Friday, March 11, 2011

Above Portland

Bruce Forster
Chet Orloff

Finished Reading: 03.2010

PORTLAND - AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE! From the clear blue sky! A view straight down from the heavens! Bask in the glorious sunlight reflecting gallantly from boxy glass towers and shimmering gray rivers! Question the absence of clouds! Embrace the urbanity! Look for your house!

To be elevated above the concrete, brick and storefront at grade to the lofty arms of thinning stratosphere, is pretty exciting. Aerial views are the mix of map and elevation. We look down again at the small blocks from where we hover, and are left breathless to learn of historical and contemporary urbanity, nature, and a desperate search for our own apartment building in the huddled masses below.

This is mostly a picture book containing descriptions, history and commentary. The focus revolves around downtown Portland (since that's where there are things to see), but snapshots of the outlying areas are pleasant as well. The images are clear and beautiful.

There are a number of historical aerial photos, mostly from mid-century, that display the change that has occurred between then and now. One in particular struck me. As we know, Portland and Vancouver are two large cities divided by the great Columbia River. Many stunning views from both are laid out in this book. But I learned here that there was once a city in between (gasp!) No, this city was not in the river itself (not originally anyway), nor is it the lost city of Atlantis. What is now a swampy golf course and race track was once the city of Vanport - epically destroyed in a 1948 flood. I had never heard of Vanport, so I looked it up to learn more. It was a military town constructed during the second world war. The city grew quickly and became the second largest in the state (after adjacent Portland). Five years later it was gone; a small number were killed in the flood and the rest displaced to the surrounding neighborhoods (racial tensions included).

Portland boasts a few instances of pioneering public policy - decisions that shape the city of today. A few decades ago an Urban Growth Boundary was established to help stop the spread of sprawl around the periphery of the city and to protect natural areas and farm lands. While this helped shape the edge of the city, another decision to redirect federal highway funds from a automotive freeway expansion instead to the building of the first line of the MAX light rail train, has shaped the center of the city and the diversity of our transportation modes. The sprawl has an end, and old neighborhoods are intact.

The city marches slowly forward - though it seems like a slow crawl from the air.