A tale of two cities

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

I spent the weekend at an alternative newsweekly conference in Portland, Ore. The city’s barely an hour away by airplane, but I had never spent any time there. I’ve got to tell you, though, the city absolutely charmed me.

That city made some prescient decisions back in the ‘70s when Renoites were only concerned with creating laws that would allow unstoppable environmental degradation, minimal education system and miniscule gambling taxes. Interesting—I guess everybody gets to reap what they sow (except in the case of my pole beans this year).

At any rate, Portland made decisions regarding zoning that has prevented the city from sprawling at the rate the rest of the West has sprawled. That city installed a simple public transit system that actually appears to work. That city somehow managed to preserve its historic buildings and character and didn’t allow land developers and the construction industry to run roughshod over the town. That city somehow got a 20-year jump on culture, arts and strip clubs.

I’d like to think it’s not too late for us. I note that streetcars in many cities run right on the streets, where ownership and rights of way have already been negotiated to some extent. The bigger problem around here is our roughly circular metropolitan layout—we could possibly add a streetcar system up and down Highway 395, but people in the outskirts of town would have to walk, drive or bike miles to get to the system. Sort of the same problem we have now.

I don’t know. I don’t know. It seems to me there were many opportunities for our city to turn toward a sustainable future for our children, and in every case, the powerful, rich “leaders” chose greed. I’m trying to picture what this city will have to look like before the state of the roads become bad enough to constitute an emergency. It appears to be beyond me—exactly the same as it was beyond those people 40 years ago who condemned our city to mediocrity when offered greatness.