PORTLAND IS LOSING one of its most experienced and respected political leaders—and to one of our rivals.
As the Mercury first reported last week, two-term Metro President David Bragdon will be leaving office four months early to start directing green initiatives in New York City.
Bragdon's blunt advice for the Portland politicos he's leaving behind? It's time to learn a lesson or two from New York: Think bolder and act more decisively.
"There's a complacency here that's really detrimental to our forward progress," says Bragdon. "Ultimately there's a certain paralysis of analysis that goes on here."
Bragdon, a New York native who moved to Portland in the 1970s, is wistful about leaving. An outspoken advocate of smart growth, Bragdon shepherded the years-long tweaking of our urban growth boundary and, recently, has been a critic of the Columbia River Crossing project.
But Bragdon says he was attracted to the new post because of New York City's transformation in recent years.
"Portland's been doing these things for a longer time, but New York has been doing them more quickly and decisively," says Bragdon. "They closed Times Square to traffic! It's the most visible and complicated intersection in the country, and without a whole lot of hand wringing they got it done."
With his term as president expiring, it wasn't clear what job Bragdon could take to move up. His name has been thrown around as a potential Portland mayoral candidate in 2012, but Metro actually oversees more people and land than Portland.
Bragdon shook Mayor Michael Bloomberg's hand on the morning of Wednesday, August 11, sealing the deal to become the Big Apple's new director of long-term planning and sustainability.
The position puts Bragdon in charge of arguably the nation's most ambitious green effort, PlaNYC. It involves building 1,800 miles of bike lanes and cycle tracks, pursuing traffic-congestion tolls, and planting one million trees.
For one example of how New York has outpaced Portland, look at bike parking. As BikePortland.org Editor Jonathan Maus points out, Portland installed its first on-street bike corral in 2006 but took three years to install a second. Meanwhile, New York installed 3,100 bike racks.
"They've managed to really shake up the status quo," says Maus. "[Bragdon] is the best and brightest so where does he want to go? New York City, of course."
Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette will fill in as president until January. Then either Tom Hughes or Bob Stacey will claim the seat, pending the outcome of what's expected to be a tight November election. For now, both candidates defend Portland's style.
"People across this region expect a level of participation on important issues that people may not expect in New York," says Stacey. "I don't find fault with that deliberative decision-making."
Adds Hughes: "For the most part, we're a model for how to do planning. New York is playing catch-up."