The largest metropolitan area in Oregon and Southwest Washington, the Portland region is comprised of many dynamic and diverse urban and rural communities. According to the 2010 Census, the Portland metropolitan area is home to over two million residents—four of the six most populous cities in Oregon are located here. Vancouver, the area’s northernmost large city, is the fourth largest in Washington.
Serving as a link between Portland State University (PSU) and Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Columbia, and Yamhill counties in Oregon, and Clark County in Washington, the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies (IMS) envisions the region as a place where economic, cultural, and educational opportunities are available to all its residents. The mission of IMS is to advance the goals of the Portland metropolitan region by gathering, analyzing, and disseminating credible information, convening regional partners, and stimulating dialogue and action about critical issues.
While IMS recently celebrated its 20th year as an institute, its roots date back to the 1970s when the Vital Partners Agreement was reached between the University and community leaders. The objective was to strengthen the ties between PSU and the greater Portland community by making it easier for the region’s cities and counties to work with the University.
“It was a fairly ambitious and optimistic agreement,” Dr. Nohad Toulan, then Dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA), said. The agreement, however, was short-lived and it was not until 1992 that Dr. Toulan succeeded in bringing the principles of the Vital Partners Agreement under and enduring institutional framework. A unique institute on campus, IMS is governed by a policymaking board comprised of elected officials and private citizens representing each of the six counties in the metro region, as well as members selected for their specialized expertise. The independent governing board is tasked with carrying out the terms of the Institute’s Charter.
In order to fulfill its mission of gathering, analyzing, and disseminating credible information, convening regional partners, and stimulating dialogue and action about critical regional issues, IMS has initiated a number of projects.
One such project is the Greater Portland Pulse (GPP): a growing partnership that uses data and dialogue to encourage coordinated action toward a more equitable region. The GPP uses data to identify trends in the economy, education, health, safety, the arts, civic engagement, the environment, housing, and transportation that are critical to the measurement of progress toward the region’s goals. The GPP project’s website serves as a repository of centralized sociodemographic data pertaining to the greater Portland region offering statistics, analysis, data stories, as well as customizable interactive charts, graphs, and maps. The Institute offers free training workshops for anyone interested in learning how they can make the interactive data visualization work for them.
“The Greater Portland Pulse is a tool that allows us to track data over time and, whenever possible, with geographic specificity,” Dr. Meg Merrick said.
“In a way it’s a report card for the region,” added Dr. Jason Jurjevich, Assistant Director of the Population Research Center (PRC), a center affiliated with IMS. “It’s a barometer of the state of the region on a number of topical areas that are important for communities throughout the region; it’s about reporting data in a way that will hopefully lead to proactive policy change, and placing that data in a common location where people can come together to access the same data sets.”
The grant-funded Community Geography Project of IMS partners students in Senior Capstone courses with public and private organizations to research, analyze and report on issues facing our communities in order to produce a better understanding of community assets and the possible connections among them. Community Geography Project partners have included the Collation for a Livable Future (CLF), the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition, Oregon’s Public Health Institute, Multnomah County Health Department, Portland Parks & Recreation, and the Portland Farmer’s Market.
According to Dr. Merrick, the project’s coordinator, “The Community Geography Project came from an understanding that geography and the depiction of the spatial distribution of phenomena through maps can enable communities to tell their stories and take part in policymaking by providing them with the same kind of information that policymakers use when making decisions.
“So the Community Geography Project has always focused on the importance of neighborhood-level geographies. The issue of data-driven-decision-making, especially at the neighborhood-level, is at the heart of what IMS does and is related to other projects we have underway.”
The Metropolitan Knowledge Network is a joint project between IMS and the PRC that offers data-driven articles targeted toward policymakers, government officials and engaged citizens. “The Knowledge Network,” Dr. Jurjevich said, “provides stories that contextualize trends found in the census data to help people understand what the numbers tells us about the Portland metro region and the state as a whole.”
While the Knowledge Network is primarily a publication that provides a contextualization of data to inform policymakers and government officials, Metroscape, the Institute’s flagship online publication, offers in-depth reporting for a broad audience. “Metroscape provides a snapshot of a wider range of issues, through stories, interviews, imagery, and periodic atlas,” said Dr. Merrick.
With its wide array of projects and publications, the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies is the embodiment of how PSU is committed to letting knowledge serve the city, the region, and beyond. IMS studies the metro region, but it also connects the information it gathers and analyzes to urban and rural communities in order to provide the entire region with the tools it needs to address the issues we face today and plan for a better tomorrow.