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Portland? ranked as #6 most 'stressful' city in USA?

TACOMA: THIS Is the Most Stressful U.S. City

[Out of the largest 100 metropolitan areas,] Where is the most stressful place to live in the entire United States? Tacoma, Washington.

So says a new study from Sperling's BestPlaces that ranked the top 10 most and least stressful U.S. cities based on nine different factors that are associated with stress: unemployment rate, divorce rate, commute time, violent and property crime rates, suicide rate, alcohol consumption, self-reported "poor mental health," and the number of cloudy days.

And Portland by these measures, came in at #6! What gives?
Come on? Surely there are less "stressful" places than Portland?!


TACOMA: THIS Is the Most Stressful U.S. City

Where is the most stressful place to live in the entire United States? Tacoma, Washington.

So says a new study from Sperling's BestPlaces that ranked the top 10 most and least stressful U.S. cities based on nine different factors that are associated with stress: unemployment rate, divorce rate, commute time, violent and property crime rates, suicide rate, alcohol consumption, self-reported "poor mental health," and the number of cloudy days.

What's the matter with Tacoma? In addition to having one of the nation's highest unemployment rates, this city also has a very high divorce rate. Add in the stress of frequent cloudy days and high rates of suicide and property crime, and it gets this dubious No. 1 ranking.

[With this measurement,] The top 10 most stressful cities of the 100 largest metropolitan areas are:

1. Tacoma, Washington
2. Miami, Florida
3. New Orleans, Louisiana
4. Las Vegas, Nevada
5. New York, New York
6. Portland, Oregon-Vancouver, Washington
7. Mobile, Alabama
8. Stockton-Lodi, California
9. Detroit, Michigan
10. Dallas, Texas

The No. 1 stressor for most of the top 10 cities is a high unemployment rate. "It affects the entire community, whether you have a job or not," said Bert Sperling, president of Sperling's BestPlaces, when he announced the survey results. "Rising unemployment has been tied to increased crime, and declining tax revenues force reductions in social services that affect young and old alike."

[SEE.] There were exceptions to this. While the Las Vegas economy is booming and unemployment is low, the city has the highest percentage of divorced residents and the highest rate of suicides.

The top 10 cities with the lowest stress are [it seems to me, a mix of actual low stress places and simply very stressfully dull places of enforced suburban sprawl]:

1. Albany-Schenectady, New York
2. Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle, Pennsylvania
3. Orange County, California
4. Nassau-Suffolk, New York
5. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
6. Ann Arbor, Michigan
7. Omaha, Nebraska
8. Norfolk, Virginia-Virginia Beach, Virginia
9. Honolulu, Hawaii
10. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Interestingly, most of the cities recognized for low stress are state capitals and areas with colleges and universities. "Government and universities provide a solid economic base to smaller cities, lessening the stress caused by economic cycles," explained Sperling.

 link to channels.netscape.com

Come on? Surely there are less "stressful" places than Portland?!


A Tale of Two Mid-Sized Cities

by Molly O'Meara
September/October 1998
vol. 11, no. 5

Contrary to popular impressions,
the urbanizing of the world
means a proliferation not only of giant
but also of a larger, faster-growing class
of middle-sized cities.

In their struggles to overcome the pervasive problems of traffic, pollution, chaotic development, and psychological stress, two of these mid-sized cities serve as encouraging models.

In the early 1970's, cities around the world were razing old neighborhoods to make way for new highways. But in at least two places — Curitiba, Brazil and Portland, Oregon — people were resisting.

Curitiba was the fastest growing city in the most rapidly urbanizing country in South America, and it was choking on fumes from stagnating traffic. The city's young new mayor, Jaime Lerner, who had been schooled as an architect, was loath to solve the problem by ripping apart the fabric of the city in order to accommodate more cars. In 1972, he took a highly controversial step, halting construction of an overpass that would have obliterated Curitiba's historic main street. On the eve before demolition was to begin, he organized engineers to block off the street to cars and create a pedestrian mall. Bulldozers showed up the next morning to find the street they were supposed to tear up lined with flowerpots and occupied by children painting murals. Around the same time, another drama was unfolding in the Northwestern United States. Portland, Oregon, according to The New York Times, was "a city in the act of destroying itself." While Curitiba was collapsing under an influx of newcomers, Portland was losing vitality as residents and stores left for the suburbs. Citizen activists, banding together to block highways from knocking down their neighborhoods, found allies in both Portland's new mayor, Neil Goldschmidt, and the state's governor, Tom McCall. Rather than build off-ramps, the new political leadership actually tore down a riverfront freeway in the early 1970s and replaced it with a park for bicyclists and walkers.

The roads not taken in the 1970s have made a difference to Curitiba and Portland. Wrestling streets from the automobile and returning them to people were perhaps the defining steps the charismatic Lerner and Goldschmidt took in reshaping their cities. In the following quarter century, as these officials and their successors continued to make such decisions, downtown Curitiba and Portland became vibrant, compact hubs. Public transit ridership increased faster than population growth, air pollution declined, and the amount of green space per person increased, even as urban populations swelled. These cities haven't escaped the problems of urbanization altogether, but their innovations in transportation and land use planning have pointed the way to some real solutions.

The stories of Curitiba and Portland have been told before, but they warrant a harder look now because the world is entering its most urbanized century yet. Urban growth is outstripping rural three-to-one, so that by 2006, half the world's people will live in cities, compared to 30 percent in 1950. The metropolitan populations of Curitiba and Portland are only between one and two-and-a-half million each. Cities of each size may seem of minor importance compared to the new class of burgeoning megacities of 10 million plus, such as Lagos, Mexico City, or Tokyo. But in fact, mid-sized cities in the 500,000-to-5 million range are home to a much larger share of humanity.


City planners, urban researchers, and journalists flock to Curitiba and Portland from around the globe. Their visits attest to the fact that something about these two cities is not only different, but enviable. While both communities have made progress in such areas of critical concern as the provision of water and collection of wastes, what has really made their reputations is their decisions about land-use and transportation. Curitiba and Portland have managed to shape where and how their growth will occur. And in doing so, they have moved towards greater "livability" — that hard-to-define fusion of economic viability, social cohesiveness, and environmental health.

Each of these communities has been in some ways fairly typical of the cities in its region. Like other "New World" frontier towns, each reinvented itself in the latter part of this century. Curitiba, originally a settlement on the route of horse caravans across southern Brazil, became the capital of Parana state in the 1850s. In the past two decades, its traditional industries — processing coffee, tea, and other agricultural products — have declined while automobile manufacturing and service industries have taken root. Portland, which grew from a fur-trading outpost at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, also attained city status in the mid-19th century. Since the 1970s, its economy has been shifting from logging to computers, telecommunications, and other high-tech industries.

Today, part of what makes these two cities unique is their solutions to problems of social and economic inequities. Although the southern farm belt of Brazil is a bit wealthier than the rest of the country, Curitiba's average income is no higher than those of comparable state capitals. And as with most cities in the developing world, Curitiba is ringed by the make-shift squatter settlements of poor newcomers. Jonas Rabinovitch, an urban adviser at the United Nations Development Program and a former aide to Curitiba's Mayor Lerner, explains that the purchasing power of a poor Curitiban is equal to that of a poor person in São Paolo. What makes life more bearable for the poor in Curitiba, however, is the level of services offered by the city. For instance, the city offers a uniform fare for all bus trips regardless of length, which benefits the poor who live on the fringes and have longer commutes.

Portland too has a commitment to equity. For example, municipal regulations protect "view corridors" of Mount Hood, fifty miles to the east, by requiring the heights of buildings to step down as they approach the Willamette River. The shared view itself is an extraordinary asset. And perhaps in part because the downtown has such desirable vistas, the city has also managed to avert one of the most pervasive inequities of American cities — concentration of the poor in the central city. Throughout the country, even in cities that lack bitter race and class divides, the centers have declined as outlying areas have prospered. In large metropolitan areas, suburban population has grown more than 10 times faster than central city population since 1970. Until the early part of this century, city boundaries moved outward as people did. Since the 1920s, however, most suburbs have resisted annexation and grown as their own political entities. Central cities have been left with a disproportionate share of the poor, without the tax base to provide the needed services, and in competition with suburbs for tax dollars. In contrast, Portland's downtown is home to middle class families and thousands of retail stores; affordable housing can be found near new jobs in the suburbs; and a metropolitan government keeps the region from disintegrating into warring jurisdictions.

Both Curitiba and Portland enjoy a robust street life. Shops, factories, offices, and houses are found on short city blocks, all within walking distance of each other, and tree-lined pedestrian malls draw a mix of people outside. In her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs identified this as the most important question for city planners: "How can cities generate enough mixture among uses — enough diversity — throughout enough of their territories, to sustain their own civilization?" Cities deteriorate when their layout stifles social interaction: when trivial errands require isolating car commutes; when the rich wall themselves off from the poor; and when public spaces, no longer shared by different classes of people, are so devalued that the interiors of buildings matter more than the exteriors. Such fragmentation has eroded the social capital of other cities, which have ceased to be more than the sum of their parts. Curitiba and Portland have gone in the other direction, enhancing public space, thereby deterring crime and making the city more enjoyable for rich and poor alike.

These communities are also thriving because they are doing a better job at linking the built environment to the larger ecosystem, even mimicking nature to some extent. While natural ecosystems put waste to good use, most modern urban systems do not. A typical urban "linear metabolism" takes in vast quantities of resources — energy, food, water, processed goods — and spews them out as waste. The energy flow of a city is calculated to be at least 100 times greater per capita than that of a natural ecosystem.

By reducing reliance on the car, concentrating urban growth to guard natural space, and preserving historic buildings, both Curitiba and Portland have cut the in-flows of fossil fuels and building materials, reduced air pollution, and limited the paved surfaces that short-circuit the natural water cycle. While the population of metropolitan Portland has grown by almost 50 percent since 1975, the urbanized area has expanded by only 2 percent. In contrast, between 1970 and 1990, greater Chicago's population grew by 4 percent, but spread over 46 percent more land, and metro Cleveland's population declined by 11 percent, but still consumed 33 percent more land. As the number of Americans commuting by public transit declined by 17 percent between 1980 and 1990, the share of those in Portland actually increased. Curitiba's progress has been similar: compared to Brasilia, which has about the same population, Curitiba has 60 percent more bus passenger journeys per capita — which means less pollution from vehicle exhaust.


The physical structure of a city cannot change overnight, but decisions about transportation and land use will determine how it is shaped over time. By building roads, rail lines or bike paths, cities decide not only how people will move around, but also where the accessible and desirable buildings will be, and where new services will be needed. And, by mandating where new buildings can be built, and what kind of uses — residential, retail, industrial — are allowed, land-use and zoning laws influence how far people must travel to get to work, buy food, and go about life. Failure to coordinate these kinds of decisions has led to the sprawl that characterizes U.S. cities. Many South American cities lack any meaningful land-use controls, and those that have them seem to be copying the mistakes of most U.S. cities.

In the early 1970s, the Lerner administration seized the opportunity to channel Curitiba's growth by linking transportation and land use plans. City officials designated several main roadways radiating from the city center as structural axes for busways. Zoning laws encouraged high-density buildings along these main thoroughfares. Transfer stations allowed commuters on the fringes of town to switch with ease from smaller, local buses to the express buses on the main routes.

With the streets reconfigured, Lerner set to work revamping the bus system, with a series of innovations that are now world-famous. A reporter for London's Guardian newspaper, for instance, has marveled at the "efficient, passenger-friendly service that makes London seem antediluvian. Bus jams never happen, vandalism is unknown." Dedicated busways, extra-large buses for high-density routes, and tube-shaped shelters where passengers pay their fare in advance are adaptations from rail systems that add a lot of speed for little money. The bus system has ended up costing $200,000 per kilometer, less than one-third of one percent of what a subway would have cost at $60-70 million per kilometer. Moreover, the city has paid only for the roads, lighting, bus stops, and staff to monitor the companies. The rest of the cost has been borne by private bus companies. Despite Curitiba's high degree of car ownership (one car for every three people), three-quarters of all commuters take the bus. Traffic has declined by 30 percent since 1974, even as population has doubled.

As Curitiba has grown, it has wrestled with a problem common to many cities in developing countries: unplanned settlements on its fringes. Rather than ignore the settlers, the city has tried to incorporate them by extending bus, water, and sewer service to the city's edge and by seeking ways to employ them. For instance, on the city's western edge, the local government set up an "industrial city" of 40 square kilometers, where over 400 companies have now located. Curitiba has also focused on "citizenship streets" in poor neighborhoods, where families can access city services and learn about business loans, training, and job opportunities.

Curitiba not only steered growth towards the areas around transit lines but also steered it away from environmentally sensitive areas. Linear stretches of land along rivers were put off limits to builders and made into parks, a practical option that also eliminated economic loss from flood damage to buildings. These rezonings, together with other efforts to protect natural areas and build parks, increased the area of green space per person 100-fold over 20 years.

Parks are just one of the elements that make Curitiba's streets appealing and convenient for pedestrians and cyclists. Curitiba, like Portland, plants trees along city streets and preserves the old, ornate buildings that provide a visible link to the city's history. What began with the pedestrianization of the historic main street, Rua Quinze de Novembro, on that fateful morning in 1972, led to some 50 downtown blocks being set aside as pedestrian streets. These connect to bus stations and parks that, in turn, connect to a 150-kilometer network of bicycle paths. Safe bikeways set apart from traffic set Curitiba apart from other Latin American cities, where, according to urban critic Eduardo Galeano, "to travel by bicycle is a most practical way of committing suicide."

Under Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1970s, foreign capital flowed to large infrastructure projects such as highways, viaducts, and the hasty assembly of Brasilia, a dazzlingly modern new capital of skyscrapers and wide motorways. Curitiba's investment choices in this period — installing a high quality but relatively cheap bus system and constructing an industrial city — ended up bringing mobility to the poor and jobs to the unemployed.


Aerial photography would reveal the defining urban growth patterns of Curitiba and Portland. While Curitiba's structure is determined by radial busways, Portland's key feature is the sharpness of its perimeter. The built-up land area seen from above corresponds precisely to the jurisdiction of Portland's unique metropolitan government.

Urban growth is so neatly contained in the Portland area because of a landmark 1973 state law. Richard Moe and Carter Wilkie, in their book Changing Places, relate how Oregon state legislator Hector McPherson drove into Portland one day in the early 1970s and encountered bulldozers plowing up land on the outskirts of town. As a former dairy farmer, McPherson was curious and asked, "What are you going to grow here?" The reply: "Houses."

Outrage that fertile farmland was being wasted on subdivisions eventually brought about a law that required cities to demarcate a boundary that would allow for twenty years of anticipated future growth without encroaching too far into agricultural or forest land. Twenty-five years later, that passion has not dimmed in Mike Burton, a member of the Governor's staff in the 1970s and the current chief of Portland's metropolitan governing body, Metro: "We've got $500 million worth of agricultural sales in the area annually," says Burton. "The soil is so rich, you can eat it with a spoon...It would be incredibly stupid of us as human beings to say this is not important to protect."

The resulting urban growth boundary, finally decided on in 1980, encompassed the city of Portland and 23 neighboring towns in three counties. During the process of drawing the border, people in the greater Portland area began to develop a regional outlook. Burton explains, "we discovered there was a common market area, common labor pool, common transportation catchment." Subsequent laws further united the region by giving more power to its governing body, Metro, the only government in the United States that is elected to look out for the interests of a metropolitan area.

State law also requires the Metro council to periodically review the boundary, in light of anticipated population growth. Last year, the U.S. media was captivated by the debate spurred by this review. Yet, largely overlooked in coverage of the conflict was that the largest expansion proposed was only 4,000 hectares. By way of comparison, Denver's regional council of governments recently set aside an additional 43,000 hectares for a population increase of similar size. Oft-quoted in news stories was an assertion by the National Association of Home Builders that Portland's growth boundary was the sole reason housing prices were rising. However, the argument did not hold up — prices were found to be rising even faster in places without restrictions, such as Salt Lake City. In the end, the Metro Council opted for a minimal expansion of about 1,800 hectares. Opinion polls before the vote showed that 78 percent of the public favored keeping the boundary or expanding it slightly, accommodating future growth with smaller housing lot sizes.

Inside its boundaries, Portland, like Curitiba, has aimed to promote car-free travel, particularly in its downtown area. One of the most symbolic changes was the transformation of a large downtown parking lot into a pedestrian- only plaza, Pioneer Courthouse Square, in the heart of the shopping district. Terraces of brick seating, amphitheater-style, make it a site for rallies and concerts. To avoid large expanses of alienating blank walls, the city required that new buildings have ground-floor windows, and that one-percent of the budget for new public buildings be dedicated to public art. There are now 240 kilometers of bikeways; trains have been designed for easy bicycle access; and the City Council has adopted minimum requirements for bicycle parking. For instance, commercial parking garages must have at least 1 bicycle space for every 20 car spaces.

When the Mount Hood expressway was proposed in the 1970s as a link to the suburbs, Portland opted instead for a light rail system called MAX (Metropolitan Area Express), which would extend mobility to children and the elderly, not just those with the ability or funds to drive. To further encourage public transport, the city made transit fares free within a 12-block area downtown. Between 1970 and 1990, downtown workers riding transit rose to more than 40 percent and car traffic stabilized, even as the number of jobs downtown increased by half.

Although the city has paid for its transit innovations from public funds such as municipal bonds, there are signs that the type of public-private partnership that built Curitiba's bus system (and U.S. railways a century ago) is now surfacing in Portland. A private company, Bechtel, is interested in constructing a light rail track to the airport in exchange for a lease to airport commercial land.

In recent years, Portland planners have turned their attention to transportation and land-use decisions outside the downtown area, to ease car reliance in the suburbs (although each suburban jurisdiction is required to match up jobs with affordable housing, travel between home, work, and store in these areas is still mainly by car). The region's "2040 Growth Concept," adopted by Metro in 1994, envisions the city of Portland linked by transit to compact regional centers in the suburbs — "places with a sense of place," in the words of Burton. New rules require 85 percent of growth to be within a 5-minute walk of a transit stop. Revised codes allow for "mixed-use" development of apartments above stores and forbid "snob zoning" that prohibits the denser type of housing (multi-family units, apartment buildings, or subsidized housing) that can support transit.

Debate that began in 1988 over a proposed bypass to cut through productive farmland to the west of Portland resulted in a new tool for transportation planners. The bypass was supposed to alleviate traffic congestion from population growth in booming Washington County. However, two citizens' groups, 1,000 Friends of Oregon and Sensible Transportation Options for People, pointed out that computer models of traffic prediction did not take into account the benefits of walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. Updating the software, these advocates showed that over 20 years, development geared towards transit, pedestrians, and cyclists would result in 18 percent less highway congestion than building a new bypass. That software is now used throughout the region.

Directing growth in a way that minimizes private car use and maximizes pedestrian welfare reduces a city's energy intake and resulting pollutants, protects local natural resources, increases social contact — and ultimately saves money. According to the Urban Land Institute, when development sprawls at low densities, the cost to government is higher, because roads, sewers, water lines and city services must be delivered over a larger area. For instance, a Rutgers University study found that in New Jersey, compact Portland- or Curitiba-style growth instead of sprawl as usual would save state taxpayers $1.3 billion [thousand million] in infrastructure costs over 20 years. This number does not even take into account other savings from reducing car dependence, such as avoided health care costs from less air pollution and traffic accidents.


Good planning has helped shape Curitiba and Portland into the livable cities they are today. What they have done is instructive, but perhaps even more instructive is why they have done it when others have not. After all, well-intentioned planners in Curitiba and Portland confront many of the same obstacles that exist in other cities. Among the elements of success are supportive political structure, practical policy choices, and active public involvement.

Portland's political system has been a key to its planning triumphs. Its government is more akin to those found in Europe than to those in other U.S. cities. Elected city councilors also serve as commissioners of city agencies, so they are able to push through the agenda items that got them elected. Most importantly, the state has required the entire region — the city of Portland and outlying areas — to attain an extraordinarily high level of metropolitan cooperation.

Comparing the metropolitan area of Portland to that of Denver, another Western city where environmental concern and population growth are high, scholar Paul Lewis cites Denver's highly fragmented political system as being responsible for the city's spread-out urban development, greater mismatches between job and housing locations, and longer commuting times. A mayor in one Denver suburb will compete with counterparts in other suburbs for ever larger malls and [sports] arenas, to bring in sales tax dollars. In contrast, not only is there a single regional government in the Portland area, but also there is no sales tax in Oregon (property, income, and excise taxes, along with user fees at the zoo and other regional facilities, make up the revenue stream). When mayors in suburban Portland look at plans for outlying malls, what they see is additional infrastructure expense. In a recent issue of Governing Magazine, Mayor Rob Drake of Beaverton, a Portland suburb, admits: "If we had a sales tax, we would be wooing shopping centers to locate on our side of the line. Here, you put a shopping center instead of a lumber yard across the street, you don't derive much revenue from it." Researchers at Seattle-based Northwest Environment Watch argue that shifting existing property taxes from buildings onto land would further help Portland promote compact development.

In addition, Portland's regional government has developed expertise in transportation planning that has moved discussion of future options beyond the simple question posed by most state highway agencies: where do we build the next highway? Among the strongest centrifugal forces pulling cities outward in the United States are the federal highway system and state highway departments. (In the 1990s, federal laws in the United States, such as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, or ISTEA, have just begun to give support to non-highway alternatives.) In Canada, where the highway lobbies are weaker, a country with even more wide open space than the United States has managed to produce cities that look more like compact European ones, with only one-quarter as much highway mileage per capita as their U.S. neighbors seem to require. Canadian cities, note Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy in their landmark Cities and Automobile Dependence, have greater orientation towards public transport, higher population and job densities in their central cities, and better developed public spaces.

Although it is surprising given its planning successes, Curitiba suffers from the same lack of regional cooperation that is typical of other cities in both the United States and Brazil. Municipal governments in Brazil, while politically autonomous, are at the mercy of state and federal funding decisions. One of Curitiba's nagging problems has been the lack of coordination with the 13 municipalities around it. Urban analysts Jonas Rabinovitch and Josef Leitmann note that ongoing problems — with sanitation service, for instance — generally stem from the fact that cities cannot be managed in isolation from state and national governments, concluding, "Curitiba is not an island within Brazil."

However, there are signs that this is changing, since Jaime Lerner, the former Curitiba mayor, was elected governor of the state of Parana four years ago. For the first time, a regional bus system is up and running. In addition, Parana is now making efforts towards comprehensive planning by building rural villages. The goal is to stem the flow of migrants to the cities by making land tenure and microcredit available to landless farmers. The state expects that 50,000 families, representing a quarter of Parana's landless farmers, will be settled in these villages by 1999.

While Curitiba has lacked a regional support system, its leaders have achieved a great deal simply by pursuing practical policy choices, such as a surface transportation network built on the existing bus system, and prohibitions against new building in flood-plains. Planners in richer countries would likely insist that a city of over one million could not be livable without a subway and massive viaducts. Author Bill McKibben, who studied Curitiba for his book Hope: Human and Wild, concludes that city planners will do well to follow the rule "simple is brother to cheap."

Visionary politicians and citizens have been important in both cities. Even before Portland became touted as a well-planned city, western Oregon's lush greenery and woodlands attracted nature lovers. The 1950s and 1960s brought to Portland the same type of suburbanization that occurred around the country. The planning process that began in the 1970s, as activists geared up to prevent the city's decay, has directly involved the public. Most recently, participation took the form of a regional visioning process in which residents were asked what they wanted their neighborhoods to look like in 2040.

In Curitiba, a far-thinking mayor set the original agenda for change, but a public that has come to value a humane city has moved the agenda forward in recent years. While Portland already had a well-educated, environmentally literate public, Curitiba has created one. Environmental education is incorporated into the schools' curricula, but it also reaches children on the streets, involving them in planting urban gardens and maintaining parks. Perhaps most famous is the city's Free University for the Environment, sited in an abandoned quarry and built out of recycled tires. Courses are designed to teach the environmental implications of everyday jobs and are a prerequisite for taxi licensees.

A century ago, the smog and filth of industrial country cities such as London and New York prompted mass movements of urban reform, as visionaries demanded a cleaner, more humane urban future. Today, cities in developing countries face similar conditions — but on a much larger scale. Yet the solutions of yesterday have generated problems of their own. For instance, while streetcars, and eventually autos, were seen as the answer to the sanitation problems of horse-drawn transport, today many cities are looking to escape the woes of auto-oriented development.

But cities also offer a wealth of opportunities. For millennia, they have been the cultural centers that advance civilization. Today, ideas first developed in Curitiba — about segregated bus lanes, pedestrian streets, land-use legislation, and waste-management programs — are spreading to other Brazilian cities. The World Bank is now championing Curitiba's combination of private financing for transit with public sector responsibility for planning.

In much the same way, Portland is taking the lead in the United States. Portland-based urban researcher Ethan Seltzer explains, "Not only are metropolitan economies becoming the fundamental unit for economic analysis, but there is mounting evidence that central cities and their surrounding suburbs and rural areas share a common fate." A study by David Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, supports this assertion, showing that regions that have created strong metropolitan governments are less segregated along lines of race and class and economically healthier.

John Fregonese, a former Metro officer currently involved in redevelopment efforts in Portland, is often invited to other cities to share advice. He has seen a marked increase in the number of cities around the United States spontaneously adopting growth management measures that would have been considered radical ten years ago. For instance, 11 cities in California have adopted growth boundaries since January 1997. Maryland and New Jersey have begun to enact growth control measures. And in Minnesota, state legislator Myron Orfield has made a graphic case for regional reform with a new political tool: maps that show the decline of central Minneapolis and St. Paul and their inner suburbs and the rise of affluent outer suburbs. Between 1993 and 1996, the coalition led by Orfield expanded the power of the Twin Cities' metro council, coming within one vote of turning it into an elected government like Portland's Metro.

The problems of cities, like politics, are often perceived as local. But the resources cities use and the pollution they create extends beyond their borders, and the benefits of healthy cities are regional, national and global. Curitiba's (and now Parana's) Lerner warns "There is a kind of syndrome of tragedy that poisons our thinking about the city. The problems are so great, people say no solution is possible. That's the mentality of defeat, and an excuse for doing nothing. The fundamental thing is to begin."

Molly O'Meara is a staff researcher at the Worldwatch Institute.
Copyright © 1998, Worldwatch Institute.
Original title: "How Mid-Sized Cities Can Avoid Strangulation."
Publication is available from Worldwatch Institute
1776 Mass. Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20036


mind control 15.Jan.2004 08:55

not a lab rat

With the exception of Honolulu, the least stressfull cities are also the cities that have the most precriptions of anti-depressents.
Maybe the majority of most Rose City dwellers prefer to deal with life as it comes rather that placate themselves in the robotic way that is the anti-depressent.

HA! 15.Jan.2004 10:23

Tacoma resident

Yea, Tacoma sucks. This town is one giant craphole.

It's explained by two things 15.Jan.2004 10:25


The presence of unemployment as a stress indicator in the formula.

The presence of cloudy weather as an indicator. This one strikes me as just plain weird -- I've never found cloudy weather to be stressful. Quite the contrary, I've found it stressful and unpleasant to live in sunny, dry places. Many of my friends share this preference. It's not an indicator of stress -- it's an indicator of bias amongst the designers of the stress index, a bias in favor of Sunbelt climates. There's nothing wrong with having such a personal bias, but it has no place in an index claiming to be an impartial indicator of stressfulness.

Spread the Word: Don't Come, it's too Stressful! 15.Jan.2004 10:45


I'm serious, we need to curb the insane growth that is plauging the city. I mean, a 50% increase in pop in the last 7 years!

Tell all your friends and aquainences that are concidering moving here:

Don't Come, it's too Stressful!

It may have to do with anxiety about jobs 15.Jan.2004 10:46


Tacoma and Portland both have no jobs. I bet that makes it pretty stressful

Hmmm 15.Jan.2004 12:35


I wonder if the fact that the company that puts out the ratings is right here in Portland has anything to do with it.

that's it 15.Jan.2004 14:46


I can just imagine the folks who are doing the research.

It takes a lot of work to figure this stuff out. Phone calls, travel away from friends and family, late nights doing statistics.

And then, cutting it to the last minute, trying to get it done, but then you fuckin' boss comes and yells "Johnson? When the hell are you going to get that Survey project done. I need it PRONTO!"

and you think "Sheesh, this town's so stressful."

and then you go to visit your parents who live in Tacoma. They are good northwesterners but they don't understand why you work for that low paying job in Portland when "you have a good degree in economics. When are you going to find a REAL job at some CPA's office?"

and you think "Damn, I hate Tacohoma, it's so stressful."

Why worry? 01.May.2004 13:51

Josh joshhannum@hotmail.com

Maybe with a little meditation we can realize that the stress factor in a city is both positive and negative. Without distress there is no eustress. I left Portland two months ago to move to a place where I could actually find a job, its less crowded and where it is sunny all of the time. These things would be great if my heart and soul weren't still in Portland. There was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No matter how many people move to Portland it will be the same place in the hearts of the folks who know they belong there.
The cars have got to go though. The streets are becoming insane. Walk if you can... Maybe a subway?

1970 Hanalima St. Apt.# G-105 Lihue, HI 96766