Last spring, Chris Gruener, publisher at Cameron + Company (a San Francisco publisher of books on photography, art, and architecture since 1964), approached Portland photographer Bruce Forster
and me to create a book on Portland for Cameron's highly regarded Above series (Above New York
, Above London
, etc.). Six months — of photographing, writing, design, and production — later, the book is on the shelves.
Although Bruce's career is all about photographing Portland and the region from every conceivable topical and topographic angle, we were immediately intent upon looking at our city with more than just photographs. We envisioned a book that would not only show readers what Portland is, but describe why it is what it is.
To do all this we decided to lay out the book along the lines and boundaries of Portland's "quadrants" (NE, SE, NW, SW), its rivers and other natural features, and its region. We included North Portland in both the NE quadrant and in the rivers and regional context. Speaking of the region, we felt that, though the book is titled Above Portland and because Portlanders see their city within the context of the mountains, ocean, Willamette Valley, and Columbia River, it was essential to set the book's images and text within the larger regional context of northwest Oregon.
As I began to outline the various topics I wanted — indeed, I believed I had — to cover, I decided to recruit some friends and colleagues who, I thought (and still do!), have the stature and knowledge to write more authoritatively on those topics than I could. Humility, modesty, and good sense prevailed over any inkling that a single writer could cover such diverse subjects as Portland history, architecture, urban design, planning, green and open spaces, and sustainability. Plus, I wanted readers to be given an opportunity to hear directly from the voices of fellow Portlanders who not only know these diverse fields, but work in them as professionals and volunteers.
Brian Libby, an indefatigable observer of and writer on Portland's architecture, describes what distinguishes Portland's architects' approaches to designing buildings. Brian's aim in his statement is to highlight the "coveted alchemy between the built and natural environments." Paddy Tillett, the urbane and erudite British architect and urban designer who, fortunately for Portland, has made this city his home for the past 30 years, takes readers on a tour of the Portland's transportation and transit networks. Fellow architect and planner Donald Stastny, who has played an influential, even elemental, role in planning Portland since the 1970s, explains the town's particular (some might say peculiar) processes and products for creating a city that is ready for the future.
Mike Houck, the tireless advocate for parks and open space and whose Urban Greenspaces Institute fights for wildlife corridors and havens birds and fish in the heart of the city, discusses the parks, open spaces, and trails systems that appear — in foreground and background — in almost every one of the book's nearly 200 photographs. Rob Bennett of the Portland Sustainability Institute explores what it means to create buildings, districts, and an entire city whose goals are to conserve energy, last a long time, and preserve its own and its neighbors' environment. He connects the dots between that environment and the regional economy. My job, as editor, is to lay the foundation of what distinguishes Portland in terms of these five essayists' topics and to briefly describe the distinct personality of the city that, after only 150 years, can present the characteristic and refined face that Bruce Forster so vividly portrays.
The warm tones, rich details, and finely grained exposures of Bruce's photographs capture the city as of 2011. The book is as much a challenge to planners to maintain what we have built as it is an illustration of the legacy of 150 years of city-making. As the editor, I would say (no surprise) that Above Portland is a document about a city of which we can be proud. But, more important, its evocative photographs present a challenge to us, a gauntlet thrown down, as it were, saying, "Here is a great place; take care of it, continue to build it with a sense of permanence, fix it where it's broken, don't mess it up, and make it express the best of us as citizens." It's a lot to ask of a book... except when you have the benefit of Bruce Forster's brilliant images to show you the way.