The third film in the documentary film series Making Sense of Place, Portland: Quest for the Livable City, will begin airing on public television stations around the country in May. The 57-minute film by Northern Light Productions chronicles the Oregon city's attempts to reduce its carbon footprint and grow more densely within an urban growth boundary, while at the same time confront tough issues including fairness and property rights, gentrification, and citizen participation in the planning process. Oregon Public Broadcasting is set to air the film Sunday May 10 at 1 p.m. Preview showings in Chicago and Rochester, N.Y., garnered strong ratings.
"We were impressed from the very beginning at the incredible story that had unfolded in Portland, and we think we captured both the drama and tension, and the essence of the city as a place to live," said Bestor Cram, president of Northern Light Productions. The film crew made seven trips to Portland between October 2007 and July 2008 for a total of 30 shooting days, with 160 hours of high definition footage and 90 people interviewed.
Incorporating historic footage of Portland's growth as the self-proclaimed "City that Works," and recent interviews with city leaders and neighborhood residents, the film tracks ballot-measure battles on the land-use planning system established in 1973, leading to the urban growth boundary containing development within a 22-square-mile area. Portland sought to protecting surrounding farmland and open space, established a regional governance system spanning 24 municipalities and three counties, and built an ambitious system of light rail and streetcars to service more dense, compact, mixed-use urban form. Then, in 2004, voters passed Measure 37, which allowed development outside the boundary and raised questions about property rights and the fairness of the entire planning and regulatory framework. A competing initiative, Measure 49, was then put on the ballot in 2008 to reverse those changes.
"Portland has been a notable experiment in land use planning, and the film shows how challenging that can be," said Gregory K. Ingram, president of the Lincoln Institute. "The issues that come to life in the film – property rights, the value of land, density and transportation, the process of planning – include many that we think cities all over the U.S. will need to confront."
Portland: Quest for the Livable City was made available to 351 public television stations, 134 of which have already scheduled.airing times, including in large markets in Indianapolis and North Carolina. Over the coming months in Oregon, an outreach effort will focus on community screenings and discussions of the issues raised in the film. The DVD will be available soon at www.lincolninst.edu, and more information is available at the Northern Light Productions Web site here. The first two films in the Making Sense of Place series were Phoenix: The Urban Desert, which examined the sprawling growth and associated issues of that metropolitan area, and Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City, a look at a shrinking industrial city and its efforts to reinvent itself.