It had been a long flight. I dropped my bags on the floor, walked into the hotel bathroom, and snapped on the lights. There was a brief flicker, and then the room was illuminated. I looked at the lightbulbs. They were the curly-cue energy-saving kind. Hmmm, I thought, nice touch.
I relieved myself and flushed the potty. There was a small, quick gurgle that lasted about a second. Ah, I thought, water-saving loos. I sat on the bed and opened my laptop to check my e-mail. The little wireless icon popped and asked me if I wanted to connect to the Internet via the city's free wi-fi system. Yes, I did. How convenient and simple, I thought.
I spent four days in Portland, Oregon, at a newspaper conference last week, and each day I saw clear evidence of what a difference in a city's quality of life an enlightened and progressive government can make.
I took light-rail trains all over town. I rode in hybrid taxis. The streets were immaculate. Roses and other flowers bloomed on every corner. The downtown was booming. I saw no vacant buildings, no blighted blocks.
So how do they do it? For one thing, they started 30 years ago by forming Metro, a consolidated elected governing body that is responsible for all urban planning, county-wide. Portland has no sprawl, due to a strictly enforced "urban growth boundary" that separates urban from rural land. The idea is to encourage redevelopment of Portland's inner core and preserve its tree-lined city neighborhoods.
The Metro consists of seven elected commissioners who oversee transit, waste and recycling, parks, the zoo, the convention center, and fish and wildlife management. There is a mayor, but his role is strictly limited and mostly ceremonial. The current mayor, Tom Potter, lobbied for a reorganization to a "strong mayor" form of government, a measure that was on the city's May ballot. It was rejected by a three-to-one margin.
As far as I know, the mayor didn't blame unnamed "snakes" for the defeat. Maybe he just took it as a sign from God.