Greater Portland: Urban Life and Landscape in the Pacific Northwest

Greater Portland: Urban Life and Landscape in the Pacific Northwest

Greater Portland: Urban Life and Landscape in the Pacific Northwest

Greater Portland: Urban Life and Landscape in the Pacific Northwest


Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2001

It has been called one of the nation's most livable regions, ranked among the best managed cities in America, hailed as a top spot to work, and favored as a great place to do business, enjoy the arts, pursue outdoor recreation, and make one's home. Indeed, years of cooperative urban planning between developers and those interested in ecology and habitability have transformed Portland from a provincial western city into an exemplary American metropolis. Its thriving downtown, its strong neighborhoods, and its pioneering efforts at local management have brought a steady procession of journalists, scholars, and civic leaders to investigate the "Portland style" that values dialogue and consensus, treats politics as a civic duty, and assumes that it is possible to work toward public good.

Probing behind the press clippings, acclaimed urban historian Carl Abbott examines the character of contemporary Portland--its people, politics, and public life--and the region's history and geography in order to discover how Portland has achieved its reputation as one of the most progressive and livable cities in the United States and to determine whether typical pressures of urban growth are pushing Portland back toward the national norm.

In Greater Portland, Abbott argues that the city cannot be understood without reference to its place. Its rivers, hills, and broader regional setting have shaped the economy and the cityscape. Portlanders are Oregonians, Northwesteners, Cascadians; they value their city as much for where it is as for what it is, and this powerful sense of place nurtures a distinctive civic culture. Tracing the ways in which Portlanders have talked and thought about their city, Abbott reveals the tensions between their diverse visions of the future and plans for development.

Most citizens of Portland desire a balance between continuity and change, one that supports urban progress but actively monitors its effects on the region's expansive green space and on the community's culture. This strong civic participation in city planning and politics is what gives greater Portland its unique character, a positive setting for class integration, neighborhood revitalization, and civic values. The result, Abbott confirms, is a region whose unique initiatives remain a model of American urban planning.


The Metropolitan Portraits Series seeks to understand and describe contemporary metropolitan regions in a fresh manner—one that is informed and informative. Carl Abbott was among the first to answer the call to become part of the Metropolitan Portraits series, and I am grateful for his belief in this effort. This book shares a common thematic structure that will suffuse the series: the inherited land and its contemporary reworking, the effects of important external events, and the power and importance of local cultures. As more volumes emerge, it is hoped that comparisons of many city regions will be possible, despite variations in data and in manner of presentation. Greater Portland stands as the latest in Abbott’s authoritative work on Portland, this time including the whimsical view through children’s literature and through artistic representation.

Abbott shows a Portland being continually refashioned by interactions with present events. He describes the city-region as a destination of promise for people from the Plains and Mountain states, creating a still primarily native-born white residential base. This is a region where geography matters. Nestled within the confines of the Cascades and the Coast Range and shaped by its location at the base of the vast New Deal projects from Bonneville to Grand Coulee, Portland connects outward through the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. the region’s early urban specialty of resource processing and export, based on the moist and mild climate for lumberingand farming, continues, while the new economy of electronics, services, and mar-

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