Portlanders know the moment. It’s when we became the city we are now before we knew what we might be. I was a kid, but the moment is now legendary here, almost mythic in other cities seeking to reclaim themselves, to become a place worth living in. In Portland, Oregon, we all look back at the Defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway as the time we came of age.
As a kid, I remember seeing the drawings in newspapers, and thinking it amazing – look how modern, how sleek. A freeway to Mr. Hood sounded great. As a young man back from college, I stepped into the newly constructed Transit Mall. Rather than a network of freeways for car owners, the city decided on a network of bus routes for everyone. No slicing of neighborhoods for submerged freeways, but knitting neighborhoods together. For the cost of a monthly bus pass – then about $15.00 – I could travel anywhere in the metropolitan area.
Donella Meadows speaks of this change as a leverage point – a place to intervene in a system with very high leverage. In this video put together by grad students from New York City, we hear the language: paradigm shift, change in the system, imagining a whole new way to build a city. Various things aligned: the EPA had formed, a new mayor had come to Portland, and, well, it was Oregon in the 60’s and 70’s. The place was ripe for change.
The gritty decision to divert Mt. Hood Freeway dollars to mass transit changed my city for good. This video tells the story from Robert Moses’ visit to Portland in 1940’s, shows an early plan with a grid of freeways throughout Portland, and shows vestigial ghost ramps of the abandoned project.
- Portland, Oregon: myth or reality? (gadling.com)
- Donella Meadows: The Power of Vision (peopleandplace.net)
- Bragdon: PlaNYC 2.0 Cheaper, Bottom-Up, But May Include Hudson Tunnel (streetsblog.org)