If pigs had wings, they could fly. Fact or fiction?
When I see pro and con RIP (Residential Infill Project) arguments, this is the type of situation I imagine.
Having retired as a planner but still active in the field, I am familiar with Portland's planning efforts and the state guidelines to be followed. And what I am seeing with RIP is a combination of statements of fact and fiction. For example:
• Fact: The most recent Portland Plan update is flawed. It did not adequately address the "missing middle." Portland planners have publicly admitted this.
• Fact: One reason for RIP is to impose additional density into traditional single-family areas to make up for the lack of missing middle densities. Technically, the State Housing Goal (Goal 10) requires cities to plan for a variety of housing types at all income levels. This hasn't effectively happened in Portland and, in my opinion, both Metro and the state Department of Land Conservation and Development seem to have turned a blind eye.
• Fiction: Neighborhoods like Laurelhurst or Eastmoreland that seek historic status in order to escape RIP are either elitist or racist. In reality, these neighborhoods are primarily seeking to protect their neighborhood character, something RIP does not guarantee.
Historic status does not prevent people of any persuasion from moving there. If anything, housing affordability is the deciding factor. Outdated deed covenants banning certain groups of people from neighborhoods are illegal and not a factor here.
• Fact: RIP over time will change a neighborhood's character as older homes are demolished and replaced with higher-density infill. Increasing density and including more dense types of housing is a goal of RIP. Small, older homes will be among the first to be replaced and neighborhoods that might be of a similar type or style of housing will, over time, see substantial change.
• Fiction: RIP will promote equity and housing affordability in the areas where it is imposed. In reality, there are no guarantees that any new housing in an RIP area will be affordable or equitable unless the city were to subsidize a substantial number of units, which is doubtful.
• Fact: ADU's (Accessory Dwelling Units) will be permitted in all single-family areas whether RIP is adopted or not. This is true and currently is state law (SB 1051).
• Fiction: RIP will promote green development and help to reduce heat island effects. RIP has no such provisions and doesn't even require planted landscaping for new development except for street trees. Adding new buildings will create additional impervious surface and eliminate more site trees than would be replaced by street trees. And with many opting for low-maintenance yards, less green landscaping is likely.
• Fact: The American dream is different for everyone. Just because one person's ideal living environment is a single-family house on a landscaped lot and someone else's is a functional apartment in a particular part of town, doesn't make one more right than the other. If people were ants, density wouldn't be an issue. But people aren't ants and density change can have enormous consequences for many.
Planning processes need to be transparent and unbiased, otherwise they turn into a social engineering scheme where public involvement and due process (State Planning Goal 1-Citizen Involvement) are only a formality and not seriously addressed.
David Krogh is a retired planner who lives in Southeast Portland. Reach him at: email@example.com