, and physical activity rates.

The report notes how trends are changing in all of these areas. People are moving into smaller homes. More people, both young and old, are choosing to drive less or not at all, and seeking places where this is possible. Cities that succeed economically are attracting well-educated, creative professionals, who desire certain amenities like good transit systems, safe environments for biking and walking, and access to nature. Meanwhile, many cities (including Oregon cities) are facing major backlogs in infrastructure maintenance and repair, with few sources to fund these obligations.

Exploring how communities large and small are responding to these and other trends gives us an idea of their future. Those that respond well will succeed, while those that doggedly pursue older ideas of development, transportation, and job creation are more likely to struggle.

In these changing circumstances, the news is generally good for Oregon. Five of Oregon’s six metropolitan areas received generally high marks in all categories. Many instances of good Oregon planning were highlighted in the report, including Portland and Eugene’s successful connection of jobs to transit, the walkable transit-oriented Orenco Station in Hillsboro, and the fact that Corvallis, Bend, and Medford are all among the nation’s most active metropolitan areas.

Here is how Oregon’s metro areas rank:

Living

Working

Moving

Thriving

Bend

D

D

C

A

Corvallis

B

B

A

A

Eugene

B

A

A

A

Medford

B

B

B

A

Portland

A

A

A

A

Salem

B

B

A

A

The only metro area receiving marks lower than a B in any of the categories is Bend, likely due to its less-extensive transit system and more dispersed population.

But no matter the grade, all metro areas can improve. How? One strategy is to design transit networks in tandem with where people of all income brackets live and work, now and in the future, so that transit is an efficient choice for everyone, not just a secondary “alternative” to driving. It means improving safety and options for people walking and biking, which will get more people making these choices for commuting or errands, helping them stay healthy and have access to the places they want to go. This can mean investing in better parks and trails, as is being considered by voters in Bend this fall, or in more efficient transit, like Eugene’s EmX bus rapid transit program.

Reconnecting America employs an interesting concept, called “opportunity areas,” to demonstrate how communities might reach their full potential. These are places that may not yet have every element of a complete community, but that have many of the “bones” to get there, including a street grid, water and sewer system, storm drainage, moderate density of housing and jobs, and so on. Oregon cities have many opportunity areas where focused investment might further improve their quality of life, economic competitiveness, and sustainability.

Land use planning is one tool that has made Oregon’s past success possible and that will secure its future. The land use planning program helps communities focus job and housing growth in existing urban areas near transit services, make neighborhoods safer for walking and biking, and make the best use of limited taxpayer money for infrastructure. Forty years since its creation, we are still seeing the fruits of our choices to invest in long-term health and prosperity over short-term profits. Whether we call them Cool Communities or Complete Communities, these are places where Oregonians can be proud to live for generations to come.

Read the full report, which is full of fascinating context, interesting statistics, and valuable insight from experts, here. (pdf)

Learn more about the role of land use planning in your community at friends.org/landuseis.