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Youth and families represent the future of the city and must be supported and nurtured.

Section Summary

Portland is an attractive city for raising children because of the slower pace and small town feel. The city accommodates families with sustainable practices, public transportation, bike and pedestrian options for commutes, neighborhoods with local businesses, public spaces and parks. People appreciate the many activities and places that are child and family friendly. One common concern is whether future generations of families will be able to live here, given the under-funded schools and lack of affordable housing. Portlanders imagine a city where the norm is affordable housing, flourishing neighborhood schools, and where all children and families have health coverage and are well fed.

Note: This chapter contains content and themes that are very similar to those mentioned in Urban Livability: Family-Friendly. A reading of both sections will provide a more complete picture of people’s thoughts on the benefits and challenges of raising families in Portland.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. Many people view Portland as a family-friendly city.
  2. People want to see the basic rights of all children and families fulfilled.
  3. More resources, programs and community support are needed specifically for youth.
  4. Many families are leaving Portland because of rising costs and other key livability issues.
  5. Unsafe environments deter some families from moving to or remaining in some neighborhoods.

Summary of Tensions and Disagreements

  1. How does Portland remain family-friendly in the face of growth?


  1. Many people view Portland as a family-friendly city.
  • People appreciate the many aspects of Portland that make it a convenient and attractive place for families raising children, including:
    • Child-friendly artistic and cultural events;
    • Activities and venues that cater to families;
    • The slower pace of life & smallness of the city;
    • Portland’s emphasis on sustainability and on keeping a clean and healthy environment;
    • Public transportation;
    • Neighborhoods with small businesses, parks, and the ability to bike/walk to work; and
    • Safe public and open spaces.
  • People value that youth are educated about their food sources and have access to healthy foods, for instance, through school gardens.
"I like that it's a great place to raise children. It's safe for kids. It's a family friendly city, yet a bit cosmopolitan at the same time.”

"[I value the] opportunities for family friendly education and recreation.”

“…Portland is very family friendly—a totally unique trait to any other 'international city.' This is a fundamental reason why many families, even young, working professionals without children choose Portland. There is still hope of good housing and a promising future for raising a family in a balanced urban environment. This is why many families who have been in Portland continue to stay here, if they can still afford it...”

  1. People want to see the basic rights of all children and families fulfilled.
  • Portlanders feel that all children and families have basic rights which the community must strive to meet. These include:
    • Health;
    • Quality food;
    • Safety; and
    • Quality education.
  • Health: People want to see health coverage for all families, and particularly for all children. Many feel that health and wellness benefits should not be dependent on whether or not one has insurance.
  • Food: The community also needs to reduce and prevent hunger before it becomes an even greater problem.
  • Childcare: Some respondents think that childcare should be free or at least available to everyone, no matter their income level.
  • Safety: Young people, families and elders want to feel safe in their neighborhoods—free from violence, gang activity and drug trade, People are also extremely concerned with the fact that there are homeless youth and families with no viable place to sleep.
  • Education: A vast number of respondents expressed deep concern over the under-funded public school system, believing that the community’s youth will end up under-educated. They would like to see:
    • All schools become first-rate;
    • Inequities between neighborhood schools addressed;
    • More after-school programs for youth;
    • Education in the arts, music, theater and outdoor programs reintegrated into the curriculum; and
    • Teaching that emphasizes civic involvement and an understanding of the government.
    • Transit: Everyone deserves access to transit. There should be free transportation options for people struggling to make meet their other basic needs.
“[In the future] we are a community that supports children and families at all stages of life.”

“[In 2030, Portland] is a city where every child in every public school has an opportunity for a first rate education; an education that is not only focused on excellence in English, math and science, but which emphasizes civic involvement, an understanding of how government works (or doesn’t), and which offers opportunities to every child for a rich education in the arts. The educational opportunities will include pre-K through post secondary, and will be well connected to business and government in terms of ensuring that the necessary knowledge and skills are being taught to connect students with rewarding job opportunities.”

"Education, Education, Education. I think our youth are getting the short end of the stick all the time. They have a shorter school year and many students are going to failing schools where the teachers are over worked and under paid. There is also no equity in the education students from poor colored neighborhoods are getting compared to students in rich white neighborhoods. We have to start thinking out of the box in regards to how to deal with educating our next generations.”

  1. More resources, programs and community support are needed specifically for youth.
  • The city needs more constructive activities for young people and young adults to allow them to be contributing members of the community, to be safe, and to develop skills. These include:
    • More mentoring programs (including more roles for elders mentoring kids);
    • More community centers for youth;
    • More social services for youth that are affordable and youth-centered;
    • A greater number of affordable after school activities;
    • More jobs for young people;
    • Vocational training programs for transition youth;
    • More funding and infrastructure planning for young people with special needs, such as accessible playgrounds, and support staff in schools; and
    • Increased youth engagement in the planning and political processes.
"More youth voice, I would like to see youth speak loud and proud."

“We need more money to keep youth programs going. Things are extremely tight; programs are going away...We need people in leadership who know how to “think outside the box”, especially our school officials. Our schools are consistently deteriorating; it must end somewhere or you will lose families to Vancouver, WA.”

"I would like to see Portland become more kid-friendly. There are some activities for youth to do but not very many are accessible for low-income families for reasons of cost or transportation and/or that the activities are not quality for each age group.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Youth-centered service programs should include models such as peer-to-peer learning, youth leadership development, and more opportunities for youth to influence decisions.
  2. “Make this the epicenter for families and education for children...Create the best, smaller scale learning environments...Not only the school environment but what will business and city do to help parents take the time needed with children, such as parental leave for newborns, affordable daycare (look to Scandinavia).”

  1. Many families are leaving Portland because of rising costs and other key livability issues.
  • Many respondents express their concern that Portland is losing families with children, particularly families struggling with poverty.
  • Factors pushing families out of Portland include:
    • The rising costs of housing and the lack of affordable housing;
    • The deteriorating quality of the public schools;
    • A lack of living-wage family jobs; and
  • Safety concerns in neighborhoods (see Public Safety: Neighborhood Safety);
  • In order to make Portland more affordable and accommodating to families, people would like to see the following:
  • Affordable or free childcare and preschool options;
  • After school activities that are more affordable to all young people; and
  • Many more living-wage family jobs.
  • Respondents would like to see special attention focused on improving quality of life options for the following groups:
    • Ethnic minorities;
    • Youth, particularly those that are homeless; and
    • Young people with disabilities.
"Less concentration on high rise apartment/condo buildings and more on family housing and parks. It seems we are forcing families out for the city. I would hate for the downtown to be unaffordable and livable for families.”

“[I would like to see] childcare assistance to unemployed individuals searching for work—remove barriers.”

“We’ve got to make this a city where families want to live. This doesn’t happen by legislating wages, but rather by creating an environment where businesses want to expand here. If there are good jobs, the families will follow.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. More businesses and agencies should support working mothers.
  2. The City needs to significantly expand access to affordable housing.

  1. Unsafe environments deter some families from moving to or remaining in some neighborhoods.
  • Some parents feel they have to limit their children’s activities because of neighborhood safety concerns.
  • In particular, parents of minority children are afraid that their children will be harassed by police, or that they will encounter needles in parks or other unsafe situations in their neighborhood.
  • Families of color are being pushed out of livable, close-in neighborhoods near the central city, often into areas in East Portland that are experiencing rising crime rates and are generally less livable.
    For more on neighborhood safety concerns, see: Public Safety: Neighborhood Safety.
“[In 2030] All neighborhoods are safe and affordable for many family types and income levels, and diverse family types feel at home and welcomed…”

“We’ve got to tackle safety and security of Portland. In many parts of the city it is no longer a desirable place to raise a family. I grew up in NE Portland and now fear for my security when returning to the area I grew up in. Families have been flocking to the suburbs for several decades now, but we fail to see it…”

“[In 2030] We are all walking safely on the streets, with a deep background feeling of family…that we are all in this together and that we belong. People’s basic needs are met—including housing, food, and healthcare. Children have diverse options for learning—outdoor programs, arts/theatre/music, as well as many different methods of address diverse learning styles…”



  1. How does Portland remain family-friendly in the face of growth?

    All Portlanders seem to value the idea of a family-friendly city, where families are able to thrive and make the most of community resources while raising children. The tension lies within the degree to which families are able to access such resources and partake of the qualities that raise Portland up to be the model city it is today. Given the population growth expected for Portland's near future, the question remains how it will attract families and nurture existing families to remain in the city.

    One group of respondents speaks of the breadth of amenities that serve families in Portland. They seem to have very few complaints and, to the contrary, find Portland particularly unique in its family-oriented opportunities like the many parks, recreational activities and quality, organic foods. The one major concern is the deterioration of public schools.

    Another group's descriptions of the city, as it relates to youth and families, are in some ways in direct conflict with the first group, although the concern for schools seems to be fairly unanimous. The tension centers on the socioeconomic circumstances that force many families to make difficult choices. These choices primarily revolve around cost of housing, when housing prices are rising in neighborhoods across Portland, and whether it is possible to remain living in Portland.

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