There are 242 cities in Oregon. 242. If you believe national media, you'd think there was just one: the one sitting fat and smug up on the northern edge of the state at the crux of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. But there are many more, and not just the handful that line interstate highways and that populate the Willamette Valley. Not just the ones marked with large yellow stars on accordion-style road maps or listed in boldface in travel guides.
Technically, there are 242 incorporated cities, each with its own urban growth boundary. Those UGBs, required by state law to preserve the natural areas beyond, are fluid, contestable things. Residents of some of these places might even bristle at the term city, might prefer, instead, town or suburb or community. Regardless of what these places are called, they are home to people and ideas and values, all clashing and smashing against one another.
I think of myself as a city girl, though I've only spent a third of my life living in one (the fat, smug one mentioned earlier). So far the pattern of my life mirrors some of the data out there about when people live in cities and why: I grew up in a rural community and, as soon as I was eighteen, moved first to a bigger city then to a smaller one to go to college. I lived in the woods for a few years (learned to build a fire, marveled at salmon spawning and eagles hunting) but moved back to the city for work and to start a family. Studies say that I'll leave the city at some point—I'll either head to the suburbs so my kids can go to better schools or, after the kids leave, my husband and I will get tired of urban life and settle in a smaller town.
I can almost imagine this, leaving the welter. Almost. Point is, there are a lot of data out there and a lot of opinions about what it all means. It just adds to the noise. But data aren't people; data are just ways of understanding how many, when, what kind. Here's what else the data don't show: cities are more than just places. As the articles and essays in this issue suggest, cities are plans, efforts, dreams, problems, solutions, and stories. And, most remarkable, no matter how large or small, cities offer possibilities for grand-scale collaborations: people aspiring to live among one another, layered self upon layered self. In close proximity, we explore our armors, test the strong and weak spots, build resolve, acquiesce to fragility, and submit our humble selves to a noble experiment: life together instead of apart.
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