Paper pub. date
January 2006
ISBN 9780870710957 (paperback)
6 x 9 inches, 112 pages.

City Limits

Walking Portland's Boundary

David Oates

"I walked all the way around Portland, along the invisible line called the Urban Growth Boundary. Where the dotted line followed rivers--the Sandy, the Clackamas, the Willamette, the Columbia--I went in a kayak. But it was mostly just a long walk on city streets and rural two-lanes… I journeyed intermittently for two years and two months."

Portland's Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) was designed to hold the bursting metropolitan area in check while protecting Willamette Valley orchards and fields from sprawling suburbia. Since the inception of growth boundaries as a key component of Oregon's progressive land-use system in the 1970s, Portland has evolved into one of the nation's most successful and distinctive cities. David Oates traveled the 260-mile boundary that defines Portland to discover how the UGB has contributed to that success. City Limits is his engaging and thought-provoking record of the journey.

From conversations with the people he encounters on his walks, Oates comes to view the UGB as a long-running experiment in community control over development. But in recent years, the growth boundary has come under fire from developers, property rights advocates, and other critics. Just after Oates completed his walks, a statewide vote gutted Oregon's land-use laws.

Oates explores these issues of community and conflict on the UGB in the company of various individuals he sometimes invites along for the day's walk--artists, writers, urban planners, environmentalists, developers, a politician, a wine grape grower. Reflecting Oates?s belief in the power of community and collaboration, many of their thoughts and writings about the experience are included in the book.

Collaborators: William Ashworth, David Bragdon, Gary Conkling, David Hassin, Holly Iburg, Eric Lemelson, Kathleen Dean Moore, Kelly Rodgers, Ana Maria Spagna

About the author

David Oates is the author of two books of poetry and four works of nonfiction, including Paradise Wild: Reimagining American Nature and City Limits: Walking Portland’s Boundary. His award-winning essays have appeared in Georgia Review, Creative Nonfiction, and Orion. He was Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Montana and is founder and general editor of Kelson Books in Portland, Oregon. 

Read more about this author

Read a review and interview with David Oates published in Grist.

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