#1 Portland, Oregon
(Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties, Oregon; Clark and Skamania counties, Washington)
Background: Portland, long an important port and shipbuilding center, now also has a burgeoning high-tech sector, and a robust manufacturing base in paper, metal products and sportswear. Nonetheless, the per capita income is below the average for the 50 cities in our analysis.
Problems: A six-to-nine-mile stretch of the Willamette River’s Portland Harbor was declared a Superfund site in 2000. The sewer system is ancient and poorly designed, combining storm water runoff with sewage in the same piping system. Industries in Multnomah County, Portland’s home, continue to spew an estimated 1.85 million pounds of toxics into the air, water and land.
Solutions: Portland belongs to the country’s only elected regional government, which means the city coordinates its planning and growth decisions with its neighbors. This arrangement has allowed Portland to make far-ranging decisions, such as the establishment of a growth boundary around its urban center. Land inside this invisible circle is fair game for development; outside the circle there’s only open space and farmland. The result is not only a well-preserved agricultural region just outside the city, but also a vibrant, livable urban area where public transportation rules. To attract even more riders, the bus and light rail system has turned a section of downtown into a fare-free zone. The city did another smart thing when it was looking into a green building ordinance: It met with 200 developers to find out exactly what regulatory or financial hurdles were preventing them from using “sustainable” principles, and then laid out a plan. To resolve the sewage problem, Portland has invested over a billion dollars in the “Big Pipe Project,” which will lay massive pipes alongside the Willamette to carry waste to a treatment plant. In 1974, the city removed an entire freeway running alongside the Willamette’s banks and converted the space into parkland.