Today I'm in Portland, Oregon, and I will confess something to start off the week: I've never been to Portland. When I was in graduate school getting a planning degree, at least half of my graduating class planned to move to Portland. The other half wanted to move to Washington, DC. My planning friends and I had a running joke about Portland being one out of three sessions at the APA annual conference. So I know it is a planning Mecca, but I've never been here before. I'm looking forward to it.
First, however, I want to look back at last Friday and the marathon day I spent in the Twin Cities suburb of Edina back in my home state of Minnesota. Edina is -- and I realize this is arguable -- the poster child for what a wealthy suburb looks like. In many ways (but not all), it defies the Suburban Ponzi Scheme as it has been a repository of wealth, it's affluent residents being willing to financially support a high level of government services (and influence more at the state capitol). I was not sure how my time there would go.
To say it went well was an understatement. And to say I was impressed would be an even bigger understatement. Here's a city that could easily sit back and simply be smug about its success, yet at every turn they were challenging themselves. And they were inviting me to push them further. You don't see that kind of leadership very often.
Most places that I go they will share some of their apprehension with me, suggest topics I should tread lightly on and ask me to go easy here and there. It's kind of funny because I'm a Minnesotan and not prone to gratuitous flame throwing, yet high level staff -- in particular -- more often than not want me to share the Strong Towns message, but don't make anyone too uncomfortable. I've learned to walk the line.
In contrast, Edina welcomed me in with no preconditions. Without making any demands, they sent me out to talk to people and to comment on what I saw throughout the city. And, even crazier, they live streamed it through Facebook. There was no attempt to sugarcoat anything; we talked about the good, the bad and the ugly unfiltered, with the city's residents looking on.
So more than anything, I want to express my gratitude and admiration for Edina's leadership. The mayor, James Hovland, came across as the kind of leader I would want to work for—a skilled communicator who was not only thoughtful but willing to listen. And I can't say enough good things about the city manager, Scott Neal, who really captures the essence of Strong Towns leadership. I respect his willingness to talk about difficult things, to not allow everyone to be comfortable yet to have a cheerful and positive demeanor when going about his business. Again, he's a guy I'd work for.
Here's the first of three Facebook Live videos that were broadcast during my visit. This one was taken as we toured the area around the Southdale Mall. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback about the way we related Strong Towns principles to urban design. We'll share all three videos this week.