(In September, 2012, I was acclaimed 2012’s Most Effective Elected Official in Transportation by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations. I gave this acceptance speech on the subject of regional planning (so needed in our megapolitan regions!) and basing transportation investments on our shared human values.)
Thank you very much for this incredible honor. And thanks to my colleagues at Metro who nominated me, and did a very good job of keeping this a secret!
I see this as an award for asking awkward questions, and for knowing when to clear the way, and for knowing when to get out of the way.
My habit of asking awkward questions (why, daddy, but, why?) led to study and work in the sciences, then to neighborhood and civic activism and on into a political career. Somewhere along the way I learned the important lesson of leadership—its not enough just to question but one must create a vision, learn to communicate this vision clearly and compellingly and to ask others for help.
My agency, Metro in Portland, Oregon, has a reputation for innovation, leadership and controversy. Yet, despite spearheading regional land use planning, comprehensive recycling and light rail, until I got elected we pretty much planned and put together our RTPs and MTIPs like everyone else—collect a list, collate and print it then divvy up the dough. And heaven help anyone who got between a mayor and his pet project! Not everyone was happy but it was a comfortable groove.
Enter this asker of awkward questions. Being a community activist and not a professional planner or administrator I didn’t know that it was enough to have a world-class model (designed by rocket scientists at Los Alamos, no less!). So I asked why. Why do we spend our money the way we do when we are getting results we don’t like? Like growing traffic congestion, sprawl and collapsing rates of kids walking and biking to school.?
So, I asked why. And, because I was now able to open some doors (and some budget amendments) we went to the public and asked them directly: We collectively spend over $700 Million of your money every year on transportation: are you getting what you want?
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