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Exploring Portland's City Portrait

News Article
Conference room with more than 20 people and a speaker in front with a slide presentation
Outcomes of the first Thriving Cities Initiative workshop for Portland; the four City Portrait lenses: social, ecological, local, global impacts.

On Sept. 26, 2019, the City of Portland hosted the first of three Thriving City Initiative (TCI) workshops with a diverse group of stakeholders.

City Portrait

Participants were introduced to TCI's City Portrait model and its four different lenses (social, ecological, local and global), which allow local government, community leaders, and stakeholders to examine the current state of a city and create a vision for a thriving place. 

two sets of hands holding a marker and a plastic hamburger above a table with papers showing each of the four lenses
Participants explore how a hamburger purchased in Portland has social, ecological, local and global impacts.

The group then examined Portland's City Portrait, which brings together existing city targets and recent data on city performance for each of the four lenses.

Working in small groups, participants used Portland's City Portrait to explore the stories of everyday objects to unveil the rich interconnections between the four lenses and understand the dynamics and impacts of the city better.

Deep Drivers of unsustainable consumption

With this new perspective, participants then uncovered the underlying forces that drive the city's current consumption-intensive behavior and lifestyle patterns (called "drivers"). These "Deep Drivers" were identified as:

Word cloud highlighting the identified Deep Drivers
To show a more nuanced picture of the exercise, a word cloud was created showing the six Deep Drivers surrounded by the other challenges identified at the workshop.
  1. Capitalism (short-term profit)
  2. Status/success = stuff
  3. Social inequity
  4. Disconnect between people and nature
  5. Lack of community space
  6. Basic needs are not prioritized

Thriving vision

Participants were then invited to imagine alternative, thriving visions for their city by considering the following prompt: “Imagine that you wake up in a Thriving Portland in 2025, and this Deep Driver has been transformed. What is city life like now?" They created the following first expression of a vision for a Thriving Portland for each of the Deep Drivers (words are theirs):

Capitalism serves people, planet and profit

sketch of three overlapping circles depicting profit, housing, and nature, with an equal sign on the circles' intersection

"In 2025, Portland will have changed capitalism so that it instils the values of people, planet and profit. This results in innovations in finance, like the creation of a Portland “P-Corp” Program (a localized B-Corps program), in everybody having their fundamental basic needs met and having a deeper connection to the environment. Initiatives include a City of Portland Bank, river taxis, 30-hour workweeks, the creation of community investment trusts, a public takeover of utilities, more community charging infrastructure, more habitat downtown, and more."

Status/success = I have enough

Sketch of a fire with text "I have enough"

"When we wake up in 2025 in a thriving future, Portland will sound quieter — there will be less noise from trucks and more birdsong, [and] water and air quality will be improved as diesel and other pollution from freight will be dramatically reduced. Portland will look different — there will be more smaller houses as well as communal living facilities, here will be no billboards or other advertising, there will be fewer shopping malls and no need for storage facilities, leaving more room for community gardens, parks, and other community space. Rather than more stuff, success will be defined by more time: more time to spend with family and friends, to cook meals at home, and for hobbies and recreational activities. There will be better work/life balance with less focus on careers and shorter workweeks. Simplicity and minimalism will be valued. Our city government will play an active role in creating community space and connection. Our city government will measure what we value, including the percentage of employees who have taken a paid vacation, and the percentage of residents who report that they have enough. There will be systems in place to ensure that people who do not have enough can get enough (meet their basic needs)."

Social equity

sketch of people surrounded by words education, community, health, work, transport, leadership, basic needs

"When we wake up in 2025, we know we live in a community where social inequities have been overcome. Reparations for past harms have been acknowledged and paid. In our neighborhoods we hear a diversity of languages and experience a diversity of cultures that are accepted and celebrated. The community and its individuals have agency and leadership. Our mayor is a Cowlitz woman. We provide for our community’s health and wellness without regard for one’s race, income or circumstances. We meet everyone’s basic needs and provide access to transportation and education, to whole and fresh foods, and to natural spaces throughout the community where we can gather together as one. Ours is a resilient community that embraces local wealth building (natural, social, and human capital) and we are stronger for it."

Connections between people and nature

sketch of the Willamette River with trees on both sides and train tracks going to coast and Mt. Hood

“Imagine a world where you are getting out into nature every day, including during your workday. This means that we are bringing nature here. It’s not this abstract concept that we go to, but something that is present and accessible to everyone. We have eco-roofs, pollinator pathways that run through the city, you can swim in the Willamette River (and it’s crystal clear). We have access to more parks and healthy food, not only because we value them, but because we fund them. The tree canopy covers the whole city of Portland, not just some neighborhoods, and there is connectivity between our green areas, with green belts running through the city. All Portlanders feel safe accessing their natural areas and have increased 'street-smarts' as well as 'nature-smarts,' with a basic understanding of how these systems function.”

Community space is available

Sketch of a box with words surrounding: OPEN, FREE, Bust out of individual boxes, share resources, coordinators paid - this is a real deal!, caring connections, kitchen, garden, clothing, tools, electronics

"In order to create more community, a community space is required — like a Community Center. This is an OPEN and FREE space, where people can come and go freely. The Center would include a tool library, a community garden, offer classes like cooking and repairs, and provide support for those who need an extra hand to take care of children or elderly. This space will be open and connected to other similar centers around the city, and it would be run by community members who receive fair wages to help run the place."

Basic needs are prioritized

Sketch of houses, trees, bus, vegetables, hospital, people with sticky notes as labels

"Portlanders no longer accept the status quo of residents' basic needs no longer being met, such as housing, nutrition, and mobility. A key value of a thriving Portland is a commitment to people and community, and ensuring that the most vulnerable groups are not overlooked. Just like a grandmother being mugged on the street, residents should rise up at the sight of suffering and act to ensure solutions are implemented. Everyone has a role in community development and are rewarded for their participation."

The following departments and organizations were part of the journey:

  • Multnomah County Office of Sustainability
  • Office of Commissioner Amanda Fritz
  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
  • Portland Bureau of Emergency Management
  • Portland Bureau of Environmental Services
  • Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation
  • Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
  • Portland Bureau of Transportation
  • Portland City Attorney’s Office
  • Portland City Auditor’s Office
  • Portland City Budget Office
  • Portland Clean Energy Fund
  • Portland Fire and Rescue
  • Portland Housing Bureau
  • Portland Office for Community Technology
  • Portland Office of Management and Finance
  • Portland Water Bureau
  • Prosper Portland


Eden Dabbs

City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability