Portland is a city of gardens, from the International Rose Test Garden to the Japanese Garden, with in-between islands like the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden and the Leach Botanical Gardens. In fact, Portland is home to Forest Park, the largest urban forest reserve in the United States.
This "green" bent started in 1903 with John Charles Olmsted, a landscape architect, and today encompasses more than 8,100 acres of green space permanently protected by law from further development. Even so, Portland isn't resting on its laurels, or its roses, and continues the green revolution, with half its power coming from renewable sources, a quarter of its workforce engaged in "green" commuting, and 35 of its downtown buildings LEED-certified by the Green Building Council. Is it any wonder that Popular Science rated it America's top green city?
In 1993, Portland became the first city in the U.S. to officially develop policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to global warming, including a goal to reduce carbon dioxide by 10 % by 2010 (from 1990 levels). This, and other environmental initiatives, led Grist Magazine to declare Portland the second most environmentally friendly city in the world, after Reykjavik, Iceland. Portland couldn't be prouder of these awards, which have led to substantial growth in the last decade, but in many ways it still retains its distinctly European, small town character, unlike its edgy, futuristic northern cousin, Seattle, or overcrowded, overly expensive San Francisco to the south.
Land use is a big issue in Portland. Urban growth restrictions adopted in 1979 limit sprawl but drive up housing prices. On the other hand, where else can you drive a mere 15 minutes outside the city's center and see working farms complete with old, red barns? This initiative, which started as far back as the beginning of the 20th century, is the reason Portland has a 140-mile "greenway" (rather than a beltway, like Washington, DC) around and through the city connecting more than 30 parks and protected areas. Elsewhere in the U.S., Sunday drivers have to leave the city to see the countryside. In Portland, the city is countryside, and Sunday tourists get around via more than 40 miles of light rail, trolley cars and buses, with rail and bus service free inside the downtown area. In 2006, Portland earned the distinction of America's number one city for bicycling.
This green movement also covers structures - everything from single-family homes to apartments, office buildings and factories - and the city has an entire web page devoted to sustainable building initiatives, offering a variety of resources from consulting services to free how-to videos. These mandatory green building codes, ranging from energy efficiency to the use of renewable building materials, are strictly enforced, and have resulted in residents reducing their electricity consumption by 5%, even though the size of the average home, and the city, has increased. City government has done its part as well, reducing energy consumption by a whopping 22% through the sagacious use of street lighting, traffic signaling, water delivery systems and a fleet of eco-vehicles. This Sustainable City Government Partnership even features an "eco-roof" on The Portland Building, where approximately 14,000 plants help reduce storm water runoff and increase the building's insulative properties.
All this, and Oregon has no sales tax. The state also refunds individuals and corporations when a state revenue surplus exists. This rebate, called the Kicker, applies when actual revenues exceed estimates by a mere 2%, and is designed primarily to take the sting out of rising property taxes - an issue California addresses with Prop 13, which has driven property values so high the mandatory 1% tax rate now generates revenues of approximately $5,000 per home. Oregon has also refused to pass a tobacco tax, but does have a medical marijuana provision like that in California.
Green, eco-friendly, inexpensive and liberal, Portland is Los Angeles without the smog and sprawl, and San Francisco without the ostentation and inflation. For those who worship green in all its manifestations, Portland is the place to be.