Lessons from the San Francisco Bay Area Study Tour: Susan Anderson

 In All News, Program Reflections

The ULI Rose Center for Public Leadership spoke with City of Portland Planning and Sustainability Bureau Director Susan Anderson, a 2013-2014 Daniel Rose Fellow, about the program’s December 2013 study visit to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Rose CenterHow do you feel that you benefited from the San Francisco study tour?

Susan Anderson: The opportunity to get together with colleagues—people from other cities that are having similar experiences — is great. We all have different financial issues, we all have different political issues. But despite the differences, we’re all from similarly sized local governments and face a lot of the same challenges.

I thought the exchange among fellows was particularly good when we were out in the field—doing the walkthroughs of various sites, traveling around cities—delving into the issues that we had in common with San Francisco and Oakland.

What are some of the challenges Portland has in common with San Francisco and Oakland?

They’re similar in the sense that we’re growing different areas of our cities, in the sense that older areas of the city are being rediscovered. We’re dealing with some of the growing pains that we have when older commercial and industrial areas get rediscovered. We need to react appropriately, but we also need to keep building this demand.

The situations in Portland and the Bay Area are very similar. In San Francisco they have a lot of software companies and related industries—and so do we. There is a real connection among the kinds of companies that are locating all along the west cost. San Francisco and Oakland, Portland, Seattle too—we stand to learn a lot from each other. The more communication and connection we West Coast cities have, the better, when it comes to sharing our understanding of planning and real estate issues.

All of the cities you mentioned are developing and transforming quite rapidly right now. How is this impacting your work in the Central Eastside?

For us, the issue is that we have a lot of existing companies that have been around for a generation or two, or even longer in some cases. They can have different space needs, freight needs, and so on, than some of the craft industries that are locating in the area right now. There are a lot of similarities, but there are some key differences.

As we continue to build the Central Eastside, our approach is a little different from what we saw, for example, in Oakland. They are focusing primarily on retail, restaurants, and commercial areas. For us though, we need to have some level of those types of developments in order to make our Central Eastside a delightful place to be when you’re at work during the day. We are trying to balance all of those needs.

For all of us, especially on the West Coast, our cities are becoming more vibrant and wonderful places for people to live and work. As people move back into cities, we have this huge issue of displacement. It’s not just housing. It’s also people who can’t afford to have their offices or their manufacturing facilities in the city. How do you deal with that? The ability to work with other cities on this is helpful.

When I look at any public policy initiative, I find that you have three choices: you can regulate it, you can provide incentives, or you can get people to change their behavior because they want to. You shouldn’t always regulate – sometimes it’s better to use incentives or market forces to make things happen.

How do you think the TriMet light rail expansion will play into this development?

Our light rail line will be unique, to an extent—a test case. It will be an example of transit-oriented development centered primarily around places of business, rather than on housing. We’ll have large employment centers clustered around transit stations.

Did you have a favorite component of the San Francisco Study Tour?

When we did the walking tour [of Broadway and Latham Square] in Oakland with the Oakland alumni fellows, I liked the discussion about how the city had, to an extent, acted as a broker, to help build demand for the available ground floor spaces. They worked to attract particular restaurants and some craft industries, using pop-up retail to make use of some of the spaces they had. It’s a lesson we all can learn about utilizing public-private partnerships and trying to direct growth into certain areas of the city.

It was inspiring. I used to live in California and knew that area of Oakland well. To see some of it change so dramatically, even though it’s still on the leading edge of this change, I find that it reinforces my own excitement in Portland, in some of the things that are happening here. Places that haven’t always been that vibrant are now taking off.

This interview was conducted by Timothy Boscarino of Issue Media Group.

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