What do downtown towers, suburban subdivisions, busy business parks and public structures have in common?
They each began with a plan.
Tangible buildings of glass, wood and stone; asphalt roads and steel rails; concrete sidewalks and gravel trails: All were once concepts, maps, timelines and lists of strategies. In short, the hard work of building comes after the hard work of planning.
As greater Portland grapples with the continuing pace of new people and new jobs coming to the region, this kind of planning is more important than ever. And good planning tends to be more successful when it’s done collaboratively.
Metro is in a unique position to support good planning in 24 cities and three counties across greater Portland. With its regional lens, Metro can help link local plans in a way that complement and support each other.
One way Metro does this is by providing grants to cities and counties that want to prepare for growth and change. This month, Metro opens a new round of a grant program designed to advance local communities’ aspirations through good planning.
The grants have been around since 2006, supported through a small tax on most construction projects in the Portland region. Over 11 years, the Metro Council has granted more than $19 million to cities and county governments across greater Portland through the program.
The council last awarded funds from the program in December 2016, a special grant making decision focused exclusively on housing challenges. The council awarded $575,000 to seven projects around the region.
This year’s cycle brings some changes to the program, including a new name that reflects its links to a common, regional mission: 2040 planning and development grants.
2040 grants: New name, renewed focus
The rechristening is a reference to the 2040 Growth Concept, a vision that has defined the Portland region’s growth for more than 20 years – focusing development in town centers and major transportation corridors, protecting farms and natural areas, and expanding thoughtfully when needed for new neighborhoods and job centers.
This year’s grants will also reflect some of the region’s current priorities.
With $2 million expected to be available, the Metro Council has targeted half – $1 million – to projects that improve housing affordability and/or serve historically marginalized communities, supporting Metro’s Equitable Housing Initiative and the Strategy to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion the Metro Council adopted last year.
Another $500,000 will be reserved for concept planning in urban reserves – in part to help communities interested in developing urban reserves meet requirements that they be ready for growth before the Metro Council will consider urban growth boundary expansions there. (The next urban growth boundary decision is next year.)
A wide range of projects are eligible for the grants, including concept plans, strategy and policy development, investment strategies to facilitate development, area- or site-specific development plans and updating zoning codes and other policies that can make development easier.
Good planning depends on collaboration and community. Public involvement is among the grant criteria emphasized by the Metro Council – including evidence that proposed projects include “well-conceived strategies for meaningfully engaging neighbors, businesses, property owners and key stakeholders,” according to the grant handbook.
Metro Council praises housing focus, program changes
Approving the new grant program plan April 13, the Metro Council praised its track record and evidence that the program can evolve to reflect community and regional priorities.
“Without this funding grant program, good planning in the region wouldn’t be happening,” said Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, “whether inside the UGB or in UGB expansion areas.”
Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette praised the program’s emphasis on housing this year.
“I think that is critical – making sure that we continue to give the tools to the communities to our region, to build more equitable housing, more affordable housing,” Collette said. “Each community has a slightly different approach and slightly different set of barriers. Our being able to help them understand those barriers and get past them, to build the kind of housing we need in the region, is great.”
To qualify for grants, cities and counties must submit letters of interest by May 26, with full applications due June 30. The Metro Council will consider advice from a technical screening committee and the Metro chief operating officer when it decides on grants in the fall.
Putting a grant to work in Cornelius
In September 2015, the Metro Council awarded $4.76 million to 16 planning projects around the region. Many of those projects are still underway, but the impact has already been seen in the small town of Cornelius, a few miles west of Hillsboro.
Cornelius received a $40,000 grant to complete a detailed study of economic opportunities in its town center. Though one of the smaller grants awarded that year, it has delivered, said community development director Ryan Wells.
The community of about 12,000 has struggled to increase local employment, Wells said in a recent interview.
The city knew it has prime properties in its downtown area that could be developed for new jobs. But it didn’t know enough about what to do to get them ready, or what kinds of employers would be best to pursue. But in a small community like Cornelius, there’s often not a lot of extra money for the kind of conceptual, long-range planning that bigger communities do regularly.
“We have no discretionary funds to put toward these kinds of efforts,” Wells said.
But with Metro’s grant, the city hired consultants and worked with the community to complete an analysis and strategic action plan for making the most of land for new jobs in its town core.
Now the city will work on the next steps, including studying how to invest in transportation and infrastructure to attract employers.
Of course, even the best plan falters without a strong community dedicated to a better future.
“There’s a lot of passionate people that want to continue to have this be a place where people live and want to raise their families,” Wells said. “It really is a passionate community.”
Metro’s new round grants seek to build on that kind of passion in communities all around greater Portland – making the connection from local hopes to successful plans, to places to live, work and shop for the people that call greater Portland home.
Learn more about the 2040 grant program