Last week my post about the need for leadership in bringing back downtown went viral, prompting the head of the City’s economic development authority, Prosper Portland, to send me the city’s recovery strategy. All I can say is, “For now at least, better invest elsewhere.”

Management is about priorities, doing the most important things first, and yet there’s no sense of governmental urgency for downtown. The strategy, titled “Advance Portland”, is a five-year plan for “inclusive growth” that says little about downtown. In fact, the word “downtown” only shows up three times, and then only fleetingly. It mentions “crime” only once, omitting “drugs” and “camping” altogether. There are 68 different policies, 32 of those for the central city and other commercial districts throughout the city, but no specifics about downtown.

Thinking I’d missed something more directive, specific, and immediate, I spent an hour Googling “Portland”, “downtown”, “redevelopment”, “recovery”, “revitalization”, “plan”, and “strategy”, but found nothing. I did find a February 23, 2023 KOIN interview titled “Can Downtown Be Saved?” in which Patrick Gilligan of Lincoln Property Company (PacWest Center owner) said, “There’s just a lack of a sense of urgency coming from government officials.”

Portland wasn’t always so, and private initiatives created most of the best civic institutions, like the library. The Skidmore Fountain near the Saturday Market was privately bequeathed and its base is inscribed with the words “Good Citizens Are The Riches Of The City,”. It will be Portland’s people who figure a way out. It will be creative developers who redevelop the area around that fountain as a neighborhood. It will be the owners and managers of stores like Kiriko Made, at 10th and Morrison, who use social media to draw customers in past the drug dealing outside. It will be Gen Z designers and producers who turn office space into studios and workshops.

You can’t live in a lawless place, though, and there needs to be a sheriff. Here are three ways government can make a difference:

1. Stop camping, drug dealing, and shoplifting.
2. Get out of the way of citizens willing to update and improve buildings. (Work with them, in the way that former city planner John Southgate helped Pearl District founder Al Solheim find holes in the zoning code to reuse old buildings with new uses.)
3. Improve shared public spaces, not with big infrastructure “projects,” but with park benches, permanent street closures, and other small but strategic actions that make downtown a nicer and a better place to live and work day to day.
4. Make a commitment with firm deadlines for some kind of action. That commitment would show people they are not alone.