Toward One Oregon: Rural-Urban Interdependence and the Evolution of a State

Edited by: Michael Hibbard, Ethan Seltzer, Bruce Weber and Beth Emshoff; Oregon State University (2011) $22.95

Review by Casey Bush

The state of Oregon is bound by water and desert. The Cascade Mountains not only holds back the Pacific moisture but also provide the major political dividing line that is the subject of Toward One Oregon. This scholarly book was born out of a 2008 academic symposium of the same name, held in the Salem Convention Center and attended by participants from all the major Oregon universities.

Not unlike other western states, the story of Oregon is told through the evolving relationship between rural resource dependent communities and urban industrial and transportation centers.   In his chapter, PSU professor Carl Abbott sets the table by dividing Oregon’s history into three periods, which underlies the thesis of the book. He defines the first epoch beginning in 1870 as being dominated by Portland, which he describes as a “primate city” controlling the rest of the state through river and rail travel.   The second era extends from 1920 through the 1970s and is characterized by the decline of the primate’s power and replaced by the economic stability of a resource dependent commercial backbone that extended throughout the state. Abbott leads the reader up to the present following the decline of the timber industry and the rise of the information based technologies. Like many parts of the country, it is not just urban Democrats and rural Republicans, but more “us” and “them”,  a chasm whose growth is based on allegedly irreconcilable differences. The modern era is dominated by land management issues that were defined by Tom McCall’s landmark legislative accomplishment that created urban growth boundaries for all of the major cities. The struggle between livable urban landscapes with the cowboy ethos of land developers has been the defining issue of many Oregon ballot measures over the past 40 years.   Recognizing how we got here is the first step to planning a desirable future.   In an age of rapid globalization, the current economic opportunities for Oregon are not just based on information technologies, but continued thoughtful exploitation of natural resources based as well as properly marketing and preserving the recreational opportunities provided by a scenery burdened state.

Building on Abbott’s historical perspective, the other authors provide argument and evidence that the future of Oregon holds great promise as the “new economic geography” draws the urban and rural areas together based on common needs. The optimism expressed by Toward One Oregon is infectious although it doesn‘t provide a detailed roadmap as how to negotiate the ongoing clash of cultures and economies.  The final essay ends: “It is very exciting and promising to know that we can make our interdependence in Oregon the basis for stronger and more strategic relationships among our communities.  It is equally daunting to consider the thoughtfulness, commitment, and perseverance this will require.”  Good night dear reader and good luck.