Congressman Blumenauer Working to Change America

A special report and interview by Jessica Tirado

As our metropolitan areas continue to grow at a phenomenal pace, we are faced with the tremendous challenge of finding ways of managing, or at least mitigating, the severity of growth problems that confront us.  For some, these troubles fall exclusively within the government’s realm of responsibility.  Leadership in this respect is essential, but so is pressure from a public that is both educated in planning issues and intolerant of false compromises.  Public awareness of city planning issues has increased over the past years, but few people have yet accepted the kind of radical solutions which are now needed.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer
, who has made significant contributions in civic partnership, environment, transportation and livability, speaks up and says, “A truly livable community is one where its citizens care enough to take action; a place where people work to make sidewalks plentiful, traffic slower, streets safer and an environment that encourages people to use transit.”

Communities are developing strategies tailored to their specific culture and needs.  In many cities there is a fundamental assumption that citizens have a say in the shaping of their cities. Portland, Oregon has been recognized for integrating public participation into its planning process.  Citizens not only choose a candidate, they have the opportunity to make decisions about their own surroundings.  Congressman Blumenauer was born, raised and educated in Portland, and has not only witnessed its changes but has been actively involved in them. “Meaningful public participation vastly improves the caliber of our plans”, he says, as he proudly mentions his success at initiating university-level classes for citizens on traffic and transportation. “People who lived and worked in our neighborhoods had a different - and highly useful - perspective that was often overlooked in our zeal to address these issues.”

Since his election to Congress Blumenauer has visited over 100 communities accross the nation, working to make these neighborhoods more livable in an effort to enhance their environment.  He has also built strong partnerships throughout the executive branch and has shared the “Portland Story” with numerous congressional colleagues, introducing them to key players in livable community efforts in Portland.


Earl Blumenauer also describes a Livable Community as one that provides a safe, healthy environment; where the use of land and resources is sustainable, where they have a government that makes wise investments; and where the ability to make choices on key issues such as housing, employment and transportation is available to all.  There is a growing general awareness that public transportation enhances livability as opposed to the corrosive effect of the highway based infrastructure we have developed over the last fifty years.

The economic cost of traffic congestion, in terms of squandered energy and lost time is about $150 billion per year. According to Blumenauer, the government should provide alternative forms of transportation in an effort to mitigate road congestion and provide a choice for the citizens. “A Livable Community should provide people with choices, not dictate what kind of transportation they must use. Providing choices means that we need to invest in more than a single transportation mode,” he says.  “We won’t be able to provide a full range of transportation choices, however, until we level the playing field by increasing our overall transportation investment,” he adds.  He goes on to say that according to the American Public Transit Association (APTA), public transit agencies have $12 billion in projects ready to begin construction in the next 90 days - if federal funds were only available.

For Blumenauer, the need to raise federal funding for transit is certainly one of the biggest barriers to overcome. “We need to find innovative ways to move forward and get projects from the planning stage to construction,” he says. “Transit Oriented Development (TOD) provides us with an opportunity to engage the private sector, but it will require vision and leadership from local governments and transit agencies,” he adds. He supports the Transportation Efficiency Act of the 21st Century (TEA) and believes that it provides the flexibility and funds for transit agencies to do TOD.  “I do not advocate having the federal government get involved at this level,” he says, “but do think the federal government should be supporting communities who are struggling to update their planning process and zoning codes, especially when they engage the public in this process.”
“I have learned that only together can we make positive changes,” states Blumenauer.  He encourages farsighted leadership and public participation as key elements in tackling the city’s problems of growth. “We need to create opportunities for people from all walks of life, from all points of view, and from all levels of governments to work in effective partnerships,” says Blumenauer.  “Creating community is just as much about the process we use as it is about our objective.”

One of Blumenauer's projects is Rail-Volution, the annual national conference promoting livable communities with transit.

Rail-Volution is a national movement to build a diverse coalition of people, professions, and interest groups to capitalize on transit to build more livable communities.  Annual conferences are held around the country to help promote these ideas and make it happen.  This year's conference was just held in September in Atlanta where a number of new communities are being built surrounding rail stations.

Rail-Volution brings together a diverse group of activists, transit planners, elected officials, livable community advocates, architects, urban designers, new urbanists, health professionals, and regional planning groups to work towards common solutions to problems with our towns and cities. Since its first convention in Portland in 1995, Rail-Volution has been held in 7 different cities, each year attracting a growing number of participants from an ever-increasing number of interest groups.

Next year's Rail-Volution conference will be held in Los Angeles, September 19-22.  Click here for more information

Read more about Rail-Volution

Read our full interview with Congressman Earl Blumenauer

For More Information Visit These Websites:

Congressman Blumenauer's Livable Cities


Congressman Blumenauer's Background

and these other related sites:

Center for Transit Oriented Development

Center for Transportation Excellence

Center for Livable Communities

Reconnecting America

Smart Growth America

Sprawl and Health

Transit Oriented Development

Walkable Communities

Sierra Club Livable Communities 

Project for Public Spaces

Envision Utah Smart Growth

Sustainable Communities Network

Transit Oriented Development Resources

Surface Transportation Policy Project

Public Transportation Facts

New Train Plan

CONTACT US  for more information, speaking engagements, consultation, or design work:
824 King Street, Suite 103
Alexandria, VA  22314