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Livability is key: Portlanders value it immensely and want it preserved and enhanced.

Section Summary

Urban livability consistently emerges as one of the most prized attributes of Portland, and it is one of the main reasons people move here. Respondents attribute Portland's livability to an inter-woven set of factors, many of which are described in greater depth in the sections that follow. Portlanders recognize that livability does not come about by chance, but rather is intentionally created through concerted community effort and forward-thinking planning and public policy. They identify a number of challenges to maintaining Portland’s livability and call on elected officials to make preserving livability a top priority. By keeping the focus on livability, they believe that Portland will naturally be able to attract the type of innovate, responsible and community-minded residents and business that can help ensure a successful future for the city.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. Many factors come together to create a truly livable city.
  2. Livability results from forward-thinking policies and practices.
  3. Portland’s livability is threatened.
  4. Government should focus on improving livability for all.


  1. Many factors come together to create a truly livable city.
  • Time and again, Portlanders cite “livability” as the attribute they value most about Portland.
  • While Portlanders each define livability in their own terms, certain key features are frequently mentioned as working in combination to create a livable city:
    • A clean and beautiful built and natural environment;
    • Vibrant, well-served neighborhoods;
    • Access to greenspace and nature, both within the city and around it;
    • The ability to get around town easily (lack of traffic, accessible public transportation, ability to bike and use alternate modes, relatively short commute times);
    • “Human scale” and “human-oriented” buildings and streetscapes (not too big, walkable blocks, user-centered design);
    • Big city amenities with a “small town feel”;
    • Friendly and open-minded people who care about the environment, education and a host of social issues;
    • A thriving local economy that provides access to fresh local food, local beer, coffee, clothing design, local musicians and art and so much more;
    • Being able to afford to live in and enjoy the city; and
    • A strong sense of community, fostered by public spaces, neighborhoods, walking and using transit, outdoor events and the local economy.
  • Many people speak of moving to Portland because of its reputation for a high level of livability, and are pleased to discover it is true when they arrive.
  • Just as many long-time residents acknowledge that livability is what keeps them in Portland, even though other cities may offer better job markets or a larger number of attractions.
"Livability. I appreciate the ability to live close in to the central city, to live in a neighborhood with walkable access to all my needs, and yet to [also have] access to everything offered by a large urban center.”

“[I value] its livability in terms of pleasant downtown area, lots of good public transportation and good public events, attention to environmentally-sound living, its reputation as a city of books, bikes, brew, progressive thinking, and its abundance of trees and the rain that keeps them green.”

“[What I value is] the attention to urban design and development. Why? Because it provides the vessel for enjoying urban life—street trees, buildings that have interest and harmony, a downtown that works, is of human scale, and well-served by public transit; neighborhoods that are cohesive with retail and service areas.”

“[I value] that it is a livable city in which we can be in a vibrant urban area but be connected to the environment, have true greenspaces within short reach, live in neighborhoods that feel like small towns. That it is a friendly place where people talk to each other, help each other, acknowledge each other.”

  1. Livability results from forward-thinking policies and practices.
  • Portlanders illustrate a strong understanding of and support for policies (progressive urban planning, avid protection of open spaces, protection of historic structures, etc.) and processes that have created a high level of urban livability.
  • Programs and policies that promote livability for the community as a whole (e.g., parks, clean environment, etc…) are consistently favored over those that do not improve livability or only improve it for a small group (the OHSU tram is frequently mentioned).
“[I value] it’s investment in a high quality of life. I’m impressed that laws and planning can be so inspiring, so as to create a livable, human scale city such as Portland.”

"[In 2030] we measure our quality of life less on the subjective aesthetic and more on the welfare of our citizens, including education excellence, economic opportunity, access to social services, affordability, and public safety.”

  1. Portland’s livability is threatened.
  • Many Portlanders worry that the city’s livability is threatened and some feel it is already in decline.
  • Factors that are seen as threatening urban livability include:
    • Population growth, which can result in increased traffic, reduced housing affordability, over-burdened greenspace, crowded schools and an erosion of community values;
    • Income disparity, which increasingly divides Portlanders into those who can access livability features and those who cannot;
    • Neighborhood livability is reduced when diversity and affordability decline through gentrification.
    • It is also reduced when housing, businesses and services cater only to particular demographics or socio-economic groups.
    • Development—while there is much debate on this topic, a large number of Portlanders feel that development reduces livability when it is allowed to happen unchecked and when it disregards the community’s vision for the area being developed (see Urban Livability: Residential).
    • Erosion of educational quality combined with funding challenges poses a serious threat to Portland’s livability. Without strong, well-funded, high-performing schools, many question whether the city can remain livable into the future.
    • The large and rising number of people who are homeless poses a threat to the overall livability of the community. Portlanders want to see this problem tackled and solved in a compassionate, creative and permanent manner (see Social Issues: Homelessness).
    • Pollution—contamination of air, water and other natural resources directly threatens livability for the community as a whole. Portlanders want to see the Willamette cleaned up and tough measures taken to reduce corporate and public pollution of the environment.

  1. Government should focus on improving livability for all.
  • There is strong consensus that preserving and enhancing livability should be a primary focus of local government. Portlanders want officials to ask themselves:
    • Does a particular initiative/plan/expenditure make the city more livable or less?
    • Whose livability is enhanced? Do some benefit more than others? Is this justifiable?
  • Many people strongly believe that if Portland is a highly livable place, good companies, talented teachers, sports teams and others will want to be located here and will not need convincing or public incentives.
  • Portlanders are highly supportive of public spending on efforts to improve city-wide livability (see Government: Spending).
  • In many cases, they are even willing to pay higher taxes if their funds are used to create a more livable city for all (see Government: State and Local Taxes).

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