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Can Portland’s New Urbanism Survive the “Anarchists Revolution”?

Written By | Jul 30, 2020
Portland, Urbanism, Anarchists

Lead Image: A photo shows the destruction of the base of the Elk Statue in Portland, Oregon. Demonstrators in the city started erecting tents in Lownsdale Square on Tuesday night. Courtesy of  MULTNOMAH COUNTY SHERIFF MIKE REESE

COLORADO SPRINGS: The question is whether Portland’s model of New Urbanism can survive the current Anarchists city rioting and violence?  That is the question.  Billions of dollars have been poured into American cities to give them the ambiance of walkable old European towns. The hyper-liberal, dare we say, “socialist?”, Portland, Oregon is one of America’s premier examples of New Urbanism.

There has always been an inherent clash between the liberty to do what one wishes with one’s own property versus local governments’ enforcement of city zoning and other restrictive codes on citizens.

Someone in the business of New Urbanism, an international rail car salesman once commented,

“The most beautiful cities on earth are the most highly government regulated and the ugliest are the least highly government regulated.  One example:  In ‘woke’ cities, old couches are banned from outdoor porches.  Ditto, cars up on blocks in the suburbs.”

Whether there’s something in the water there may be debatable in that their architecture, landscaping, art, public spaces, and city planning have stood as stellar examples to the world of the possible.

Portland as a city has distinct built-in advantages in its unusually small downtown blocks and the natural constraints of a river on the eastern edge and the West Hills on the western side of the downtown. The city’s tiny blocks lend themselves to the creation of attractive, walkable streets, and for the past fifty years, the city has been engaged in the “dress-up” of those urban blocks.  The results today are stunning.

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Unfortunately, the same liberal socialistic bent that has engendered all that beauty has bled over into the city’s politics.  The pendulum has swung so far to the left there that “group think” has taken over.  Personal liberties have been left in the ditch as intolerance has prevailed with new-age socialistic politics.

As conservatism has insisted on personal liberty, two urban geniuses who have been at the forefront of creating urban beauty in American cities may have been overlooked.  Both are practical ecologists.  One is assuredly liberal, and the other must be.  For both men would impose pragmatic restrictions on urban areas in order to bring beauty to the American landscape.

Much of Portland’s extraordinary urban architecture was begun by Anton C. “Tony” Nelessen, professor of urban planning and design at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. His award-winning firm, A. Nelessen Associates, Inc., is an urban planning and design “think tank,” a national pioneer in visioning, community planning, and urban design through public participation.

antifa, Patriot Prayer, Protest, Seattle, Jeanne McKinney

Patriot rescues flag after Antifa sets it on fire in Portland, Screen Shot Hou_Rec

Nelessen has emerged as a respected urban visionary. He has more than 40 years of professional experience as a professor, author, and practitioner in the field of visioning, planning, and urban design. His visioning process using his trademarked Visual Preference Survey has been administered to hundreds of thousands of people and has been used to generate comprehensive plans for municipalities and regions, redevelopment plans, specific urban design, waterfront, and new town plans.

In Portland, at the outset of the urban planning process, Tony gathered several hundred citizens at a time.

Each would be given a computer sheet and a number two pencil.  Then Tony would show slides of the most beautiful and ugly urban scenes taken from a latitude matching Portland’s.  Citizens were to vote quickly, was it attractive (one to ten,) and was it something they would like to see in their own neighborhood (one to ten.)

The papers would be taken away, coalesced and returned to Portland’s city leaders with concrete city planning directives, courtesy of the public.  Tony’s method transcends language barriers, educational levels, and access to city leaders.  After all, everyone no matter who, can recognize beauty when they see it.  He has provided a road map to his methodology in his book, “Visions for a New American Dream:  Process, Principles, & An Ordinance to Plan & Design Small Communities.”

An Al Goodwyn Cartoon: Portlandia’s Woke Cafe. BLM special anyone?

A second American genius of rational city design is William C. McDonough.  Those who attend one of his lectures are taken on a dizzying trip through New Urbanism, environmentalism, history and an entirely new way of thinking about American landscapes.  He, as Nelessen, is a visionary who sees possibilities and puts them together to create a new reality.

William McDonough is an architect and globally recognized leader in sustainable development and design. He is a pioneer of the concepts of Cradle to Cradle Design™, the Circular Economy, and the Circular Carbon Economy, notably co-authoring Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

Time Magazine, in an article titled “Hero for the Planet,” said of him,

“McDonough’s utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that — in demonstrable and practical ways — is changing the design of the world.”

In one ecologically challenged city he co-located a chicken factory, which uses boiling hot water, with another business whose by-product is boiling hot water.

If a political conservative were to sit down with each of these visionary pragmatists to discuss politics, it is probable that there would be a distinct clash of viewpoints.  These urbanists are all about restricting human behavior to create public beauty and ecological solutions.

Conservatives, as we know, wish for limited human governance, few restrictions, and the freedom to live without the benefit of those “do-gooders” who would tell them how to live.

The result of political liberalism may be seen in America’s cities today, most especially in Portland, Oregon.

Yet Tony’s beautifully created city has been rendered unfamiliar with its graffiti, street vagrants, rioters, and destroyed public and private establishments.  One Portlander recently commented that a walk through downtown Portland today is a sad walk through another world. A world of ugliness and dystopia.  It is fair to say that in the current climate of demonstrators’ imposition of “the collective” over the individual, Tony’s city is being destroyed.

What is needed in our country as we address these disaffected and unhappy citizens is moderation.  For conservatives who would have no quarter with the likes of a Nelessen or a McDonough telling them how to live there must be some middle ground.  Certainly, America is a country of God-given freedoms.  For those on the conservative side of the political spectrum to cede any of those freedoms to city planners is problematic, as it can be a slippery slope to governmental authoritarianism, even totalitarianism.

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Telling people to keep their ugly indoor couches off of their outdoor porches, or to get rid of that broken car up on blocks, is a far cry from telling people how to think, what to say, and what to give up in the name of the all-mighty “collective.”

As we retain our liberties and continue to be an example to the world of free will, there also must be a place for those who would engage us in creating a beautiful world.  But the urban planning restrictions necessary to create beauty must be used with the consent of the governed.  Citizens must be the ones to grant local governments the right to restrict.

Will the current intolerance displayed by the radical left ruin New Urbanism?

It already is destroying the beauty created by Nelessen and McDonough in many cities.  There has to be a middle ground of tolerance, communication and positivity as we work to return our cities to full and blooming health.

After all, liberals and conservatives of all stripes must walk these city streets.  And one thing we all may agree on is that we all need order, beauty and freedom.  Such an accommodation has been shown to us by Nelessen and McDonough.  Would that our politics might feature these men’s subtlety and common sense.  Tearing down courthouses and destroying our cities is not a hopeful starting point.

Bring back the planners and the citizens who grant them the right to create beauty in public spaces.

Lead Image: A photo shows the destruction of the base of the Elk Statue in Portland, Oregon. Demonstrators in the city started erecting tents in Lownsdale Square on Tuesday night. Courtesy of  MULTNOMAH COUNTY SHERIFF MIKE REESE


Karen Hagestad Cacy

Karen Hagestad Cacy, of Colorado Springs, is a former Washington speechwriter and transportation lobbyist. Raised in Portland, Oregon, she holds a BA degree in Russian and Middle East Studies from Portland State University (and American University in Cairo.) Her four novels are available on She is also the author of two plays.