Here is the problem, Ben--there is a very long history and implicit arrangement between homeowners and the City over what you deem "public space". For decades, the City has allowed homeowners quasi-property rights over those spaces and imposed requirements. And now, a dramatic change in the way that space is treated is being proposed as if this is just a minor change.
Do you realize, for instance, that I am obligated to keep my sidewalk repaired even though it's supposedly city owned? I have to mow the space between the sidewalk and the street, maintain the trees (including getting a permit to trim the tree), and either clean up or pay to have cleaned up the street in front of my house--what you call "public space"--even though the City ostensibly owns the trees? This all for a "public space" that has not had a single amount of maintenance in the 13 years we've lived on it.
I think this is a discussion the City has to have, but am suspicious of out of town developers here for a quick buck and others who have a particular vision of urban life telling us what our vision is or ought to be without really engaging ALL the stakeholder in this very unique city.
I think you can make a strong argument that many of the things you and I celebrate about Portland--our neighborhood character, our vital retail sectors, our laid back lifestyle--is because we have sometimes ignored some (not all but some) planning mandates and have retained our low density, homeowner centered structure. But that's just the structure that is under pressure.
A decade ago, Richard Florida told us if we just attracted the young and restless we'd be the economic cat's meow. It hasn't happened--we have stubborn high unemployment. Five years ago, we were told that we were in "peak oil", within a few years we'd all be paying $10 a gallon, and that we needed to radically change our lifestyle. Didn't happen. Now we are being told that cities of the future will look just so... but the same planning community was the root of the suburban evils a generation ago.
How did we get so good at predicting the future now when we've had such mixed success in the past? I think these are conversations we need to have, and I'm supportive of permitting and focusing dense developments in certain corridors. But I remain very skeptical that today's planners have omniscience. And as a resident of the City for 13 years with a family that's been here for 35 years, I think there is a community of Portlanders that seems to have little voice in this discussion. Those are the folks who are coming out of the woodworks now.
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