In offering some historical context, Lessie situated the emergence of Portland’s Community Garden program within the political climate of in the early 1970’s. In Portland, this was a particularly fertile period in the development of innovative planning initiatives and increased citizen participation in governance. The early 1970’s saw a push back against the development of the Mount Hood Freeway (which would have run directly through many south east Portland neighborhoods), the creation of Portland’s neighborhood association system and perhaps most notably, the creation of the Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundary law. In 1973, Oregon Governor Tom McCall convinced the Oregon Legislature to adopt the nation's first set of statewide land use planning laws. McCall, backed by a coalition of farmers and environmentalists persuaded the State Legislature to pass Senate Bill 100, which created created the Land Conservation and Development Commission and the Department of Land Conservation and Development and established the requirement for Urban Growth Boundaries. Portland’s Urban Growth boundary, which would be officially instituted almost a decade later, has acted to prevent new development outside the city, preserving farm land and green space.
Out of this climate, the Community Gardens program emerged. Leslie noted that the creation of neighborhood associations provided the means for people to ask the city directly for assistance in establishing community gardens. There was also significant political support for the program from the then Mayor, Neil Goldschmidt. In addition to community gardens, Goldschmidt promoted the revitalization of Downtown Portland and was influential on Portland-area transportation policy, particularly with the abandonment of the Mount Hood Freeway and the establishment of the MAX Light Rail. In Leslie’s telling, a combination of a hippie ethos of “do it yourself” and the city and state support, created the conditions for community gardens to thrive in Portland.
Drawing connections between this earlier period and our own, Lessie offered her thoughts on the role of community gardens in the future development of the city. Recently, there has been a growing consensus concerning the necessity of increased housing density within Portland. In part, the Urban Growth Boundary has produced a condition requiring more “vertical development” than Portland has historically experienced, potentially jeopardizing the character of many existing residential neighborhoods. Further, over the past few days we’ve talked to UA practitioners who have expressed concern about the impact that increased density may have on their ability to find suitable land to work within the city. Leslie pointed out that if the city is to “grow up”, community gardens will become more important as a means for people to access green space and maintain some of the livability that city has become famous for. The problematic influence of the Urban Growth Boundary on housing availability for Portland may not have been foreseeable by those fighting to preserve farmland in the 1970’s, but community gardens, a product of that same political moment, offer one potential way forward in creating a dynamic and livable, while increasingly dense, city.
talk to you soon,