Oregon 2050: What will Oregon be like 30 years from now?

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What will Oregon be like in 2050, particularly for the least privileged and powerful Oregonians? 

How can we address concerning trends and plan for a better Oregon? 

Those are the questions that drive Oregon 2050, an interdisciplinary project led by Portland State University’s College of Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA). The project aims to help the state become more environmentally sustainable, socially equitable and fiscally resilient. 

“These questions are big,” said Megan Horst, associate professor of urban studies and planning and project lead for Oregon 2050, during an online event about the project on May 24. “It's been a difficult year to think about anything beyond the current and urgent and, at the same time, the pandemic has underscored the need to proactively plan for a more resilient future, the need to address inequities now.”

The Oregon 2050 project has three phases. The project is currently in Phase 1, which brings leading scholars from PSU together with community advisors to create a series of publicly available in-depth reports and one-page summaries on topics related to social and environmental issues.

“We're really bringing our knowledge in a way that we hope will serve the city—and the state of Oregon,” Horst said. “We're trying to offer some big ideas about how our state can look in 2050 with a different population than lives here today, including an anticipated one million new residents.” 

During the May 24th event, many of the Oregon 2050 project members presented findings from their Phase 1 reports. Each speaker was given three minutes to present one “Big Idea” related to their topic, which are distilled below:


The big idea: Birth rates in the United States are falling, and Oregon’s is especially low.  

Looking forward: “We're going to need to put less emphasis on birth rates and growth rates and more emphasis on thinking about how to have prosperity, while also rising to the challenge of climate change.” 

- Ethan Sharygin, director of the Population Research Center

Environmental Health 

The big idea: Despite a strong commitment to equity and justice around environmental health, we lack complete data about environmental health concerns, particularly in rural and low population Oregon counties.

Looking forward: “The state might work with localized community organizations, health departments, researchers, nonprofits and others to find out how different groups experience environmental threats on the ground, what they want to see done about them, and then the state can devise interventions from there.” 

- Dana Hellman, urban studies and planning researcher with the Sustaining Urban Places Research (SUPR) Lab


The big idea: Many statewide projects related to the environment, health, equity, and resilience involve our transportation system. Often we wait for advancements to happen outside the state when we can innovate in Oregon.

Looking forward: “We're at this amazing moment in which technology is helping us re-envision a different type of mobility. We want to harness that potential of technology—new mobility, autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, new fuels—all of those types of things.”

- John MacArthur, sustainable transportation program manager with the Transportation Research and Education Center

Climate Change and Other Hazards 

The big idea: Droughts, wildfires, flooding, landslides, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, earthquakes—we’ve got them all in Oregon.

Looking forward: “We should address today's urgent problems smartly, with an eye toward mitigation against the destruction that could occur with these hazards. For example, while relocating and upgrading schools, hospitals and other essential service facilities, we should think about designing them to serve as emergency shelters, put in wind and solar facilities so that we can decentralize our power grid, which is likely to fail in many instances.” 

- Connie Ozawa, professor of urban studies and planning


The big idea: The COVID crisis has had different effects on different communities, and some communities will take longer to recover economically than others. 

Looking forward: “We are definitely going to rely on the community partners in the next phase of the project to decide on the appropriate strategies for addressing these problems. Obviously, equity issues are the definition of a wicked problem: There is no one single approach, so it will be very important to hear from those groups.” 

- Emma Brophy, economist with the Northwest Economic Research Center

Arts and Culture 

The big idea: Oregonians are far more engaged individually with the arts than are most Americans, but artists and art organizations were hurting before the pandemic and are finding survival even more challenging today.  

Looking forward: “The arts should be treated with the same care and attention as is given other major policy concerns in the state. Artists are important economically to the state and in defining who we are. They need and deserve ongoing government attention, and should not be viewed as some sort of luxury good.” 

- Richard Clucas, professor of political science


The big idea: Housing supply and affordability are big problems in Oregon. Over the next 20 years, an estimated 584,000 new homes are needed to meet demand—about two to three times the amount that we're currently producing. 

Looking forward: “One of the things to potentially explore is an expanded role of the public or nonprofit sector in the supply of housing, and not just deeply affordable housing, which is the niche they fill at the moment, and a rental housing registry so we have better information about what our rental housing actually looks like.” 

- Matthew Gebhard, associate professor of urban studies and planning


The big idea: In 2019, an estimated 68,000 people experienced homelessness across Oregon, including 22,000 children. Homelessness and housing insecurity disproportionately affect people of color due to historic and current racism.

Looking forward: “The big idea here is simply to ensure that everybody has housing who needs it. That housing should be of a form that's appropriate for their needs and household type, and it should be affordable for them, even if they have no income.” 

- Jacen Greene, assistant director of the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative


The big idea: Oregon, like most of the United States, has a massive incarceration problem, and Oregonians with mental illness are three times more likely to be imprisoned than to receive treatment. 

Looking forward: “The big thing that we need going forward is a massive shift in our understanding of what's a good job, particularly in rural areas where prisons are often seen as the best economic opportunity, and changing pathways into the workforce for mental health and substance use disorder treatment so that it reflects the cultural landscape of our state.”

Moriah McSharry McGrath, senior instructor of urban studies and planning

Voting and Registration 

The big idea: Oregon is the easiest state in which to vote because of vote by mail and automatic voter registration, but many independent and third party voters in Oregon feel like their votes don’t matter because only Democrats and Republicans are elected to the legislature.

Looking forward: “The solution: some type of proportional representation [in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them]. . .We talk about proportional representation because there is growing interest in it in this state, both among groups and among party organizations, and because electoral politics across the globe have routinely found a proportional system to provide better representation. ”

- Richard Clucas, professor of political science 

One-page summaries of these reports are available on the Oregon 2050 website and full draft reports are available by request. 

Next steps for Oregon 2050

Phase 2 of Oregon 2050 will begin this fall and will invite larger scale community involvement led by leaders in CUPA’s National Policy Consensus Center. Phase 3, slated to begin in 2022, will involve the creation of policy proposals and other interventions designed to create a better future for all Oregonians.