Danish do it wisely

In 1971, Tom McCall delivered a speech that epitomized his tenure as Oregon’s 30th governor.

In that speech, he encouraged the people of the world to visit Oregon.

“But for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live,” he said.

Fitting for a man who was a conservationist, progressive Republican and avid fisherman.

But now, more than 30 years later, the 36th governor of Oregon has reversed that policy.

Last Thursday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski delivered a speech to a group of venture capitalists throwing the doors open to new residents and their businesses.

“In my administration, the mantra is the opposite,” he said. “We will go just about anywhere to deliver this message: We want you to visit, but we prefer that you buy a one-way ticket.”

Kulongoski said that in the 30 years since McCall gave his speech, the state has changed and that it needs a vision different from McCall’s to deal with the weak economy.

He was absolutely right. The state has changed a great deal in 30 years. The difference between now and 15 years ago is almost the difference between night and day. Here’s an illustration:

When my family moved to Beaverton in the mid- to late-’80s, the main thoroughfares were nothing more than beat-up, two-lane country roads surrounded by fields and trees as far as the eye could see; once you’d get past the modest downtown area anyway.

But over time, that changed. The decade or so that followed my family’s arrival saw the trees disappear and the fields fill up with pre-planned housing communities.

Strip malls sprouted up. The roads widened. The population doubled. And what open spaces and thickets that remained were neglected and began to sicken.

I know because my friends and I have watched it happen.

There’s a small forest in my old neighborhood that my group of friends spent countless hours in during our childhood and adolescence. We would build forts and play games and do all the stupid things that kids do in the forest. It was our home away from home, a place for born forest-dwellers like us to feel comfortable.

Today we still spend time there when we can, doing all the stupid things that college kids do. But the forest has changed.

The trees have stopped growing and have started dying. Like the hair on my father’s head, the forest is thinning. There is less wildlife. There are more beer cans and cigarette butts floating down the creek than dead leaves.

And nobody notices. Not the computer engineers who jog through it, not the teens who smoke pot in it, and certainly not Gov. Kulongoski.

To escape the mess that the area has become, my family moved to West Linn. The neighborhood we now call home is in the middle of a forest. My house is surrounded by huge trees and even has a river in the back yard. Again, I find myself looking on huge open fields and forests as far as the eye can see, and quaint country roads to take relaxing drives on.

But will it last?

The Metro Council has toyed with turning my quiet Stafford Basin neighborhood into an area slated for development. But the people of West Linn have mobilized effectively and have curbed the plans – for now.

But what happens when the governor gets more people and businesses to come to Oregon? Those people and businesses are going to need homes. And our modus operandi is to build out and not up, like other Pacific Northwest cities (read: Vancouver, B.C.). That’s why the once country-like Beaverton is just another cookie-cutter suburb. All those California immigrants from the ’90s needed some place to live.

So I would suggest to the governor, most respectfully of course, that his position regarding population and economic growth (that you can’t have an increase in the latter without an increase in the former) is not the different vision we need or want in Oregon.

But his plan for a new Employer Workforce Training Fund is. I suspect that the governor hasn’t heard about the Danish economic system – a stagnant population with an ever-growing economy. Much like the situation Oregon will face someday (or maybe even already is), the Danes have no room for population growth but manage to increase GDP on a regular basis. And they do it through the same kind of plan the governor has come up with: continuing education and training for the workforce.

So, citizens of the world, please don’t listen to our current governor. He means well but apparently doesn’t have to deal with the shit-traffic that the population boom of the ’90s has caused. And it would seem he’s not worried about depleting our forests either.

Visit, yes, but please, please, PLEASE don’t stay.