Friday, January 18, 2008

Candidate Expo / Growth Issues

Candidate Expo was fun- not so many people from the Fourth district, a lot from the 5th, but I had some great conversations with the people that did make it out. I heard from two people about the problems with growth in the Sutherland Avenue area outpacing the wastewater and road infrastructure. As the area is in the city, I'll be contacting Barbara Pelot to see what she's heard already about this issue and if the city has plans to address the growth.

I had an interesting discussion with Mr. Victor Jernigan, a well-known developer in Knox County. We discussed growth issues, impact fees, etc. I had mentioned that it would be helpful to look at other areas that have similar geography to Knoxville but have already gone through growth phases, to see what they did, what worked, and what didn't work. I mentioned one area with similar geography is Portland, OR, where they are dramatically limited in the growth of roadways, more so than us. He mentioned that he had read that Oregon had the worst schools in the country and a terrible growth policy.

That was a bit surprising. Portland? I knew some people who live out there and have been out there for work, and poor education didn't seem to be an issue. I found one study (from a fairly conservative group) that actually ranked Portland first for job/population growth (which, of course, has driven up housing prices until recently). Education Week had a negative report for Oregon in general, but the measures were fairly odd- Kindergarten enrollment, 4th grade math (why just that grade). Many of the rest had to do with education procedures (licensing standards, formal teacher evaluation process, etc), but nothing related to taxes/funding. I don't see how bureaucratic measures of an education system seem fair.

Elsewhere, I saw some well-founded criticisms of Oregon schools (a drive towards more highly paid teachers without additional funding, leading to larger class sizes, fewer books, less infrastructure). Clearly, the issue of how Portland/Oregon manages growth and their education policy are two completely different beasts!

Interestingly, though, Portland is using a 50-year growth strategy to maintain a liveable city, which is pretty far looking. We have to ask the same questions- as 100,000 new people move into Knox County, what do we want the end result to look like? Clearly, even if we don't have metro government anytime soon, there has to be close work with the City of Knoxville in our long-range planning.

(And that's not to say Portland is the only place to look at, or that Portland got things right- I've always been fascinated at how they deal with the terrain that limits their roadway infrastructure!)

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