Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is an estimate of the average age that a person can expect to live. Within the United States, life expectancy has increased since 1900 by roughly thirty years due to public health interventions (e.g., sanitation, vaccinations) and medical advancements.(1) However, life expectancy can vary significantly even within small geographies due to differences in our social and physical environments. Where we live, work, and play is equally, if not more, important to our health and well-being than our individual choices and access to health care.(2)

Using Center for Disease Control data, we can visualize the spatial distribution of life expectancy estimates. For reference, the life expectancy of an average adult within the United States born in 2016 is 78.6 years.(3) In the Portland Metropolitan region, 34 percent of the population lives in tracts with an average life expectancy below the United States average. These tracts are clustered largely in east Portland and Gresham. Future research should consider exploring other factors related to life expectancy such as race, income, and education.(4)

1. David Cutler, Angus Deaton and Adriana Lleras-Muney, “The Determinants of Mortality,” Journal of Economic Perspective, 20 no. 3, (2006), 97–120.

2. Theodor R. R. Marmor, Morris L. Barer, and Robert G. Evans, Why Are Some People Healthy and Others Not? The Determinants of Health of Populations (Social Institutions and Social Change), (New Jersey: Aldine Transaction, 1994).

3. Jiaquin Xu et al., “Final data for 2016.” National Vital Statistics Reports, 67 no. 5, (Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2018).

4. Robert A. Hummer and Elaine M Hernandez, “The Effect of Educational Attainment on Adult Mortality in the United States,” Population Bulletin 68 no. 1 (2013), 1–16; US National Center for Health Statistics, Report No.: 2012-12322012, (Hyattsville, MD, May 2012).

The Myth of Portlandia: Portlandia, Grimm, Leverage

An interview with Carl Abbott and Karin Magaldi
by Sara Gates

Carl Abbott and Karin Magaldi
Carl Abbott and Karin Magaldi

Carl Abbott is a professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University and a local expert on the intertwining relationships between the growth, urbanization, and cultural evolutions of cities. Since beginning his tenure at PSU in 1978, Dr. Abbott has published numerous books on Portland itself, as well as the urbanization of the American West; his most recent is Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People (2011).

Karin Magaldi is the department chair of Theatre & Film at PSU, with extensive experience in teaching screenwriting and production. In addition to directing several PSU departmental productions, she has also worked with local theatre groups including Portland Center Stage, Third Rail Repertory, and Artists Repertory Theatre.

Recently, Metroscape writer Sara Gates sat down with Dr. Abbott and Professor Magaldi to discuss a growing influence on Portland culture, both as it is perceived by the rest of the country and changing from within: a trio of television shows that are based and filmed in the metropolitan region. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.

Editor’s Note: at publication, it was announced that Leverage would not be renewed.
For a more analytical approach that explores our region’s demography and economics and the myth of Portlandia, go to the Metropolitan Knowledge Network at:

Sara Gates: Within the last two years, three major television shows have based their productions here in Portland. How do you think the way Grimm, Leverage, and, of course, Portlandia depict the city might affect the way the rest of the country thinks about us? Karin, you’re laughing already!

Karin Magaldi: Well, I’ve seen some articles that refer to this, looking at Portland from the outside, and almost all of them talk about Portlandia and the scene from the first episode with the couple ordering chicken at a restaurant!

It seems as though all of the stereotypes of Portland are writ large, and they are ridiculous. But, there is always a truth to ridiculousness.

Carl Abbott: There certainly is a cult of local food, and we see it in farmer’s markets and food carts, and in the availability of the agriculture that allows people to really focus on being “locavores.” So there is a nugget of truth from which Portlandia can extrapolate a ridiculous response. Which, of course, is what the show is all about.

What strikes me, though, is that only certain aspects of the show are all that Portland-centric. The feminist bookstore, for example, could be almost any place. It could certainly be in Portland, but it’s not so Portland-rooted. Or in the second season, there is a couple who goes on a Battlestar Galactica binge, and watches the entire series in seven days straight. Sure, there’s a science fiction and graphic novel community in Portland where you can see that theme, but there are TV nuts everywhere. People can do that anyplace.

KM: I used to live in Santa Cruz –

CA: Ooh! The Portland of California!

KM: Exactly. It really is the Portland of California. And between the two, I don’t see much difference. So when I started watching Portlandia, I thought, yeah, that’s Portland, but it’s also Santa Cruz. And it’s also the Bay Area. There are pockets of these things a lot of places.

CA: I think what’s curious about Portland is that it acts like a university town without the classic university. Not to imply that Portland State isn’t a university, but it’s not like Cornell in Ithaca, or the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where the university is central to the life and identity of the city.

Here, Portland State is not central to the identity of Portland, yet in Portlandia’s view we act like a big, overgrown Santa Cruz or Berkeley. And they act pretty funny in Berkeley!

KM: That’s true — I went to Berkeley!

SG: What about within the Portland area? Portlandia obviously has been well received, with viewing parties in bars. Leverage and Grimm haven’t had quite the same impact on Portlanders. Why do you think that is?

KM: We love to laugh at ourselves. And it’s a certain kind of person who gets into those parties and laughs at themselves: “Hahaha, we’re great!”

But, I do love watching Grimm to see all my friends, because so many local theatre actors are involved in Grimm. Some of them are continuing characters, and lots play bad guys, which is really fun to see.

SG: Does the theatre community embrace Grimm, and watch it regularly?

KM: I think they watch to see their friends. They watch Grimm and say, “Oh! It’s so-and-so!” And my students will often say, “I was on Grimm! Watch next week’s episode!”

I just love the way they portray Portland, its residential streets. I love the way they light houses on Grimm. I love watching it to see all my friends. And they hire our students, too.

SG: Do you think these three shows filming here over the last few years has changed the way students think about working in film? Does it seem more feasible to them now?

KM: Absolutely. There’s no question. We have a brand new film major that started in 2007 and because of that, we have students working in internships behind the scenes as grips or in tech roles, well as actors in front of the camera. They’re able to network and make connections and it’s lovely in terms of production, the way they can get in. It’s exciting for our students.

CA: And in economic terms, we’re building a critical mass of professionals—not only actors—that can provide the lights, and scout locations, and negotiate with homeowners to film there.

KM: People to find these lovely homes and then people to light them!

CA: Films have been made here for years, but it will be one movie one year, and then a couple years later another. Gus Van Sant himself couldn’t support a whole infrastructure. You need lots of filmmakers and TV shows to turn into Vancouver.

KM: And our governors have been supporting filmmaking. I understand Leverage, which is more interiors and you don’t see the outside as much as Grimm, and at first it wasn’t situated in Portland. And now this year, it’s not only filmed in Portland but set here, too.

SG: Right, now Leverage has even started basing storylines in our local landmarks and history. For instance, they recently did an episode about D.B. Cooper, the hijacker who jumped out of an airplane in the 1970s and was never seen again. What impact do you think this sort of local history has on people who think the Pacific Northwest is just a mysterious little corner of the country where Bigfoot lives?

CA: Is there really anything except Bigfoot? DB Cooper is a kind of Bigfoot. It’s in the legend category. I mean, who knows? But the guy jumped out of the plane and died — at least that’s what I think happened. That, I think, plays to the mysteriousness of this cold, wet, damp, kind of foggy, mysterious kind of place, which is what Grimm does.

KM: Yes, absolutely. Grimm doesn’t skewer, necessarily, what we are here. What I find very, very interesting is the fairy tale and fantasy side of Grimm, and the way they use Portland as the backdrop to the sinister happenings.

CA: It’s like the way The X-Files ambiance came from filming in Vancouver, B.C. Lots of dark places, lots of mysterious settings. Similarly, that plays on Portland and Oregon as the not-sophisticated. It’s not New York. It’s not Los Angeles. It’s this other place, where Bigfoot walks.

KM: Where myth is born. There could be legends, and there’s something darker underneath the surface. You certainly see that in Grimm where faces go through transformations and you see the masks of its monsters.

CA: And of course the Northwest is full of vampires. Forks, Washington [the setting for the vampire saga Twilight] is supposed to be the dampest part of these places, the dampest place in the country that you could find. Whereas Portland has the city and its scenery, but then 20 minutes outside you have some very fairytale-like environments.

SG: So these days we are being portrayed quite differently than the darker films Gus Van Sant was making here twenty years ago, where the seediness of Portland was central to their edge. Now we have Portlandia, which is like visual candy, and Grimm is essentially a fairytale. Do you think that reflects the way Portland has changed?

CA: The seedy element is harder to find. And the core of a lot of cities has gone through that kind of process. It’s hard to find.

KM: When I think about My Own Private Idaho [Van Sant’s 1991 drama], which I use in film classes, the underbelly and the youth culture is still here, but it’s not as visible downtown. I think it has shifted to a different place in the city.

CA: Scattered, maybe. Although, I read in the paper this morning about a confrontation between street kids and food cart owners.

KM: So it’s still there, but maybe it’s being portrayed in a different way. It seems like a bigger sociological question.

CA: It’s true. And do you recognize a My Own Private Idaho character or a Drugstore Cowboy character in shows like Leverage or Grimm?

KM: No. They definitely don’t portray characters like that. Portlandia especially is a stand-up comedy routine, and the joke is on Portland. So they don’t do gritty social realism.

SG: Has that removed this idea of Portland as a gritty kind of place in the national consciousness? We used to be known as the city where Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain met, and now we’re known for making pickles.

CA: I don’t know a whole lot about the current music scene, but there certainly is a long distance between Courtney Love and Colin Meloy of The Decemberists writing a children’s fantasy novel about Forest Park [2011’s Wildwood].

KM: Right! It’s a very different sensibility. It’s a good question – what is it that shifts those perceptions? Is it Portland itself changing, or the national perception just looking for entertainment?

CA: On the gritty side, it’s an interesting question. Twenty years ago Ursula Le Guin collaborated with a photographer on a book about Thurman Street, going from the river up to Willamette Heights. It was a very gritty kind of street they were portraying. It was pre-Pearl District, just before that change really began. It’s another example of a very different way of perceiving the city.

In a sense what Portlandia does is remind people of that… in order to satirize the city in this way, there must be something that has changed. Viewers elsewhere are primed to accept that yes, this could be Portland. And you wouldn’t have been able to make this twenty years ago.

There are probably the same kinds of nutsy people hanging out in Indianapolis but people would say “Indianapolis? Bah! But Portland, yeah, I’ve heard that about Portland.” There is sort of a re-affirming cycle. And it’s true – all the statistics show – that over the last 20 years Portland has been attracting college-educated young people.

KM: I read one study that said the median age here is about 35. People come here to open food carts, be writers, join the music scene, and now we have a film scene beginning to happen.

CA: People know that maybe Portland’s a place to get into the film and TV industry. Things are happening there, and there can’t be too many people there with the same film degree they have from NYU or whatever. They think it’ll be easier to break in in Portland than in Los Angeles. Certainly cheaper to live.

KM: People from L.A. are moving up here, because it’s not as difficult to break into the scene there. It’s a smaller pool here, but there are still opportunities. Our film major at Portland State was originally projected in the first five years to have 50 students. We now have over 300. It went through the roof.

SG: Do you find many out-of-state students coming for film?

KM: Yeah, we have a lot of out-of-state, and in-state too. And now that films have all gone digital, there is so much that students can do cheaply that they couldn’t a long time ago. And they know there are some opportunities here. Just think about all the different film festivals Portland hosts now.

SG: What role do you think the tax incentives the state provides to the film industry plays? The legislature is reviewing them for the next budget, but they’re capped at $6 million. For instance, one new TNT drama is based in a Portland hospital, but they’re filming in L.A. because the incentive money ran out.

KM: Yes, there’s a cap, and the money ran out. These three shows have gobbled it up.

SG: Do you think raising those incentives makes sense?

KM: Absolutely. It’s less expensive to film here, but without incentives, it’s hard to convince financiers to base production here.

SG: What about economics? What effect do you think an increasing film industry would have in terms of attracting more industry?

KM: I have to speak from what I know, and we keep growing. We’re not stopping. And if you couple that with increased tax incentives and the film festivals we keep starting, I see that synergy only promoting more growth. I think a cap of film incentives is the only thing that could stop that.

CA: And we have this crop of film majors who will, to be honest, work cheap!

KM: Yes! I mean, I don’t want to promote the abuse of interns, but I think it can work really well for all parties because internships provide these amazing connections and introductions for students, and help keep costs down for film crews.

CA: Another thing about Leverage— which I have not watched consistently because it’s not a very good show — is that to set a show like that in Portland, I think it recognizes that we are a big enough city to supply those stories. For instance, if you want a CSI-type of show, it’s CSI in Las Vegas, Miami, New York… but CSI Topeka wouldn’t be very convincing. So, Portland has to be big enough to have the plausibility.

SG: Do you think that would have happened ten years ago?

CA: In terms of size, yes… but I think it’s a change of recognition. Probably in the last 15 years, Portland has started making an impression on people who don’t know geography at all. There are people who knew that there was a big city somewhere out north of San Francisco, and they figured out it was Seattle. If you’re from New York, you had a hard time holding in your mind that there could be multiple big cities out in this cold, wet part of the country. And you knew it was Seattle because of the Space Needle, or Bill Gates, or knowing they made airplanes. They needed something iconic to hold onto to keep that recognition. And now, people know that there is a Portland.

KM: And I think it’s fascinating because we’ve got three very different TV programs. There’s Leverage with the big-city feel. And there’s Grimm, which keys into the whole fairy-tale aspect. And there’s Portlandia, which is a standup comedy routine about all the silliness of Portland. And the city can sustain all three of those images. That’s fascinating… we’re big enough.

SG: You sound proud.

KM: Yeah! I am!

SG: Most of Portland seems to take a certain pride in all the attention being paid to the city by television audiences. Do you think the surrounding suburbs and counties that are part of the metro area feel neglected?

CA: In general? Probably. In the last election, Clackamas County voters were definitely saying, “We don’t want to get Portlandized”. And some of it is cultural. There’s an idea that “If Portland is really like these Portlandia people, we don’t want them out here!” There’s always been that city/suburbs idea.

Portlandia obviously is focused on the city, because I don’t think there’s a whole lot of Portlandia fodder in Gresham. But because of their focus, the other shows can be anywhere, and people can identify with them a little easier. There are criminals and bad guys and fraudsters that sometimes hang out in the suburbs!

SG: Right — Leverage did an episode recently about sabotaging a big-box retail outlet out in the suburbs to save the local mom-and-pop hardware stores.

CA: All right! There’s an urban-studies theme!

SG: Any other thoughts on Portland and its TV image?

CA: Well, we’ve had this kind of hip, progressive, cool brand, and simultaneously this idea of being a well-planned city with lots of participation: kind of wonky and less cool. I think the show we could host is something about bureaucrats and city planning – kind of an urban Parks and Recreation.

KM: We should pitch a spin-off! If you can do all those CSI’s, why not a Parks and Rec: Portland?

State of Flux: An interview with former Secretary of State Phil Keisling

The nation may be out of a recession — officially — but times are still tough for Oregon. Per capita income is just 90% of the national average, while the state’s unemployment rate hovers stubbornly at 10%. Voters voiced their displeasure last fall by ousting incumbent lawmakers left and right. Republicans gained an equal share of the Oregon House of Representatives, while Democrats barely held on to the Senate and governorship. Going forward, key challenges for legislators on both sides of the aisle will be narrowing a yawning budget gap and creating more family-wage jobs, says Phil Keisling, who served as Oregon’s Secretary of State from 1991 to 1999 and recently joined Portland State University’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all will be putting partisanship on the shelf. In the following interview with Metroscape, Keisling weighs in on politics, poverty and public service. The interview has been edited for space.

MB: To start off with, let’s talk about your new job. In July, you joined Portland State University as the first permanent director of the Hatfield School’s Center for Public Service. What’s the center’s mandate, and what are some of the projects you’re working on now?

PK: The general mission of the center is to connect the extraordinary assets of the university, specifically the Hatfield School of Government — faculty and students — with the real-world problems of the public and private sector — governments and nonprofits. These real-world problems seem to be getting a good deal more complicated and difficult, rather than easier, as we move forward. We’ve identified three broad categories. One is very obvious, and that is education and degree programs. We run the executive master in public administration degree for full-time, working professionals in the public/nonprofit sector who want to get additional knowledge and get the credential. Many of them have just a bachelor’s degree. Or, if they have a master’s, it’s just very domain-specific — for example, someone who’s a biologist in a fish and wildlife department but who’s looking at managing. Portland State has the only program of this kind in Oregon. It’s very much targeted at people who have 10-plus years of [professional] experience.

We also have an array of training programs in leadership development. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, every year for the last decade, has had us put 12-15 people through a leadership- development program that’s co-produced. This means that our faculty members sit down with their key managers and work on a shared curriculum that people use to help identify the next generation of leaders, push them forward, and give them more skills and knowledge.

We also have international programs. We see leadership development and what we offer not being confined solely within the borders of Oregon. In fact, one of our professors here, Marcus Ingle, has been working with colleagues on a Ford Foundation grant that involves a new leadership program called Emerge. We’re field-testing it in Vietnam. We’re working with the Ho Chi Minh Academy helping them development the leadership skills for the challenges they face as an emerging country, particularly around sustainable development — economic, environmental and social issues.

The third broad category is what I call research and consulting. We do very specific, tailored projects for both government and non-profit organizations. We’re talking with some folks in the non-profit world about creating a “State of the Nonprofit” report to benchmark a lot of key metrics about the impact and reach of nonprofits here in Oregon. We helped Clackamas County evaluate the results of a four-day work week pilot project. They used our evaluation and decided to go forward with it on a permanent basis.

There are probably 15 discreet programs here. Some are very specific about topics. For example, we have one focused around the “smart grid,” which is fast emerging as part of what we call the “new energy economy.” We offer programs that take natural resource managers on our field trips, one week at time, three times a year, to look at what we call “wicked” problems on the ground.

MB: You mentioned “smart” grids. You were in the technology sector prior to coming to PSU. What spurred you to make the switch from hightech to higher education?

PK: Yes, I spent 10 years as an executive with a software services company based in Beaverton, called CorSource Technology Group. We did a lot of computer software programming work on behalf of clients. I enjoyed the time immensely, but at the end of the day, I love public policy issues. I made a decision at the age of 55, the kids were beginning to get off to college, that it was time for me to return to my first love in life. I was talking to a lot of people about what to do next, and someone mentioned this PSU job. I threw my hat in the ring. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and it’s an institution I’ve increasingly grown to respect over the years. And though I’ve been a Democrat for virtually my whole life — Mark Hatfield, for whom this school is named — is one of my political heroes.

MB: Let’s turn to state politics for a moment. During the next legislative session, the Oregon House of Representatives will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans; Democrats will have a slim majority in the state Senate. … You studied pre-election and exit polling, so what were the biggest local and national forces that led to the GOP gains in the November election?

We are a poor state, economically. That has enormous implications for how we think, and understanding that this is not something that you just flip a switch on.

PK: To me, the most interesting set of statistics goes as follows: CNN does extensive exit polls on a national basis. In the 2006 election, those who described themselves as Democrats or Republicans voted about 90-93% for their tribes. That was also true in 2008 and 2010. In 2006, about 30%, though, of American voters described themselves as independents. And in 2006, they voted 58 to 39% for Democratic candidates. But wait: I think what they were really doing, more precisely, is they were voting against Republican candidates. That’s the important distinction to make. In 2010, that group went 18 points against the Democrats — a swing of 37%. It’s a remarkable swing, if you think about it. The other 70% of voters basically stayed static and shouted at each other across an increasingly large divide. So you have this 30% of the electorate that is basically the deal-maker, and it has been in recent elections.

I think this is the key to American politics — just who are these independents. What do they want? How do they think? What really makes up their disgust at both major political parties? And I think disgust is not too strong of a word.

Increasingly, when people are voting against things, the danger is that either political party takes their having more numbers than the other party as having a mandate to do things. And I think there was some overreaching that the Democrats who were in control went through. I think you’re almost beginning to see some of it already with the Republicans who overreached before, which led to the change of power in 2006.

So politics in this country right now is almost kind of suspended between these kinds of on-and-off cycles between these two poles. I happen to be a really big believer that we need to rethink the whole framework. I worked in both 2006 and 2008 on a ballot measure here in Oregon that would change the underlying rules of politics, creating a true open-primary election. Everybody runs and everybody is on the ballot. Every voter gets an identical ballot and sees all of the names. Every voter can vote for whomever they want, regardless of their party, regardless of their candidate. The top two go to the finals, regardless of their party. It’s a pretty sweeping kind of change, and it’s been something other than academic at this point because Washington voters approved it and ran the system for the first time in 2008. California voters approved it, and they’ll run it for the first time in 2012. When and if it gets revisited in Oregon, I don’t know. It got rejected at the ballot in 2008, though the last poll was 70% in support, 27% against.

We have a system where voters increasingly look at the choices and setup they have and say: “I’m not really happy with how this plays out, but I’ve got to vote one way or another.” And in 2010, the Republicans were the beneficiaries of that. But if they overreach, if they misread this (election) as a sweeping mandate, if they get into a “my-way-or-the-highway” mode — which I’ve seen Democrats do as well — I think you might see another swing in 2012. And remember, in presidential elections, a lot more people vote.

MB: You cited the significant shift nationally amongst independents. Did we see as big of a shift here in Oregon amongst independents?

PK: Not in the governor’s race. It’s interesting, especially if you look at the razor-thin margin of victory for (John) Kitzhaber. The CNN (exit) poll had Kitzhaber losing this self-described independent group by only 9%. I did a calculation that if he had lost by 13% — still ahead of the 18 points, on average, in congressional races — he’d be watching the inauguration of Chris Dudley on television. (Kitzhaber’s) ability to hold the independents better and not defect is one way to explain the election. But lots of other things can also explain the election. Kitzhaber did better amongst older voters than Democrats did, generally.

At the legislative level, my guess would be that voters acted more like they did with congressional races. You had those independents probably going 15 or 20 or 35% in favor of the Republican. I think that helps explain the flip in some of these (suburban Portland) districts. In the Oregon Senate, two seats were lost, and in the House, six seats were lost. This resulted in an unprecedented 30-30 tie in the House.

MB: You mentioned the risk of overreaching by the political parties after past elections. Given the slim majority that Democrats have in the Oregon Senate, what advice would you give to Kitzhaber in terms of governing?

PK: Well, I won’t be presumptuous to give him advice. But from what I’ve seen so far, he understands the dynamics in similar ways as I see them. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity here. It forces a governor to govern from the center out, not from an edge in. By necessity in the House, in order to get anything passed — even the smallest bill — you’ve got to find votes on both sides. On major things, you probably don’t want to pick off just one vote and have a lot of 31-29 votes in the House. That’s not very sustainable. Whoever it is that’ll be the one [dissenting] vote in the caucus, the pressure will be just enormous.

I think (Kitzhaber) will be able to say to the more liberal people on the Democratic side: “Look, this view got repudiated at the polls.” Also, he was not the favorite choice among some of the major interest groups; he did not get the support of the Oregon Education Association and SEIU. They either stayed on the sidelines or endorsed Bill Bradbury in the Democratic primary. (Kitzhaber) will be able to say that we’re not going to be able to deal with this revenue shortfall by increasing taxes.

He can also say to the Republican side: “I’m a Democrat. This state did not go bright red like some of the other places, so let’s try to find common ground. The $3.5 billion budget shortfall, that’s a big challenge. And since we can’t tax our way out of it, we’ve got to look at how we’ll be able to get more value out of existing programs.” So, I think this election result positions not only him, but any of the legislative leaders, to also want to govern in this particular way.

MB: Recently, Kitzhaber proposed that Oregon develop 10-year budgeting practices. What are the pros and cons of taking a longer view?

PK: The framework that he’s talked about, and this makes sense to me, is an outcomes-based framework where we’re not just caroming from every two-year [budget] cycle. We’re more reliant on a single tax than any other state. And the tax source we rely upon — personal income tax — is the most volatile tax. We have these huge swings up and down. So, particularly, with a state like Oregon, when you make a budget decision and you do it between sessions, you need to embed it in a framework of what you get for this money. You need to start ranking and prioritizing programs based on their outcomes and then being pretty honest and brutal about what’s working and what isn’t. You don’t cut across the board and act as if every program is equal.

It’s a new way of looking at the budget. It’s been talked about a lot, conceptually. (Kitzhaber’s) challenge, and he seems ready to dive into it, is how do you take that theory and framework and operationalize it. So the place to watch over the next year is not the place we always watch — which is the Oregon Legislature — it’s the management of state government. It’s how life changes at that operational level as the governor directs his people. How do they start managing in very different ways that can tell the public, “Here’s what we think we’ll get measuring against our goals.”

At the end of the day, remember, the governor is the head of the executive branch. And during the campaign, Kitzhaber was often asked how he would approach the governorship differently. I really like the answer that he gave, and that is: “In the previous eight years, I often viewed the job of governor as the 91st legislator, but the governor’s job is first and foremost the CEO job, the chief executive officer of the state of Oregon.” So, he’s going to ask the legislature for a lot of things, but the management going forward is his job one. My guess is you’ll see an enormous amount of change there. Hopefully, the legislature will give him the tools that he feels he needs to do it. At the end of the day, good management is not Democratic or Republican; it’s just public.

MB: Beyond the budget, what are the toughest policy fights and easiest wins Kitzhaber faces?

We are a poor state, economically. That has enormous implications for how we think, and understanding that this is not something that you just flip a switch on.

PK: I don’t think there are any easy wins now. Everybody knows that getting more jobs, particularly family-wage jobs, is extremely important. We’re 90% income, per capita, compared to the national average. It’s the lowest since 1929. Washington State is 106%. The two curves are diverging, and the gap has never been bigger, in my lifetime. We are a poor state, economically. That has enormous implications for how we think, and understanding that this is not something that you just flip a switch on. It’s really not something that a governor, alone, can fi x. The easiest thing for politicians to do is to take credit for the economic bounty when it comes. Of course, when it goes away, they say: “Do you really think government can do all that much to fi x the underlying forces in our economy?”

There’s a tremendous amount of things that are beyond the reach of government. That said, government must first try to do no harm. Then, government must ask itself where are the places, historically, where we can move the needle. I think that has to do with things like innovation in education, from early childhood all the way up to higher education at places like Portland State.

I mean, we’re below the national average in terms of kids who are proficient at reading in the fourth grade. There are southern states, which we dismiss and look down our nose at, that have done far better than we have. In Oklahoma, 70% of their four-year-olds are in a state-financed early-childhood-education program; we’ve got 7%. According to a 2008 report, our percentage of high school kids who go on to college is fifth-lowest in the country, with even Mississippi, Georgia and others 10 or 20 points ahead of us.

The first step we’ve got to take is acknowledging the reality of where we’re at. We’re a poor state. We’re falling down in education. We have way too little investment capital for the innovators who are here or come here to help them get to the next level.

There are very, very few software companies, for example, that have broken through this glass ceiling of more than $100 million of revenue. What are we not doing that we need to be doing? Those kinds of conversations very much need to happen in a new way, a way that stops the ideological divide — more taxes, more spending, more taxes, more spending. Enough. I would be paying particular attention if I were in politics today to the needs of the generation of men and women in their 20s, just entering this job market. They’re kind of job one. My generation, we’ll muddle through. But it’s even tougher for people in their 20s.

Oregon really has its work cut out for it. There’s been a bit of patting ourselves on the back for doing things differently and better. These last two years have been a real wake-up call.

MB: Is Oregon really doing anything “differently and better” in terms of attracting and keeping clean-technology companies? As you know, over the past few years, solar companies have opened manufacturing plants in Salem and Hillsboro. The wind-power company Vestas just announced plans to build its headquarters in downtown Portland.

PK: That’s a good observation. With what I call “clean energy,” everything from renewables to efficiency, we have an enormous opportunity. We need to look at what it’s going to take to not get eclipsed by everybody else, because, believe me, every state in the country is looking at clean energy as a place to put its bets, resources and energy. We’ve got a great base to build on. But how do we attract the superstars? I was working on this very question before I took this job. I think you’ll see the legislature asked to make investments. And, in a time of great budget challenges, you don’t just want to cut, cut, cut. You want, if anything, to cut and invest. You’ve got to think about what you put money into that’ll become the means by which you pull yourself out of the budget hole.

I think with Oregon’s green reputation, and the work that’s been done here by world-class researchers in terms of wave energy and nanotechnology, there are some places where we probably need to double and even quadruple down on our focus.

MB: Let’s turn to redistricting. The legislature will soon be tasked with redrawing congressional and legislative district lines to reflect population changes. Is there a weaker or stronger likelihood that the split legislature will get the job done than if Democrats still held both chambers?

PK: I certainly would like to see the legislature do its job. But I’ve had some experience here.

In 1991, lawmakers didn’t do their job, so their job fell to me. I did legislative redistricting, and the congressional redistricting, under Oregon law, went to the federal courts. Redistricting is contentious, and political insiders think it’s the ultimate battlefield. But I think the insiders are wrong. Redistricting increasingly doesn’t affect which party prevails, particularly when one-third of the electorate doesn’t like either party.

The other thing is that people are increasingly living and settling in places that fi t their ideological/political views. So in some cases, you almost have to gerrymander in order to get to a competitive district. And it’s not a standard of redistricting law that you have to draw lines to get to competitive districts; it’s to have communities of interest represented. So as the number of self-described independents increases, the lines on the map are going to be less determinant of an electoral outcome. Sure, it will seem to matter to some (legislators). Sure, it will be used to beat each other over the head and make accusations that one side is trying to preserve its advantage. But for the vast majority of Oregonians looking at that kind of food fight — they’re going to go “pffaw.”

Here in Oregon, either the legislature does (redistricting) or doesn’t. If they don’t, the Secretary of State will do the legislative lines and the [federal] courts will do the congressional lines. The legislative lines will probably be settled by the courts, anyway, because even the Secretary of State’s redistricting plan will be challenged. We’re so partisan that anybody who doesn’t like it can challenge it.

I just encourage (legislators) to just keep their eye on the prize. Redistricting is not a prize; it’s a necessity. I hope it’s done in a way that meets the standards of the law, which is keeping communities of interest together. Personally, I wish the legislature well in doing it, but I don’t have a high degree of confidence. But what will determine who wins and loses during the next decade in politics will have less to do with where those lines are.

MB: Will Oregon ever follow Washington and other states and put redistricting in the hands of an independent commission instead of the legislature?

PK: I think if it were to get on the ballot here it would probably pass. The problem would be who wants to take another run at it — the other ballot measure fell short — and when do you set the effective date. See, redistricting, almost by definition, is seen through the lens of a bipolar world that has been the baseline for what we’ve done for over two centuries. It basically says we’re going to assume there’s this inevitable battle between the reds and the blues. I guess I’m more radical in the original sense of the word, which is getting the root cause of the problem. I think we ought to look at the system and ask why are political parties given — ceded — the kind of power they are. Why are they at the center of the electoral universe?

Michael Burnham is a graduate student in the PSU Masters in Urban Planning program.

Job Description: A workforce expert discusses problems, policies, and prospects in the new economy

With the metroscape’s economy struggling and Oregon’s unemployment rate at 12.1 percent—second highest in the nation as we went to press—the editors thought it would be timely to discuss the employment situation, now and for the future, with an expert. We looked not for an economist, but someone with hands-on experience in job development and training who could relate the day-to-day struggle of the unemployed to find work to the policy issues and economic trends within which their quest takes place. Fortunately, the region has such a person in Ray Worden, the outgoing executive Director of the Oregon Workforce Partnership, a consortium of the county public-private workforce boards around the state. Worden’s experience in workforce policy and development encompasses all levels of government and both sides of the political aisle. He was Oregon’s Deputy Manager of the Job Training Partnership Administration, Office of the Governor, under both Vic Atiyeh and Neil Goldschmidt (1984-87); Deputy Director of the National Commission for Employment Policy under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush; Executive Director of the New Hampshire Job Training Council (1990-98); and Workforce Bureau Manager, City of Long Beach, California (1998-2005). He leaves his current position coordinating seven county public-private partnerships for jobs in June. The interview, conducted on June 9th by Craig Wollner at the Metroscape® office, has been edited for length and clarity. —the Editor

Craig Wollner: First, let me ask you about some fundamental issues. For example, the conventional wisdom is that employment is a lagging indicator, meaning that even though the economy may recover, jobs won’t necessarily come back at the same pace. Is that true and, if so, why?

Ray Worden: The conventional wisdom about coming out of a recession is that there’s a 12 to 16-month lag to return to a pre-recession level of employment. Oregon tends to rebound slower—last in, last out compared to the rest of the country. We do tend to go in slower.

In the past, that was due to our reliance on wood products which built up inventories and had to get them down to rebuild employment. This time is different. The breadth of job loss across the industrial sectors is greater. Before, it was isolated to wood products, manufacturing, and construction. Now, everything is down except health care and government. Leisure and hospitality, is way down. Transportation is down….
We were at 1.7 million jobs before the recession The March-April numbers are at about 1.6 million with 265,000 unemployed, but that doesn’t include people leaving the lbor market. So the fundamentals are so different from past recessions. In the past, unemployment was confined to the uneducated and the unskilled. This time, it’s an equal opportunity recession. Even educated and skilled workers are being let go. Even the Oregon labor exchange system, called 1-Match, has seen the highest level of incidence of college graduates looking help at the employment offices. Ph.D.s, Master degree holders, and so forth are using the system, whereas before, they had their own networks and the ability to seek out employers and get bites of the apple, but employers now are sorting in a way that makes it hard to find jobs. So people like that are using public means.

CW: Oregon ranks second among states in unemployment figures at 12.4% in May (compared to about 9.4% for the nation), even though there was a concerted effort to diversify the economy over the last couple of decades to insulate us from job loss in the more volatile resource-based industries the state was dependent on? If it’s true, why is that?

RW: We have diversified our economy, but the unemployment rate is exacerbated by two additional factors: First, we’ve seen an influx of skilled people coming into the state without jobs because of the quality of life here, and, second, because college grads are not being absorbed as quickly as in a normal economy. In an overall across-the-board downturn, it’s a potent brew.

In fact, as Freightliner completes its plant closure and other losses occur, it’s likely we’ll see 13 or 14 percent unemployment.

In past economies, the discouraged worker factor, the under-employed, or part-time workers were significant add-ons to the base unemployment figure. But I think because of the internet and other communications factors, those might be less of an issue than in the past—at least in metropolitan areas. In rural areas, because of the small size of the communities, the unemployed know when there are no jobs, so they just drop out. But this is a different time.

I’ve been in this business for thirty years and I’ve never seen such a time. It has set us up for a Darwinian struggle, with high school drop-outs and the unskilled as the big losers. That means young people and those without experience are in trouble.

It’s a Darwinian struggle . . . young people and those without experience are in trouble.

The June-July numbers will be interesting because we’ll see if the new college grads crowd the low skilled out. But they themselves will have trouble competing against others with more experience. In the past, the take-up rate for college grads was 90 percent or so, but it will be interesting to see what it will be now. They’re competing against retirees with experience in the fields of interest. In some cases, low skilled immigrants will have an edge against youths.

CW: Has the high school drop-out rate here affected employment figures?

RW: Inevitably. This is a knowledge-based economy and while it may not be obvious now, this is an economy that requires skills and experience. Without the basic skills that a high school diploma is a proxy for, long spells of unemployment and considerable reductions in earnings will be the fate of such people.

CW: What about male-female numbers? Who’s doing better? Why?

RW: Men have had particular problems—80 percent of the unemployed nationally, with the figures playing out similarly in Oregon. But you have to remember that the majority of people in the labor force are men and the sectors in the deepest trouble are male-dominated: manufacturing, construction, professional business services, forest products—all big time. There’s more parity in hospitality, but the sector isn’t as large as those others.

CW: The minority communities have historically had more trouble with employment in tough times. Is that a problem this time around and, if so, what are we doing to remedy their difficulties?

RW: Some minority groups will continue to struggle in the current recession either because of their low educational levels and/or lack of work experience. For example, among “recent immigrants” (last five years) to Oregon, about 40% have less than a high school education according to 2005 Census update. Also, African-Americans have a higher level of high school dropout rate than other groups and, overall, less work experience so I would expect they (as a group) would have more difficulty in obtaining jobs during this recession. In the new economy skills and work experience are pathway to the good jobs in good times…in bad times they ensure better access to any type of job (good paying or not).

CW: One of the things we hear a lot about lately is that the Portland metropolitan region could be a Mecca for “green” jobs. What would green jobs be? Is it possible that the green economy will blossom in a way that would give us a head start on that sector, or is the green economy an illusion as far as jobs are concerned?

RW: To me, green jobs is an organizing vehicle for a whole cadre of existing occupations. For example, wind turbines require maintenance technicians, but the necessary skill sets are what you see in carpenters and electricians and although some skill upgrades may be necessary to participate in the wind turbine industry, the basic skill sets are the same, or at least not that unfamiliar.

One of the values of green jobs is as a motivating factor to get young people into the pipeline, because they see it as the future.

Similarly with solar: There are going to be manufacturing opportunities, but, again, putting in solar heating systems is about plumbers and electricians to install and maintain. So I think it’s being oversold as a coming boom. The general knowledge and skill sets to weatherize and so forth are already there. That’s good. It means we don’t have to start from scratch and we have people who can get up to speed quickly. Bottom line, we’re seeing training courses that are six months to a year, rather than apprenticeships of three to five years.
One of the values of green jobs is as a motivating factor to get young people into the pipeline, because they see it as the future. So it’s not all bad that it’s being over-marketed. This is motivational for the emerging work force—the new young graduates and first time job seekers—that there are jobs out there that are well-paying and in areas where they feel they can be of service. The labor market is schizophrenic. The college grads are motivated to pursue the careers they want. They worked to get to a position where they are prepared for certain kinds of work. It’s the non-post-secondary kids who need to be motivated.

Also, in green transportation we may heave opportunities that could be big, but don’t know yet. I’m thinking of hybrid cars and trucks. Could this region get into that? That could be a very big thing. Engineering, planning, and architecture—where PSU is at the center—that’s another area that could be big in the green economy and create a bigger labor market than is currently foreseen. I would be surprised if the fundamentals become very different. It’s the enhancements—material usage, and so forth—where the growth will probably come.

CW: Let’s talk about the things that you are most familiar with in the work force training. In this region, what are the most successful strategies? Where have you seen the biggest improvements in work force participation due to training programs?

RW: Public policy, because of the money and the realities of having to keep up with the ever-changing needs of industrial partners, had to decouple from industrial training. But now we have a situation where the reputation of the trades is that they are dirty, low paid, back breaking work, and parents all want their children to go to college. But the fact is that we need these jobs filled as people retire from the work force—thousands of baby boomers will be leaving in the next decade in these areas and, going back to green jobs, which is a good organizing principle, these jobs are coming to be seen as not as unglamorous as they once seemed.

Labor market experts will say these jobs will be filled, from out of state, if necessary. But the state needs to be at the table to get our own kids into those positions. Yet more people are dropping out or leaving high school ill-prepared and we’ll be taking care of those people instead of having them become net contributors to the economy and society.

Looking back at the wood products recession of the early 80s, we always thought that the labor market would be self-correcting, that the people without training would be okay over time. Instead, we had big social and economic problems that drained resources. The ripple effects on Social Security, Medicare, and the Oregon state tax system are potentially deadly this time around, in terms of drop-outs and the ill-prepared because of the difficulties they’ll encounter in finding work.

All of that said, the successful strategies involve longer term training. It will pay greater dividends. For the emerging work force, contextual or work-based learning needs to be intrinsic to the educational process. They get motivated by seeing how, say, science, is applied in the everyday world.

Over the last couple of decades, the work force delivery system worked with companies across industries by being a connecting voice with organizing sector strategies, consortia of businesses, and so forth. I mean that before, it was common for work force developers to focus on a single company, to devise, say, a program for Wacker Siltronics. We would take care of their needs and they would be happy. But with consolidation, churning in the economy and the labor market, we’ve figured out that the best thing is to have a strategy across industries. It’s better for financing training and for addressing skill standardization, which is a movement of importance as our work force becomes more mobile than ever before.

Another big improvement is being outcome focused. We now track employee wages, benefits, retention, skill achievement, and other variables. It gives us a quality feedback loop to ensure that our programs are working. We also connect better than ever before to labor market data, so we know what kind of effect we’re having on the key indicators. As a result, we’re now more relevant to job creation and replacement. We’re not just training for training’s sake, but for the reasonable prospect of productive work.

The joke in the old CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] and JTPA [Job Training Partnership Act] days of the 70s and 80s used to be that we were training basket weavers. We weren’t, but now we can show the effects of our programs. CETA was about what the client wanted because the funds were there. If you wanted to be a hair dresser, no problem, no matter what the labor market said. There was no rigor compared to now.

CW: Are the region’s community colleges pulling their weight with respect to making people job-ready?

RW: For two decades now, the community colleges have been the presumptive deliverers of training, with mixed results. That’s reinforced by the fact that every recent US president has come into office declaring that the community colleges are the solution for preparing the work force. But the reality is that they have an uneven track record. Why? Because their mission is so diverse. They are responsible for continuing education and enrichment. They do college prep. And they have to do work force prep plus customized training. These are niches where they can excel, but not necessarily all at the same time. They’re trying to do too much to be really efficient. They’re way overstretched, under-resourced, and oversold as the solution to everything. On top of everything else, they often can’t compete with the proprietary schools which can deliver training in some fields in far less time at far lower cost. Even so, the proprietary schools often complain that the community colleges have an unfair advantage because they’re subsidized. I think they have to be re-engineered to be more effective.

In New Hampshire, we had to look at whether we could afford for all the colleges to be independent. If not, we could free up more resources. But it turned out to be a disaster to have the local community colleges be coordinated from Concord. Rural areas didn’t want to be dictated to by the state capitol. In Oregon, they wouldn’t want Salem telling them what to do. Anyway, they could be an important tool. They are certainly an important part of the solution to our current problems, along with unions, but right now, they don’t seem interested. In two legislative sessions in a row, they’ve brought the same chart about the health care bottleneck and how they can provide the job training to break it. They are doing what they want to do, but there is more they could do if we could coordinate their efforts and curriculum statewide.

CW: Is the long range forecast for the metroscape positive or negative, in your view?

How we finance our society is a worry, but I just hope we’ll be more invested in growing our labor force.

RW: I think it’s positive. We have an educated work force. We have some English as a second language issues, but for the most part, our people are creative and entrepreneurial. We have a diversified economy (compared to the past) that can accommodate the richness of the metropolitan area. We have good educational institutions supporting our educational needs.

We’re pretty well positioned for the recovery because of our attractive reputation as a great place to live. So I think overall we’ll be in good shape. Place matters. Bright people know they’ll find jobs over the long haul. At the same time, we need to remember that over half of Oregon’s unemployed are here in the metropolitan region.

There’s so much good stuff to build on here that I believe we’ll be okay. How we finance our society is a worry, but I just hope we’ll be more invested in growing our labor force.

Early Inspirations: An Interview with Nichole Maher

Nichole Maher is the executive director of the Native American Youth & Family Center (NAYA Family Center) in Portland, Oregon. On August 6th of this year, she will join the Northwest Health Foundation as its president and CEO. In 2001, at the early age of 22, she took on her executive role at NAYA, and has taken the organization from a yearly budget of $215,000 and a staff of seven to a $10 million budget and a staff of over 100. In addition to her nonprofit leadership, she serves the region’s community on numerous boards, including the Northwest Health Foundation, Oregon Native American Chamber of Commerce, Planned Parenthood of the Columbia-Willamette, National Urban Indian Family Center Coalition, Portland Schools Foundation, and Portland Parks & Recreation.

Born in Ketchikan, Alaska, Nichole is a member of the Tlingit and Haida Center Council of Southeast Alaska. After growing up in Alaska, at the age of 10, she lived and went to school on the Siletz reservation. She graduated from Oregon State University with a double major in public health and American Indian studies. She then received a master’s degree in public health through a joint program between Portland State University’s Mark Hatfield School of Government and Oregon Health Sciences University. Outside of work hours, Nichole plays a mean game of Sunday morning kickball with her team Manifest Destiny and raises two beautiful children, Kekeya (2) and Zodie (3), with her husband, Eddie Sherman (Navajo).

Oscar Arana, one of Nichole’s closest friends and colleagues, as well as a Multnomah County field representative for Senator Wyden, says that Nichole’s biggest strengths are that “she is passionate about leadership, especially for communities of color, and she is young and therefore able to relate to youth—her sense of humor also makes her stand out.” Recently, Nichole was named one of the “50 Most Influential Portlanders” by Portland Monthly.

In the following interview, Nichole discusses her early inspirations and personal commitment to her role as a leader of the Portland urban Indian community.

Leah Gibson: Okay, so we all know about your many accomplishments from all of the media coverage and awards that you have had recently…but what are you most proud of?

Nicole Maher: Well, the thing I am most personally proud of is building a sense of community

among families in Portland. I feel like I get too much credit sometimes. But the other thing I feel so proud of is being able to see other Native leaders grow and take on really important roles and seeing other Native people in really prestigious positions or serving on boards and commissions. And the part of the work I’m most proud of is helping to support more Native people in these types of positions. In the past six or seven years, I’m seeing more and more Native people in these roles, and I just think that our community has so much potential, and so many people are starting to realize that.

LG: Speaking of leadership, what first interested you in getting into policy work?

NM: I never, growing up, thought of myself as a leader. That was not the track I was on, but I think that I’ve always had sort of an impatient personality and a sense of urgency. And I’ve oftentimes lacked some of the leadership skills, but I think that the fact that I was always the person that would show up to the meeting and follow through on most of what I committed to are the things that put me into leadership positions. Over the years, I think I’ve learned how to be a better policy advocate and to gain the skill to hear a policy and be able to translate it into how it would impact our people. And that’s something that’s taken time for me to develop. I remember thinking a million times that “I don’t understand this,” or “I’m sure I’m going to say this the wrong way,” or, “Gosh, if I speak up, am I going to sound really ignorant?” But I’ve also always thought, “If I don’t speak up, the issue is not going to get raised.” Even if it’s just bringing up a point that people haven’t thought of, or being the first person to say it, it opens up a space where a lot of other people can bring it up. Now I can see a red flag from far away. But in the beginning, it was just about raising my hand and asking the question. Every time I felt kind of shy, or felt like, “Gosh, I’m not the person who should bring this up,” I’ve kind of just had to sort of just overcome that fear and really just say, “It’s about the community, and if I don’t speak up, I’m not sure anyone else is going to.”

I never, growing up, thought of myself as a leader. . ., but I think that I’ve always had sort of an impatient personality and a sense of urgency.

In what arenas did this first happen?

NM: Actually, when I was in high school, I really started to notice some severe inequities, like our high school should have been 25% Native American, but all of the Native kids were dropping out and being pushed out and being expelled. We were getting into our senior year, and literally everyone from Siletz was gone, and no one seemed to think it was anything to be concerned about. It was just something that our high school accepted as a norm. And then when I got into college, I really started to see a lot of inequities and racism, so that was really the first opportunity for me to acclimate to that kind of community advocacy. When I came to Portland, essentially NAYA at that time was very small. We were only five people, and what I noticed was that we were trying to do everything for everybody, and we were doing that because nobody else was serving Native Americans. And, essentially…here we were, this decent-sized population with all these needs…I didn’t understand the data then, in the way that I do now. I mean, I suspected, but I didn’t have the kind of concrete thinking. And so, it was being in meeting after meeting with the county or youth services providers where it was just acceptable that our community was left out. It was just the way it was, it wasn’t a big deal, and it was people’s perception that we were lucky to even be invited to the table. And so that’s when I really started speaking up. The first couple of years, we made some really great progress in a lot of ways. There were other areas where now I look back and think to myself, “Oh my gosh, I never would have let that happen now. There’s no way I would have let that slide.” So really, that was the beginning. It was a lot of just, go to the meeting, show up, be really prepared, be really organized, don’t say anything you can’t back up, and ask questions. Just lots of practice. Consistency, practice, and realizing that in this community, when you advocate for what’s fair, what’s right, what’s just, that people will be mad at you. They’ll thank you at the end of the meeting for speaking up, but actually, when you are really trying to change things, and suggest sharing power in a different way, or rocking the boat in typically historically how the power-making has been, you will experience resentment. It’s hard for people to accept that. They appreciate that you are being courageous, but they don’t want things to change, and when you represent change, you will experience a little bit of resentment. So you have to be able to carry that.

LG: You talked about how you were able to notice “red flags”…what do you mean by that, and how are you able to recognize a red flag now?

NM: There are some really interesting code words we use in Portland. People will talk about how “that community of color, they don’t have any capacity,” meaning they are not strong enough, they are not organized enough, they don’t have the right system. But I find that really fascinating, because we have many organizations of color that are bigger, stronger, more organized, and have some of the best outcomes in our entire [Portland] community. When I hear that word, I get very concerned. And I recognize that that’s become a politically correct way downplay the strengths and the attributes of a culturally specific community.

I would say there are major areas where NAYA doesn’t have capacity, but the reason that we don’t have capacity is that we have been systematically under-funded and excluded for, you know, thirty-some years, so it’s almost like punishing the victim. It still happens all the time where you’ll have a room of twenty people and there might be one or two people of color, and they’re making decisions for low-income children. Well, low-income children—about 65% of them are people of color. I feel that every person in that room should feel very uncomfortable making a decision on behalf of those communities. People can have good will and good intent, but we know that when we do not include the community that it affects the most, we make decisions that aren’t in their best interests. White Portland is still very, very comfortable with making those kinds of decisions. So that’s another big red flag for me. And when you bring up, “who’s in the room?” and they say, “well, we invited them and they didn’t show up,” oftentimes people think that’s an acceptable answer, but it’s not. What that says to me is that you don’t actually have the type of relationship that you should have with these communities to get them here. That’s a problem. We should change that, not blame the community.

We like to make this assumption that we’re colorblind in this community, which is ironic, because we have some of the worst racial disparities in the country. And so we keep trying to do big one-size-fits-all models, and there is such overwhelming evidence that that doesn’t really serve any marginalized community well. And the white bias that comes out in those one-size-fits-all models is amazing. I mean, essentially, programs end up being developed in a way that only matches up to what white folks need, and that doesn’t really serve low-income white people well, it doesn’t serve people from outer SE well, it doesn’t serve communities of color well, and oftentimes the policy-makers will try to organize things geographically, which most communities don’t organize geographically. When you organize that way, you leave out some of the neediest people. If you want to change the outcomes, you have to organize it the way that the people need in order to change lives.

LG: Tell me how you came to work for NAYA.

NM: I started as the youth and education coordinator, and I was in that role for six months. And it was really interesting because I knew NAYA for a long time, because I had started as a camp counselor, and I had eventually become the camp coordinator for a camp called Konaway Nika Tillicum, and NAYA used to send youth. So I knew about NAYA because this huge white van would pull up and all these urban Indian kids would pile out. When I came to NAYA, I knew tons of kids because I had been their camp counselor.

When I came to NAYA to be the youth and education coordinator, I was only going to stay for a year because I was on my way to law school. I was signed up to get my joint masters in public health and law degree. I had basically taken a year off to work and make some money. The first day I walked in, they had just moved into the Mississippi building. I had such a special feeling about the place. And at that time, Mississippi was scary. They had bullet holes in the windows and there was nothing on that street. They actually interviewed me in the kitchen. My interview panel included Nora [Farwell], Jeff Roth, Robin Dennis, and Ruth Jensen, who was on our board at that time.

And I loved the questions. They were the toughest questions I had ever been asked. You could just see that there was a social justice lens. It was a huge job. I was supposed to case-manage 270 kids. They hadn’t had anyone in that position for quite some time. We were kind of behind. The community didn’t know me. But at the same time, I loved it. I loved the spirit of the staff. At NAYA, there was just this fierce attitude of “Our kids can do it, our kids are amazing, they deserve the best,” and I loved that perspective. I didn’t really understand urban Indian issues at that time. I had always been in a tribal setting, where you have a set amount of resources or you are tied to the BIA, and with that comes restrictions. But with it also comes resources. So having no resources was like really kind of shocking to me. At the same time, it gave you so much freedom to do what you really wanted to do, and you were in control of yourself, which I loved.

I worked really closely with Jeff. He and I became really good friends, really fast. He was the executive director [ED]. I think he saw potential and had me take on a lot of extra things. Then he got this amazing job in DC. They were looking for a new ED and I was not qualified or prepared. But it was actually Paul Lumley who said, “Apply to be the ED. You have everything it takes. Just apply.” And at that time, I had already started thinking, “Well, why don’t I apply to graduate school here, because I want to stay at NAYA.” So I applied for ED, thinking that I would be lucky to get an interview. I just wanted to get to know the board, and I thought, I’ll stay here, I’ll work, I’ll go to graduate school, and then in five or six years—you know, executive directors change every five to six years—I’ll be ready.

So I did the interview, and I got the position. I think there was a lot of chance and a lot of luck. It must have been nerve-wracking for the board to hire a 23-year-old ED. It must have been so scary for them!

LG: How big was NAYA at the time?

NM: We were seven at the time I became ED. We had gotten a few small grants and tutoring positions. I was so excited. My perspective was [that] “I am going to learn so much more being an executive director than going to law school.” We were in a hard financial position when I became ED. We only had enough money for the nuts of operating. I needed to raise to some money. I needed to learn how to do that.

LG: Is that why you got started on fundraising?

I actually learned how to fundraise at Oregon State University. I was the chair of their powwow for four or five years. We would raise at least $30,000 a powwow

NM: I actually learned how to fundraise at Oregon State University. I was the chair of their powwow for four or five years. We would raise at least $30,000 a powwow. And then, grantwriting, certainly. You learn quickly that it’s all about relationships. Getting a grant is 75% relationship and 25% writing skills. I got my start fundraising on the powwow committee. And, literally, it’s just asking people for money. I’m still learning, though. Every year, we’re getting better.

LG: What made you decide to get your master’s degree in public health?

NM: I always wanted to do public health. I always loved upstream health prevention. I always felt like there was a strong connection between self-determination, being healthy, and cultural pride. So, for my undergraduate degree, I did pre-med public health and American Indian studies. I always thought I was going to go to med school, but then I did several internships and decided, not so much. I mean, I could do it, but I didn’t love it. And then the next option seemed to be that I could maybe do law and public health. But then I got the job as NAYA ED.

LG: What was it like growing up in Alaska?

NM: I grew up in a very rural community. No electricity, no roads, only accessible by float plane. Very, very small community. We lived mostly off the land. We fished all the time. My mom canned—canned deer meat and canned fish. As a kid, I had no concept of what other people ate. Everybody ate the same thing as us where I lived. My dad was a fisherman, so that was a big part of my life.

Pretty much everyone who lived in Kupreanof was homeschooled, and we didn’t go to regular school until I was in fourth grade. By the time that I got to fourth grade, I was so behind. They thought I had dyslexia. But I really just couldn’t read. I really truly believed that school just wasn’t for me. It took me until my junior and senior years of college to get really good at school, but really, I just didn’t perceive myself that way, like for a long, long time. I used to stay with relatives all the time. I changed school a lot, and would stay with my relatives, or friends of my parents. I was always kind of staying with someone. I think that that experience really shaped me, too. It was hard, but it kind of taught me to adapt and adjust, and to survive. My parents were always going out on the boat, and I used to get terribly seasick when I would go fishing with my parents. So that’s part of the reason that my parents would have me stay with people, because I would get so seasick.

The whole reason that I went on to college is because they had a really strong Title XII program and a really strong Johnson O’Malley program at Siletz, so they were always taking us to conferences and telling us that we should just apply to college. I ended up getting into all of these places. It seemed crazy not to go, and so I went. But my first year and a half, I thought I was going to flunk out every term.

LG: When did you move to Siletz?

NM: When I was ten. When I was in sixth grade. We had a lot of extended family in Siletz, and knew a lot of fishermen, so it made sense to move there.

LG: How do you keep your spirit up in the face of criticism?

NM: There are so many wonderful things to celebrate. Any time that I’m in the hallway, and fifty kids walk by to go get tutoring…that is just the most amazing feeling because they are here, they are doing something positive. There are so many reminders all of the time of the hope and the work ethic of the community, like we have single moms in the hardest situations who take the bus all the way out here so that their little ones can go to playgroup. We have so many people in so many hard circumstances who are here and working to better their lives. We have so many people who come to volunteer, like so many of our elders. And our community gatherings; even if we have 700 people and we ran out of food at 600, people still want to be there. That really lifts my spirits because I remember when we didn’t have that in Portland. I remember when we had very few dancers at the powwow, and now we have tons of dancers.

I think having a few people that you can confide in is great, as well. I mean, there have been days where it’s been harder. As NAYA gets bigger, sometimes it feels like the criticism gets bigger, too. So there are those days where it is just overwhelming. But there are also so many positive things. It’s not like I don’t notice the negative, but I’ve always had the perspective that I might as well do something and make some mistakes than be so fearful of criticism that I do nothing at all. The Native community can be very critical, and I’ve seen a lot of Native leaders become immobilized by fear. I’d rather go for it and be criticized than to just play it safe.

LG: Is there anything that you wish you could change over the course of your career and your life?

NM: I certainly wonder sometimes if I could say things better, or what would have happened if I did one thing and not another. Like I’ve mentioned before, there are some policy areas where if I would have been more experienced, I would have never done or said certain things. But they’ve all turned into really great learning experiences. I certainly have no regrets. There are plenty of things I have done or decisions I have made as the leader of NAYA where I’ve felt like I’ve done or said something totally wrong, or I’ve made mistakes and apologized. But I don’t regret it.

LG: Who are your greatest role models?

NM: One of my first, greatest role models was David West. He is the director of Native American Studies at Southern Oregon University. I learned so much from him about how to do really positive youth development. There’s so much of that positive, youthful spirit at Camp Konaway Nika Tillicum [a summer Native American academy program at SOU] that he was involved in. Terry Cross [the director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association] is also someone that I admire. Another person is Laura Harris from AIO [American Indians for Opportunity]. The thing I love about Laura is that she is one who does so much to build up other leaders, and she has the attitude, “We don’t have to be leaders like how everyone else does leadership…we can be our own kind of leaders.” We don’t have to act like white leaders. We don’t have to act like historical leaders. It’s really about creating our own kind of leadership.

  • Portland has the 9th largest urban Indian community in the US.
  • There are 28 Native organizations in the Portland Metro area, with combined resources of over 50 million dollars in revenue that go to benefit the city and the region.
  • Over 60 tribes in Oregon had their tribal status overturned by the federal government in 1953, during the period known as “Termination.” The Chinook tribe, which once inhabited Neerchokikoo, was one of the tribes that had its federal tribal status terminated.
  • Portland is home to members of over 380 tribes from across the country.

LG: What is your biggest challenge?

I just see so many opportunities and so much work, and so much urgency, . . .  it’s so hard to say no when there is so much need and so much work to be done.

NM:I over-commit, and I always see everything as an opportunity to get the word out about the Native community. I’m really trying to get better at it, but I just see so many opportunities and so much work, and so much urgency, and while I understand about slowing things down, I just think it’s so hard to say no when there is so much need and so much work to be done. Balancing that is very hard.

LG: Are there any projects or issues that would be going on this summer that people should pay attention to?

NM: I am really interested in the Native American Report [viewable at]. With the report, we learned that 12% of our population is also our most vulnerable population—our children. I really want to see that population served. The level of disparity and service to that part of the population is criminal.

Leah Gibson (Oglala Lakota) is a freelance writer and a Portland State University alum. She holds a master’s degree in writing through the PSU book publishing program. Leah was raised in Portland and has strong roots in the Portland metro area

Skamania County: The Other Side of the River

It’s dusk in mid-December, and the sidewalks of downtown are bathed in the soft glow of holiday decorations and foggy windows.

Kristina Heartman, owner of Lesley’s Books on the main drag, said she earns enough money to keep the lights on, but business could be better. Like other Columbia River tourist towns, Stevenson sees its share of empty shops, tables and hotel rooms amid this Great Recession. Luckily, books appear to be both recession-proof and weather-proof this wet winter.

“Everyone else around here says things have been a bit slower,” Heartman recalled, “but when it gets darker earlier and the nights get longer and colder, people remember that they might want to read. Books might seem like the last thing you think about buying in this economy, but for something that’s extraneous, I’m doing okay.”

Skamania, the word from which this rural county gets its name, is Chinookan for “swift water.” The river is no longer wild, tamed by the hulking Bonneville Dam, half-a-dozen miles downstream from Stevenson, but the view is still stunning on a winter’s day. A dusting of snow caps craggy peaks that rise along both sides of the water as it flows toward the Pacific Ocean. Mount St. Helens is a frosted bundt cake, 30 miles to the northwest.

Such beauty is a blessing and a curse for Skamania County. For millennia, American Indians fished for plentiful salmon and traded on the banks of the Columbia. The Oregon Trail eventually brought a steady slew of soldiers, loggers and homesteaders, including the Stevenson family for which the county seat is named. Just 5 percent of the 1,684-square-mile county is developable today. The rest of the land — part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and Gifford Pinchot National Forest — remains mostly wild.

In good times, the raw beauty draws a steady stream of tourists who stay at Skamania Lodge and shop down the hillside in Stevenson, the county’s biggest town, with 1,400 people. The rural lifestyle keeps professionals from the Portland- Vancouver metroplex coming back, season after season. Some folks never leave, said Casey Roeder, executive director, Skamania Chamber of Commerce, in Stevenson. Some, like Heartman, make a go at running a small business on 2nd Street, downtown. Some try telecommuting from their homes. The vast majority climb in a car several days a week and drive.

And there’s the rub: About seven in ten people who live here work outside of the county, Roeder noted. “Those people who are working in Portland — they’re buying their groceries and their gas there,” she explained. “That’s a great loss for our local businesses that offer the same services. We need opportunities to have those people live and work here.”

Curbing Commuting
Portland is but one of several places Skamania’s residents go to work, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. About 19 per- cent worked in neighboring Clark County, Wash., and more than 9 percent worked in Multnomah County, Ore., in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. Other Skamania County residents worked in farther- flung places, including Marion County, Ore., and Yakima County, Wash.

On weekday mornings and evenings, Washington State Route 14, which doubles as 2nd Street in downtown Stevenson, is packed with car commuters and other travelers. “It can take a while to cross the street,” bookstore owner Heartman said. “In the summer, it can take forever.” But that’s in good times, of course.

As the economic downturn continues to take its toll on Skamania County’s tourism industry, county boosters are trying to diversify the local employment mix. They’re even treating Portland as an asset. “What we we’re trying to capitalize on is our proximity to Portland, especially to the airport, and year-round recreation,” said chamber director Roeder. “These are the kinds of things we have to offer to any kind of business.”

The Skamania County Commission is working closely with the county’s Economic Development Council to improve everything from roads to high-speed internet infrastructure to attract and keep light-industrial companies that are looking for low costs and skilled laborers. County boosters have scored modest victories.

In 2009, Bingen, Wash.-based Insitu Inc., a Boeing Corp. subsidiary that makes unmanned, drone aircraft, opened a manufacturing site in Stevenson. The facility employs about 100 people.

With another 600 of its workers scattered throughout the Columbia River Gorge, Insitu plans to consolidate is operations. Skamania County has proposed three sites for a new company campus, including one in the town of North Bonneville, Roeder said. Renewable energy is another employment sector on county leaders’ wish list.

Bingen-based SDS Lumber Co. has applied to build 50 wind turbines atop a ridge it owns in eastern Skamania County. The 75-megawatt project, which would cover about 1,100 acres, would be located outside of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Growth Projections
The county’s economic diversification efforts come amid slow-and-steady population growth. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, in 2010 Skamania had 10,894 people, up from 9,872 people in 2000 and 8,289 people in 1990. State demographers project that the county will have about 13,400 people in 2030, up about 21 per- cent from 2000. As a point of reference, the state is expected to grow about 25 percent during the same 30-year period, to about 8.5 million residents.

Stevenson bookstore owner Heartman said she would like to see more people open independent businesses downtown. She would also like to see more major employers set up shop throughout the county to buffer her business and others during economic doldrums. “It would be nice to have more jobs that offer higher incomes, rather than just service-industry jobs,” she added.

DeWees, who works in a flower shop a few doors down, said she’d like to see fewer locals leaving town every morning, too. Perhaps then, they’ll have time more time to read a book — and maybe stop and smell the roses. “I used to work in Portland four days a week,” she said, “but I decided it was a little too much [commuting].”  

Michael Burnham is a graduate student in the PSU Masters in Urban and Regional Planning program.


“Close to everything, but away from it all.”

That’s the official motto of this former timber town in Clackamas County, 30 miles southeast of Portland. This “city” of nearly 2,700 is remotely tucked away in pristine wilderness—set against the backdrop of the Mt. Hood National Forest and the Clackamas River Gorge—yet is within reach of Portland’s hustle and bustle. The scenic drive from Portland to Estacada, via OR-224, typically takes forty-five minutes. Just over a hundred years ago, however, paved roads didn’t even reach this place.

In fact, the town wouldn’t even exist today if it hadn’t been for the construction of the Clackamas River’s first hydroelectric dam, the Cazadero, in 1905. At the turn of the last century, the rapidly growing City of Portland (pop. 90,000) needed electricity to power its streetlights. In 1901, after the successful completion of a hydro power station at Oregon City, the Oregon Water Power and Railway Company acquired property along the Clackamas and built a rail line from Gresham to the new site through the nearby town of Boring.


What literally started as a “tent city” for workers building the dam quickly sprouted into a full-fledged community of nearly 400 by October 1904. Before anyone knew it, streets were platted and Estacada was incorporated the following year. Local lore has it that the town’s name, Spanish for “marked with stakes,” was selected at random from a U.S. map depicting the Llano Estacado region of Texas. The newly constructed rail line to Estacada almost immediately gave rise to a new lumber industry that would drive the economy of this place for almost a century. The rail line not only transported the abundant natural resource, but also brought multitudes of urbanites from Portland by streetcar to picnic and enjoy the great outdoors. The scenic wonderland surrounding the new town provided a much-needed retreat from the industrial city. For fifty cents, Portlanders could board the Estacada-Cazadero streetcar at the Morrison Bridge and be transported to a forested oasis for the day. For a dollar more, passengers could ride the streetcar plus enjoy dinner at the new Hotel Estacada on Main Street.

The line also lured many a fisherman from Portland to the shores of the Clackamas at Estacada, where salmon and steelhead trout were plentiful. As such, the railway quickly became known as the “Trout Route.”

Tourism was an important component of Estacada’s early economy, but began to fizzle after the popular streetcar line ended passenger service to the town in the early 1930s. It was ultimately timber, not tourism, which kept Estacada residents and business owners prosperous, however.

Legend has it that logging trucks chugged through town at a pace of one per minute during big timber’s glory days in the 1950s and 1960s. During this time, one could measure Estacada’s economic pulse by simply counting the logging trucks as they rolled through town rattling downtown storefront windows.

For the greater part of a century, most residents of Estacada were employed at the saw mill; one of the metro area’s largest producers of lumber products. Gradually, over time, increased state and federal regulations imposed on the logging industry resulted in its decline, and the town’s economic pulse began to slow dramatically by the 1980s. After holding on for dear life for two decades, the Estacada Saw Mill Co. closed its doors for good in 2007. As a result, many downtown shops have also shuttered their doors in recent years.

“The decline of the timber industry has changed the identity of Estacada. Most of us no longer see Estacada as a lumber town or mill town,” says Mayor-elect Brent Dodrill. Like many other former timber towns throughout the state that are now confronted by an identity crisis, Estacada, too, is struggling to reinvent itself.

Despite Estacada’s depressed economy, however, residents, downtown business owners and local elected officials haven’t lost hope in their town. Leading the charge for a renewed civic pride in recent years is a group of local artists who have banded together to transform their community one brush stroke at a time.

Each summer, the ArtBack Artists Cooperative has wowed the community with their “mural-in-a-weekend” event. During this event, a mural depicting a unique aspect of Estacada history or culture is painted on a blank wall in town. Since 1994, murals have been painted portraying the history of the native peoples who occupy the Pacific Northwest; Estacada’s timber heritage; the steam engines and streetcars that once carried dam workers and throngs of city dwellers to this place; the area’s scenic beauty and rich wildlife; recreational opportunities on the Clackamas and in the Mt. Hood National Forest; as well as other themes.

The creative class has become a thriving presence in Downtown Estacada. The Spiral Gallery on Broadway Street now attracts arts enthusiasts from around the region on the first Friday of every month. Across the street, another type of innovative “spirit” draws quite the crowd: the craft-brewed beer at Fearless Brewing Co.

Estacada’s elected officials have acknowledged the role of the creative class in helping to market downtown as a destination. It’s quite apparent that more needs to be done to rebuild the city’s economy and attract new industry, however.

In April 2011, the state Department of Land Conservation and Development approved the city’s application to annex 130 acres of farmland into its urban growth boundary to create an industrial sanctuary along the city’s western boundary. “We hope to see this [land] developed and bring some great jobs to our area,” Mayor-elect Dodrill explains.

In the meantime, while city leaders try to lure new industry over the next few years, officials like Dodrill hope to move forward with two plans adopted by the city in the last five years: The Estacada Downtown Urban Renewal Plan (2007) and the City of Estacada Downtown & Riverside Area Plan (2011). These plans outline goals for Estacada’s historic Downtown core as well as its scenic riverfront. The latter could be a boon for efforts to boost tourism and recreational activities in the area.

Dodrill takes office on January 1. When asked about moving forward on the Downtown & Riverside Area Plan, he said, “This plan will begin to pick up speed over the next three to five years and some great changes will be made to the historic downtown area.”

About the people who live and work here, Dodrill says this: “The people of Estacada are wonderful, hard-working people who work together for the good of the community. Our new identity is not fully formed yet, but it’s in the process.”

Jeremy R. Young is a Lancaster, PA native and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning student at Portland State University.


Located near the edge of the urban growth boundary at the northern end of the Willamette Valley’s rich wine country, Sherwood is a small town with a deep commitment to nature. Although Sherwood has experienced rapid growth in both population and building structures during the past twenty years, the community’s preservation and enhancement of its natural surroundings are evident in the tree lined streets and attention to wildlife safety and habitat restoration. The commitment is perhaps most evident in the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, a large swath of restored wetland that enables the human residents of Sherwood to share their town with nearly 275 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians and a wide variety of insects, fish and plants.

During the past ten years, the population of Sherwood has increased by nearly 45 percent from just over 11,000 in 2000 to more than 17,000 today. The growth occurs in residential subdivisions, newly updated and expanded civic buildings, and maturing commercial and manufacturing districts. Although Sherwood was incorporated nearly 120 years ago, 76 % of the town’s buildings have been built since 1970, with 52% built between 1995 and 1998. Sherwood’s tree canopy is also growing. In 2004, the Arbor Day Foundation designated it as a Tree City USA. The program, which is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service and Community Forestry Program, supports communities that are committed to maintaining and expanding healthy urban forests.

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Balancing new residents and the local wildlife is not always easy. Signs warning drivers to watch for deer line the roads not only in the hills surrounding the city but also in the dense residential neighborhoods in the valley. While deer may feel threatened, wildcats are being sent to Sherwood to find safety. Wildcat Haven is one of the few sanctuaries in the country focused exclusively on small, lesser known wildcats. Located on eight acres, Wildcat Haven is dedicated to rescuing and nurturing animals while educating the public about the different varieties of wildcats and their habitat needs.

Wildlife and people have to share space in much of the town, but in the Tualatin River Wildlife Refuge it is clear that wildlife takes precedence. First proposed by a local citizen in 1990, the Refuge was officially designated in 1992. Over the next eleven years, land was bought and donated, native habitat was restored, and, by 2003, the Refuge had grown to 1,268 acres. A Wildlife Center opened in 2008, providing visitors with enhanced educational and recreational opportunities. Although the Wildlife Refuge covers less than one percent of the Tualatin River’s Watershed, it is home to abundant and varied local wildlife.

Sherwood residents may soon have even greater access to natural areas. Currently in the early planning stages, the Tonquin Trail will start at the Tualatin River Natural Wildlife Refuge leading pedestrians and cyclists through Sherwood along the banks of Cedar Creek to the Grahams Oak Nature area along the Willamette River in Wilsonville. Commuters will also be able to use the trail to access the Westside Express Service (WES) stations in Wilsonville and Tualatin via additional trail spurs.


In recent years, a resurgence of interest in water-based mass transportation has led the City of Portland to reconsider the potential role of ferries in the regional transportation system. Not only do ferries present an attractive alternative for increasing water-crossing capacity for commuters, but they are also a link to the region’s past. Much of the metroscape’s early development was facilitated by ferry lines that allowed development to spread across the region.

The metroscape was once home to a thriving ferry industry. Starting in the 1840s, ferry lines developed on many rivers and streams. In addition to providing regular transportation, they also made land more accessible and attractive to investors, thus facilitating residential and commercial investment (Snyder, 1989). Ferries aided development of many cities and towns around the region in a similar fashion, including Portland, Oregon City, and Wilsonville.

Proliferation of the automobile, advances in building technology, and an increase in public infrastructure spending led to the decline of the ferry industry during the early 20th century. Many ferry lines were replaced with bridges, including the St. Johns and Sellwood bridges. Today only two regularly scheduled ferry lines operate in the metroscape: the Canby Ferry in Clackamas County and the Wheatland Ferry between Marion and Yamhill counties (

In recent years, the idea of incorporating ferries into the regional transportation network has gained traction in Portland. Ferries are an appealing form of mass transit particularly for cyclists and pedestrians. Open air or windowed decks allow for a pleasant ride. In addition to practical considerations, ferries invoke nostalgia. Symbols of a bygone era, ferries are reminiscent of a time when rivers were more central to the lives of area residents.ferries

When the City of Portland launched the River Renaissance program in 2000, with a vision of revitalizing the Willamette River and reuniting the city around a common element, ferries were incorporated in the plan. The City partnered with Nelson/Nygaard, Cogan Owens Cogan, and IBJ Associated to conduct a ferry feasibility study. The report, released in June 2006, looked at two possibilities for ferry service: a commuter line and an intra-city circulator that would connect important destinations within Portland’s Central City and provide river excursion trips for visitors and residents. The report concluded that “commuter ferry service should not be pursued at this time due to high cost premiums over other modal options and expensive terminal construction that would be required to initiate service.” Looking ahead, however, the report suggested that “a seasonal circulator designed to provide passenger excursions and connect Central City destinations during the peak visitor season (May through October) is the most cost-effective service evaluated and should be considered as an initial service offering” (Willamette River Ferry Feasibility Study, June 2006). In January 2009, the City announced that River Renaissance would be combined with the Office of Healthy Working Rivers. Its unclear how this collaboration will affect possible plans to incorporate ferries into the regional transportation system.

One unresolved question is environmental impact. A study of nine popular public transportation modes conducted in Hong Kong in 2001-2002 found that the volatile organic compound exposure levels in marine transport were lower than land based transport. A similar study in San Francisco found that diesel-powered ferries without emissions controls will produce less carbon monoxide but more particulate matter and nitrogen oxide per passenger-trip than typical land-based options like cars.

Liza Mylott is a graduate student in the PSU Urban Studies PhD program.


This issue’s interview with Oregon Global Warming Commission Chairman Angus Duncan and articles about the Columbia River Crossing and Willamette River Transit Bridge spurred us here at Metroscape® magazine to take a closer look at the area’s transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2010, transportation accounted for a quarter of metropolitan Portland’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases — about 31 million metric tons total — according to a Metro inventory. Cars and light trucks accounted for about 14 percent of the total, while transit (e.g., diesel buses and light-rail trains) accounted for 0.01 percent. Other “passenger transport” sources — including aircraft, inter-city trains, and cars and trucks making long-distance trips across the urban growth boundary — accounted for 10 percent of the area’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The transportation sector accounted for about 37 percent of Oregonians’ greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2010 state inventory. Light-vehicles accounted for about two-thirds of transportation-sector emissions. Oregon is growing, but will its carbon footprint track with its population? Not necessarily.

Metro forecasts that the population of Portland’s seven-county statistical area — which includes Clackamas, Clark, Columbia, Multnomah, Skamania, Washington, and Yamhill counties — will likely range between 2.9 million and 3.2 million in 2030 and between 3.6 million and 4.4 million in 2060. The State of Oregon, meanwhile, has set a target of reducing emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

So how do we grow sustainably? The Oregon Legislature passed legislation in 2009 (H.B. 2001) that requires Metro to develop alternative land-use and transportation scenarios that accommodate planned population and employment growth while reducing emissions from light-duty motor vehicles. In 2014, Metro is slated to adopt a preferred alternative for such strategies, which help advance implementation of the agency’s 2040 Growth Concept.

The transportation sector also figures heavily in the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s “roadmap” for reducing the state’s carbon footprint during the next decade. The commission’s draft recommendations for policymakers include: expanding urban transit, keeping urban footprints compact, managing and pricing parking, supporting electric vehicles, and adopting a low-carbon fuel standard (

Michael Burnham is a graduate student in the PSU Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program.