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S400: Love

2011 October 24
by Rex Burkholder

The secret to successful cities is love.

Love is the glue that holds humans together, plain and simple. The person watering the thirsty street tree, the mother and her child walking to school and marveling at the turning leaves together, the motorist that slows down to let the cyclist clear an intersection, the reaching out and joining hands that happens thousands of times a day in a city … love.

And what is a city without love? It is disaffected youth spraying graffiti and breaking windows, it is motorists speeding past schools with hands clenched on the wheel, it is broken pavement and dirty parks, it is public meetings without the public, it is division and dissension, a primitive struggle to grab the most from everyone else and retreat behind physical or psychological gates.

And how does a city promote love? By caring for the well-being of its citizens. Not acting in their names but engaging and listening to their deepest desires—for safe streets, clean air, green parks, the sound of children’s laughter and places to meet friends and strangers.

Is this magic? Is it hokum? Not at all. Look at the vibrant street life of Portland, a decidedly minor city on the outskirts of our country regularly whipsawed by economic whirlwinds, but … the streets are lively with people cycling, sipping coffee, planting trees.

The thirty-year project of raising Portland from the ashes of economic depression and highway-induced abandonment has included significant investment in things, to be sure. But light rail, bike lanes, community centers, art museums, libraries were only the means to the end—an invitation for people to reclaim their City.

Every effort included the people, working through the city-sanctioned and supported neighborhood associations, through independent non-profits and on their own, engaging under Oregon’s #1 land-use planning goal: public involvement, which declared that people had the right, and government the responsibility, to engage authentically in every decision affecting their communities.

And engage they did. Breaking the monopoly of power—whether the highway lobby or the big banks—to resist redlining and freeway-ization and create a new born City. An expression of deep and abiding love. Love is the answer.


Rex Burkholder has been elected three times to serve as a Councilor for Metro, the regional government for the Portland metropolitan area.