September 3rd, 2010 | Published in News
|David Bragdon, a lover of trains, got one last turn at the controls of the steam locomotive at the Oregon Zoo (which is operated by Metro). Photo: Metro|
Bespectacled, book-laden and wide-eyed, like a boy off to boarding school, David Bragdon climbed aboard an Amtrak train this week and headed east to take on a new job as New York City’s chief of long term and sustainable planning.
Bragdon embodied what many saw as the ideal Portlander: a mild-mannered, educated executive who fought to protect Oregon from over-development and environmental degradation. For eight years he was the consensus-building president of the most Oregonian of all institutions: Metro, the nation’s only elected regional government, dedicated to protecting natural resources and promoting alternatives to sprawl. But as his train left the station, his parting words to Portland still hung in the air: You’re doing it all wrong.
Before returning to the city of his birth, Bragdon made a whistle stop tour of media outlets in which he fired off sweeping criticism of Portland and Oregon as “indecisive,” over-focused on “superficial and cute” trivia and consumed by “a culture of politeness” that has made the public too passive to deal with the state’s most fundamental challenges of job growth and education.
“He was a great ally,” said Jill Fuglifter, co-director of the Coalition for Livable Futures, a consortium of more than 100 nonprofit groups that promote sustainable and equitable development in the region. Fuglifter was surprised by the Bragdon’s remarks and wasn’t sure what to make of them. “Maybe he’s trying to challenge us?”
David Bragdon has always loved trains. He was born the day after the very first Oregon Zoo Train rolled through Washington Park in June 1958. He arrived in Portland by train from New York City 12 years later. But after 39 years in Oregon and eight years at the helm of Metro, Bragdon’s time in Portland ended as it began, with his parents, at Union Station.
“You’d better talk to him soon before folks start crying,” said a teary-eyed woman who was gathered with Bragdon’s friends and family in the lobby.
While the Metro chief’s remarks may not make Oregonians cry, they might make some cringe and still others applaud what they might view as a cultural whistle blower.
Bragdon kicked off his criticism campaign at the Portland Mercury, using the term “paralysis of analysis” to describe Portland’s seemingly endless public-process-driven governing system.
“Amen to that,” said Roslyn Hill, an African-American businesswomen who was born and raised in Northeast Portland. Hill has been involved in countless government-led community meetings that she says drain citizens of their time and produce no results. Hill was not a follower of Bragdon’s career, but was delighted to hear someone in power had made the statement. “The point of a meeting is to have it end in a decision, not to set up another meeting.”
Bragdon said a three-year process to determine how Metro would calculate urban and rural reserves to the Urban Growth Boundary “should have taken about a year.”
Another case in point was the West Hayden Island’s citizen advisory group charged with recommending whether or not the city should move forward with the development of a new port. After a year of deliberation, the group came back undecided.
“Not everyone can agree,” Bragdon said while waiting at the station. “After awhile, public discussion can get repetitive.”
Carlotta Collette, Metro’s deputy president, attributed Bragdon’s remarks to his sudden New York perspective. “I think he’s looking at New York, with a strong mayor, and he’s been saying ‘boy, Michael Bloomberg snaps his fingers and he gets things done,’” she said. “That’s one of the differences about Oregon. We don’t have a gazillionaire running our region. We have citizens.”
Collette’s former boss might agree, but according to Bragdon, the citizens aren’t focused on the right issues.
Bragdon told KGW that Portland’s obsession with food carts was not a cause for local pride but an indication of a bad economy. “Well, that’s terrific, but a lot of third-world countries have great food carts, too,” he said. “It’s an indication that people can’t afford restaurants.”
He continued: “Our job growth is sluggish compared to the rest of the country.” Bragdon went on to say that Portland’s downtown office and retail vacancy rates were “alarming” and indicated that the city and state were “pointed the wrong way.”
Megan Doern of the Portland Business Alliance, which commissions a yearly survey of downtown’s economic strength, saw it this way: “When the economy is bad, everyone talks about job creation. When the economy is good, no one talks about job creation. It is about putting economic development as a top priority regardless of the climate.”
The Story Continues: 1 2