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#1 Portland: A Role Model for the Nation

Portland’s quality of life and active citizenry help make it the #1 city on our list.


Cut out of the forest, Portland offers plenty of parks and bike paths as well as stunning views of Mt. Hood. Cafes, restaurants, and markets are integrated into most neighborhoods, encouraging people to walk rather than drive. Air and water quality are among the best in our study. Public transportation, including free transit downtown, is excellent, and mixed-use development in downtown’s Pearl District is an urban model for cities across the nation.

In fact, the official city slogan—“It’s Not Easy Being Green”—reflects Portland’s commitment to creating a healthy, sustainable city. It’s no wonder other cities look to it for leadership and inspiration. In 1993, it was the first city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and its #1 ranking in city innovation, energy, and knowledge base reflect a deep-seated understanding of sustainable practice. Citizens and politicians have worked together to keep the city’s pristine environment in synch with its emerging clean tech economy.

And while Portland residents luck out by having plentiful fresh water from nearby Mt. Hood and clean breezes that blast down the Columbia River Gorge from the Pacific, Portland copy.gifPortlanders themselves deserve credit for working hard to preserve the natural environment they’re blessed with.

Healthy Living
Portland ranks #9 in percent of land devoted to parks, which make up 15% of the city’s total footprint. You can run, hike, or cycle in 5,000-acre Forest Park, one of nation’s largest urban forest areas, sometimes without bumping into another soul. Forest Park and other regional parks also help protect the area’s tap water, which rates #2 in the study. The air is clean, too (ranking #2), with no violations of the Clean Air Act standards in any category.

Portland is also at the forefront of local food movements. The city government formed a food advisory council, and Mayor Tom Potter has urged citizens to buy at least 10% of their food from local sources. The city has 13 farmers market locations and an amazing diversity of fruit, berries, vegetables, and nursery plants grown locally.

Getting Around
Along with Oakland and Philadelphia, Portland is one of the few cities in our study in which public ridership of mass transit has been increasing. Downtown’s free Fareless Square helps, though where Portland has really excelled is in its regional coordination of city light rail and buses with outlying cities and the Portland International Airport.

Portland is a great place if you’d rather ride your bike. Some 10,000 Portlanders commute on bike, taking advantage of more than 700 miles of bicycle paths around the city.

Economic Factors
Portland’s devotion to green building is known throughout the country. With 16 certified LEED buildings and 86 certified per capita, Portland has the most LEED buildings of any city. A $2.5 million fund for green building incentives in the commercial and residential markets suggests the city will continue its leadership in this area. The city is also committed to developing 100% renewable energy for city buildings by 2010, and is currently in negotiations for 51 megawatts of wind energy that would be generated in eastern Oregon.

Portland is using its leadership to attract sustainability-oriented business gatherings as well as eco-tourists. Plenty of local businesses are in on the act, from restaurants offering organic, local ingredients, to the Green Meeting Industry Council, to stores selling environmental building supplies. One highlight is the Pearl District, a walkable mixed-use neighborhood that combines local businesses with renovated historic buildings such as the Jean Vollum Natural Capital, which has a green roof, LEED certification, and eco-minded tenets.

Summary/Next Steps
With the momentum it’s created around sustainable living, Portland is likely to continue to innovate. Its Office of Sustainable Development, unparalleled as a management and communications office, is currently working with the Portland Development Commission to foster sustainable business practices throughout the city and expand the sustainable industries sector of the regional economy. There are few other medium-sized or large US cities that can match Portland in providing a sense of what the future can look like if citizens and public officials work together.

Related Content
Watch a video about Portland's programs.
Find out more about what makes Portland number one.

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Community Comments

"I was looking forward to seeing this year's rankings and was thrilled to see my favorite city, Portland, at the top of the list. However, I would like to know how I can correlate last year's rankings with this year's. The methodology must be totally different as last year, a lower number was considered better than a higher number. In addition, a large number of cities from last year's survey are missing from this year's, including Madison, WI, Santa Barbara, CA, and Berkeley, CA. Is Portland's change in the rankings a reflection of real improvement, or a change in the measurements used? And lastly, how can Philadelphia jump 10 places (from 14 to 4) in one year? Did everyone just start walking there? I look forward to hearing from you."
Ted Hill, Fort Lauderdale, FL Let us know if this is off topic

"Great questions Ted. This year's study examines the 50 largest cities by population; last year's study benchmarked 25 cities. Feedback also led us to change the metrics slightly. We'll get you more info about Philly's rise soon."
Frank, San Francisco, CA Let us know if this is off topic

"Ted, Besides looking at top 50 cities in population (thus no more Berkeley, Santa Monica, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga), we added some indicators that did help Philly--housing affordability, natural disaster risk, and metro area roadway congestion, all areas that Philly did either very well or better than average in. Philly's public transit ridership also went up considerably."
Warren, San Anselmo, CA Let us know if this is off topic

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