Lessons from Portland

You can tell a lot about a city by how you feel when you’re in it. That’s the kind of thing you hear Ray Kerridge say. And though that might sound sort of New Age-y, I think I know what Sacramento’s city manager means.

Kerridge brings lessons from Portland, Ore., a city often held up as a model for Sacramento’s future, where he worked for 25 years. Some say, “Enough about Portland.” Every city has it own energy and Sacramento’s is unique. True enough. Still, we can learn a lot from the Rose City. It’s been a decade since I lived in Northwest Portland, but the feel of those two years remains strong in my memory.

The pleasures—like those that form our most vivid memories—are simple ones. The sun’s warmth on my bare arms as I picked tomatoes and clipped fresh basil on Sauvie Island for that night’s dinner. The rich odor of coffee and damp of steamed-up windows on a rainy evening as I sat writing inside my neighborhood Starbucks. The shock of deep purple against white, as crocus broke through thin snow in flower beds along the path where I ran on a sunny morning in February.

There’s more to Portland than romance. It’s a walkable city, where I could head out my door for the supermarket at 10 p.m. or walk a few miles to Powell’s Books to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon reading. Buses and light rail run easily there, and the riverfront is perfect for a leisurely afternoon or a fast run on a brisk morning. It’s in the 5,000-acres of Forest Park—the largest urban forest reserve in the United States—however, that my spirit soared.

Sacramento isn’t Portland. And that’s a good thing. But there’s no reason Sacramento’s makeover, which is envisioned by Kerridge in Chrisanne Beckner’s cover story, “A man and his city,” can’t incorporate similar feelings, such as the pleasure of walking the town, the convenience of good public transportation and the comfort of quiet spaces among the tall buildings where Sacramentans will find relief from the pace of the city, as well as plenty of park land so their spirits can soar.