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Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 02 December 2010

Portland is a growing city with a reputation for being ahead of the curve on green planning; Detroit is a shrinking city, struggling to deal with vast stretches of urban wasteland. But do the two cities have anything in common?

In a word: Fairness. Lack of fairness that is – especially when it comes to communities of color. As it happens, Portland has a lot to learn from Detroit – and not just how to win an NBA game on the road.

"Portland has seen some nice investments where neighborhoods have been improved, but the benefits have not been spread equally," says Ellen Bassett, assistant professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University.

"We don't have issues as severe as Detroit has, but we mustn't fool ourselves that we don't have the same problems of social inequity," Bassett says,  "We see this in access to affordable housing and whether people have access to good school systems or to struggling schools.

There's a link between where people reside and the opportunities they have."

Bassett points to the Coalition of Communities of Color report that showed people of color in Multnomah County face huge challenges.

People of color are much more likely to live in poverty and to live in resource-poor neighborhoods with underfunded, struggling schools.

"What we are seeing is the suburbanization of poverty," Bassett says.

"Some localities are being asked to absorb large numbers of people, without the resources to do so. Schools in those neighborhoods have higher numbers of students whose first language is not English, for example, and they are struggling. So we have school systems with very different educational outcomes."

That's why the Toulan School is creating a yearly event to discuss how Portland can bring fairness into planning decisions. The first annual Bonner Equity Planning Event will bring to Portland Professor Robin Boyle of Wayne State University and Ms. Linda Smith, of Detroit's community development corporation U-SNAP-BAC. It's being held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 9 at University Place Hotel, Columbia Falls Ballroom, 310 SW Lincoln St. in Portland. Confirm at [email protected].

Professor Boyle has been working on a task force charged with revitalizing Detroit's midtown. He will talk about: 'Detroit: the 21st Century Challenge — a test of equity, vitality, and sustainability.'

Also on the panel will be Michelle Rudd, a partner in the Stoel Rives law office and a planning expert who is serving on the newly formed Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission; and Connie Ozawa, director of the Toulan School. Dr. Bassett will act as the moderator for the discussion. The event is free and open to the public.

Bassett hopes the event, organized with Coalition for a Livable Future, will bring leadership to an issue that has been discussed in Portland, but has seen little real action.

"We need to have a serious discussion about fairness, and about how the benefits and costs of planning and public investment are spread" Bassett said. "Why don't we think about sharing our tax base across the metro region to make sure resources are distributed fairly? We're willing to invest a lot of money for projects like bike lanes, why can't we do the same for affordable housing?

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