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Future City: Seattle vs. Portland
Amanda Reed, 29 Sep 10

In preparation for our Future City event this Friday, we're comparing progress towards urban sustainability in Portland and Seattle.

In the background, Gerding Edlen’s LEED Platinum office building at 12th and Washington in Portland, Ore. — yup, those are wind turbines on the roof.(via Publicola).

Blogger and urban designer Dan Bertolet weighs in our Seattle versus Portland debate at Publicola and shares some interesting comparative facts:

Today, in terms of the most critical factors of urban sustainability, Portland and Seattle aren’t that different—for example 14 percent of households in Portland are car-free, compared to 16 percent in Seattle; Portland’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are higher than Seattle’s, but that’s only because Seattle happens to be blessed with abundant carbon-free hydro power.

Bertolet's main point, ultimately, is that Portland is better than Seattle at sustainable urban development and will fare better in the future. To support that claim he lists seventeen ways the two cities compare, with Portland having a more favorable showing; here are six of them:

  • Portland is moving ahead of Seattle in highly energy-efficient housing, including net-zero energy and passive houses.
  • Portland has 351 green roofs covering 26 acres, compared to 62 on 9 acres in Seattle.
  • Portland has a produced a much more comprehensive Climate Action Plan than Seattle has.
  • The Denmark-based wind turbine manufacturer Vestas selected Portland for its new U.S. headquarters.
  • Portland can implement tax-increment financing; Seattle, nope (though that’s the State’s fault, not Seattle’s).

See Bertolet's full piece for all the comparisons, as well as to read what questions he would ask the Mayors on Friday.

Related stories in the Worldchanging archives:

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The fact is that the vast majority of the urban population worldwide does not live in either Portland or Seattle, but in places like Mumbai, Shanghai and Sao Paulo. Would you care to write about how these mega-cities in poorer countries are doing?

Posted by: Suvro Chatterjee on 29 Sep 10

Suvro: Yes, you're right of course. We are exploring Portland and Seattle this week specifically in relation to our Future City event this Friday where the mayors from those two cities will be speaking.

Worldchanging has covered cities like Mumbai, Shanghai and São Paulo before, and we plan to again. If you're interested, here are links to those stories in our archives:

Also, these three articles by Alex Steffen may be of interest:
Reducing Poverty and Greening Mega-Cities (
Urban Sustainability, Megacity Leapfrogging (
Notes from the Road: Design Indaba and Doors of Perception (

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

Posted by: Amanda Reed on 29 Sep 10

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