Last week theÂ National League of CitiesÂ hosted their 2014 State League Staff Workshop in Portland, OR.Â Here, staff from state leagues around the country gathered to network, learn, and discuss emerging issues in the field.
In a workshop co-led byÂ PederÂ Schaefer of theÂ RhodeÂ IslandÂ LeagueÂ ofÂ CitiesÂ andÂ Towns,Â I had the opportunity to present MML’s work on supporting distressed communities. MML’s role promotingÂ placemakingÂ by highlightingÂ caseÂ studies, enhancingÂ crowdfunding, and developing aÂ place-basedÂ policyÂ platformÂ are unique to leagues across the country. Workshop attendees were eager to hear about Detroit andÂ the creative waysÂ MML is supporting the state’s communities.
Hosting the NLC’s conference in Portland was a wonderful illustration of effectiveÂ placemaking. The city has incredibly effective and low-cost public transportation, miles and miles of bike lanes, small and walkable city blocks,Â and neighborhoods full of life and character.Â Yes, the city’s slogan “KeepÂ PortlandÂ Weird” was true to its name, but even the strangest people were kind, helpful, and excited to talk about their city.
Downtown Portland was full of activity with public plazas, food carts, multimodal transportation, andÂ people doing things people do: talking, laughing, eating, soaking up the sun, shopping, and simply looking at other people.
After the conference, I stayed an extra night in theÂ AlbertaÂ DistrictÂ inÂ north-east Portland. The people I stayed with had an extra bike for guests, so I was really able to get around like a Portlander! There were amazing local shops, a ton of places to eat, and parks full of activity.
I was floored at how friendly people were and how eager they were to help a tourist. People started real conversations while waiting in line, said hello on the street, and customer service staff took pride in their roles (and with a minimum wage of $9.10/hour and rising, there was plenty of reason to be genuine).
While wandering around the city, the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community report kept popping into my head.Â The study found that aesthetics, openness and social offerings are what people loved most about where they live. Portland looks great, people felt open to diversity, and there were countless opportunities to connect with others on the street, at an event, or standing line at the food truck: Portland makes a great case study.
Although we have aspects of Portland’s magic in some Michigan communities, many have a long way to go. Not every city should be exactly like Portland, but our role at MML is to help communities expand on their own unique assets and become the bestÂ citiesÂ they can be.