Three Places that have People who Get It — Portland

The City of Portland gets it. What a great — and a steadily getting better — American city. I remember being at a conference some years ago in Portland. A friend of mine, Les Hall from Oklahoma, brought his wife along to the conference since neither of them had been in Portland before. While Les spent the first day at conference sessions, his wife wandered the streets of Portland. When they met back at the hotel that evening, Les’ wife said to him, “I’ve found myself a new job.” To which Les replied, “Really, what is it?” And she said, “I don’t know yet, but it’s going to be in Portland, Oregon.” Who wouldn’t want to live here?

I was in Portland on behalf of the Architectural Heritage Center. This is a remarkable organization run since its inception by Cathy Galbraith. The AHC is an outgrowth of the Bosco Milligan Foundation. The foundation owns the collection of architectural treasures salvaged by Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan over 25 years when too much of Portland’s built heritage was lost to the wrecking ball. Much of this collection is now on display and accessible to the public at the historic West Block in downtown Portland. By the way (although I have no idea how this technology works…just that it does) the Architectural Heritage Center taped my presentation there and has made it available in audio version on there web site, should you be interested.Portland is known worldwide for its growth management policies and progressive planning practices, of course. But what Portland does better than any other American city is its public transit. It’s dependable, easy to use, simple to understand, clean, quiet, safe, available in all parts of the city, and expanding. And the streetcar system is a particular treasure.

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A very high quality development is taking place in what is known as the South Waterfront. This is 136 acres for reclaimed industrial land. Ultimately 20 high rises will be built, but a half dozen are there already. All are high quality, well designed (and no doubt expensive). But Portland developers are building the first landmark neighborhood of the 21st Century.

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At the other end of the spectrum is 23rd Street. It was probably 20 years ago when I was first on 23rd, and it’s emergence as a cool shopping/dining street had just begun. B
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ut it has certainly maintained that character. The vast majority of the shops are small, independently owned, and funky. The area is vibrant and while most of the people on the street are young, there was a wide chronological diversity. Don’t go to Portland without visiting (and eating on) 23th Street.

Another high point of the Portland trip was catching up with a long time friend, Ruth Scott. Ruth started the Oregon Downtown Development Association over twenty years ago. She later ran the Association for Portland Progress the downtown advocacy and management organization. For the last nine years she’s been the president of the Innovation Partnership. This organization is what Ruth calls a “think tank and do tank” bringing together community and political leaders to address Oregon’s persistent problems. The Innovation Partnership leaves the easy issues to others; they only take on the tough ones. Every city should have the likes of an Innovation Partnership and a Ruth Scott.